“It changed my life,” my friend announced at dinner a few months ago. The “it” in question was a book, which she described as orgasmic. My interest was certainly piqued. In furtive late-night conversations and mid-day lunches over the next few months, the transformational qualities of the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, by British author E.L. James, spread among the wives and mothers all over New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County. The series, which began as online fan faction before racking up hundreds of thousands of e-book downloads, are about an S&M relationship between a billionaire and a virginal young college student. What started across the Atlantic as one woman’s desire to bravely express her lurid desires, had created sensual upheaval—as well as an ad hoc community of empowered women bound by their shared discovery of pleasure—in the unlikeliest of places: the suburbs. And I just had to document it.
In mid January, I attended a book party in New York City for James, who was literally overwhelmed to tears of joy (and alarm) by a pack of hundreds of middle-aged women acting like adolescent girls unleashed on Justin Bieber. “I’m completely and utterly stunned by the reaction to these books,” James would tell me, a few days later, at my apartment. All the women in attendance claimed the same of themselves: forever changed – and all for the good. “You need to read it. You need to do it now. And you need to wear panty-liner,” one woman’s friend warned. Another fan at the signing told James that she’d never had an orgasm before—and that at 43, she had her first one just reading it. It’s obvious that Fifty Shades of Grey has become a suburban literary virus of sorts. And James’ life—as well as the women readers she inspires—will henceforth never be the same.
Read More: James’ Bondage
Gillian Laub is a New-York-based photographer. See more of her work here.