Published April 26, 2012
| Associated Press
NEW YORK – They're young and old, doctors and churchgoers, gay and straight -- and those are just the men who have devoured oh-so-naughty "Fifty Shades of Grey," an erotic trilogy that has earned millions of women fans in the U.S. in a matter of weeks.
Some didn't know about the romance part, thinking the surprise best-seller by British newcomer E L James would be more "American Psycho" than steamy Harlequin.
Others knew exactly what they were getting into, buying into the buzz since the venerable imprint Knopf took on publishing rights, shoring up a story that began as "Twilight" fan fiction and putting it out in handy trade paperback on April 3.
There's flogging and bondage and sex toys. And a steely control freak of a gazillionaire Christian Grey, a damaged sexual "dominant" who enlists the virginal (not for long) college coed Anastasia Steele for rough-but-consensual role play.
James opens her first U.S. tour in Miami on Sunday. Movie rights have already been sold, and the guessing game is on over who will play the books' lusty key characters.
Dr. Mehmet Oz dedicated Wednesday's show to exploring the books with an audience of women and, yes, men who have read them.
"This woman has gotten people talking about sex in a way that no one else could get them to talk about it," he said Tuesday night from the red carpet of a gala honoring Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world -- James included, with the likes of President Obama and Rihanna.
Are sex lives changing, marriages evolving?
"They're not tying up their women. It's not about sadism," Oz said of men drawn to the books.
"What it is about is people having an honest conversation about what sex should be like, what makes it feel better, what are the timing issues, how do we make it an important issue in our life rather than an afterthought. When the guys get into it I know we've got something going."
Jeremiah Wirth, a grad student and Iraqi war veteran, said the opening book was nothing short of a life-changer. He read it on a business trip to "magical" Hawaii, returning home a better man.
"I was away from my girlfriend. I was lonely and I was reading this book in this beautiful place and I thought it would be something fun and easy," said the 26-year-old.
"People hear about flogging and stuff like that in this book, and they don't get it. I became emotionally invested in the love story, especially from the female's perspective. That was important to me, to put myself in Ana's shoes. It was overwhelming, and I'll never forget it," Wirth said.
James has said she wrote the books to de-stress. Her story jumped from free downloads promoted on fan sites to not-free e-books and hard copy from an Australian publisher, then finally Knopf.
David Shobin, a 66-year-old semi-retired gynecologist, picked up the first "Fifty Shades" to see for himself "what all the hullabaloo was about."
"At my age, my arthritis flared up just reading about Ana's sexual gymnastics," Shobin wrote in a review on Amazon.
"I had an intellectual curiosity," Shobin added in an interview. "I don't quite know what to make of this sort of sexual activity, but as a love story, it did succeed."
Will his wife be reading?
"Probably not," Shobin said. "I told her a little bit about the bondage part and she showed very little interest in that, so it was a short conversation. She mainly reads memoirs."