Fifty shades of boredom

July 15, 2012

Photo: John Wesley Ireland

I’m not very good at sex. Wait . . . let me rephrase that: I’m not very good at writing about sex.

I have completed two novels and great chunks of two others. In those pages you’ll find well-rounded characters and witty dialogue and rousing adventure. You will not find much in the way of graphic intimacy. A few meaningful glances followed by clothes slipping to the floor followed by . . . fade to black.

As a writer, I believe sex, like toilet breaks, should happen off the page, which probably explains why I’ve sold several million fewer copies than EL James.

Unless you’ve had your head buried in a honey cave lately, you’ll know Ms James is the author of the Fifty Shades trilogy. And if you think a better title would be Filthy Shades, congratulations, you just read my mind.

I’m no prude – far from it. My copy of Rosemary’s Baby used to fall open of its own accord at the sex scene. But that was two paragraphs, as opposed to every second paragraph in the Fifty Shades collection.

Is there a plot lurking amidst all the pounding? Not that I’ve heard. One reader told me she was nearly finished the third book before any kind of story arc revealed itself. And the characters? Cardboard cutouts have more personality. The writing itself? Splendid, she noted, but only if you consider it high literature to have your lead character gasp “Holy cow” or “Oh my” at regular intervals.

The reader in question is, of course, Viking Woman. Her gender is the target audience for these books, which are a sordid example of a new genre dubbed ‘mummy porn’. (Note there is no such thing as ‘daddy porn’. Why would men strain their eyes reading about shenanigans when the internet is filled with such pretty pictures?)

EL James has not re-invented the wheel by any stretch of the imagination. She has simply wrapped it in leather, slapped it into submission and left readers panting for more. All while dropping more F-bombs than you’d hear at a wharfie convention.

Like The Da Vinci Code and the Millennium trilogy, the Fifty Shades books have ridden a tidal wave of media hysteria all the way to the top of the bestseller lists. People are reading them not so much because they want to (one lady said the books bored her silly; another said she only read the sex scenes, and then only sparingly) but because everyone else seems to be doing it. It’s the lemming effect and if I knew how it worked, I’d buy a jar and spread it all over my books. And then myself.

In the meantime, all I can do is try to take advantage of the phenomenon as best I can. If the Good Wife is reading about all that huffing and puffing, then surely she must be open to suggestion.

What I lack in the way of Christian Grey’s money and allure I more than make up for in movie trivia. Think about it – is there anything more erotic than the food-sex scene from Nine 1/2 Weeks? Not only did it practically melt cinema screens at the time, but it is incredibly easy to replicate.

And so one night recently, after emptying the fridge of its most mouth-watering contents, I appeared in the bedroom doorway wearing little more than a look of anticipation.

Only to find Viking Woman’s copy of Fifty Shades Freed lying splayed on the floor where it had fallen, and Viking Woman herself sound asleep with the lights on. Leaving me standing there holding my sausage roll.

There was nothing for it then but to return to the kitchen and, since the food was already out, indulge in a quick snack. My wife may be reading mummy porn, but the only thing I’m gettin’ is fat. Oh my, indeed.

A version of this column was originally printed in the July 11, 2012 Napier (NZ) Courier.


You’ve got to feel sorry for the inhabitants of Planet Man. No, really — I’m being serious here, people.

If we’re not being told to “man up,” we’re being accused of acting like testosterone-fueled louts whose brains — and eyes — never rise above the level of a woman’s swimsuit area.

That point has been hammered home to me lately courtesy of a number of stories on the Internet and in magazines about the various minefields we all tend to stumble through in order to form a relationship with a member of the opposite gender.

The first article (1) suggested women actually use a mental stopwatch during sex. Something along the lines of “One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thou . . . you’ve got to be kidding me!”

On the other hand, as it were, the Viagra Vanguard isn’t that popular either. I conducted an informal poll (OK, I asked two women) and the consensus is that, no matter how well-intentioned (or well-lubricated) the lovemaking, at a certain point friction becomes the most important factor. Plainly speaking, things eventually get rubbed raw. And by things I mean, you know, things.

Here’s another example of the pressure the inhabitants of Planet Man face on a daily basis: a woman’s reaction when we attempt to answer that eons-old question: Does my bum look big in this fig leaf/loincloth/animal fur/jeans?

Face it, guys, there are only two possible answers and they are both going to end in tears:

Him: No.

Her: You’re lying

Him: Yes.

Her: You’re dead.

If that’s not enough mixed signals for you, another story (2) related how Kiwi men are rated the eighth best husbands in the world. Based on — wait for it — their willingness to do housework.

In other words, my fellow penis possessors, what the ladies are saying is what impresses them most is not our performance in the bedroom but, rather, the length of our vacuum hoses and our stamina in the kitchen when faced with a sinkful of greasy dishes.

With that survey in mind, I’ve now taken to parading around the house wearing nothing but an apron and pink rubber gloves.

Which may explain why the neighbors no longer open their curtains.

Yet another story (3) featured the news that healthier sperm may mean longer life. Yes, apparently good semen quality will add years to our time here on Planet Man. Of course, more years means more housework but, hey, we’ll just have to take solace in the thought that at least all those swimmers churning in our netherlands are happy little buggers.

The story does not explain how to achieve healthy sperm, but I’m thinking exercise. I’m also imagining this conversation:

Her: What are you doing in the bathroom with the door locked?

Him: I’m living longer.

Her: You’re dead.

But just before she breaks down the door with the same frying pan that will soon be bouncing off your skull, you might want to take the advice of a blogger (4) who offered up a list of compliments every woman loves to hear. Even if you’re saying them from the other side of a locked bathroom door while swaddling your body in a protective cocoon of Charmin.

If you have  sensitive gag reflex, you might want to skip this part, but here’s the top five compliments that might save your life:

1. You’re irreplaceable.

2. You bring light to my life.

3. You are perfect just the way that you are.

4. I love your (fill in the blank with any of her body parts situated outside the swimsuit area — if you can think of any. I know, me neither).

5. I am so proud of you.

Yes, as a matter of fact I did throw up in my mouth just typing that list. but what left me shaking my head (apart from the fact that I want to meet the man who actually utters No. 2 — and then kick him in the nuts) is that the following compliment failed to make the list:

Him: For a fat girl, you don’t sweat much.

Her: You’re dead.

But after all the doom and gloom besetting Planet Man via these reports — if your rotten sperm doesn’t kill you, your wife will — I was pleased to find at least one tidbit of good news.

According to The New York Times (5), a potbelly (nicknamed the Ralph Kramden) is the new hot look for males. Six-pack abs are so, like, yesterday, dude.

The story noted that a taut belly and other metrosexual traits are now considered “prissy” and an indication that you “may have too much time on your hands.”

This revelation could, of course, lead to this conversation:

Her: You’re fat.

Him: I have no time for you because I’m busy.

Her: You’re about to be busy being dead.


Reference sources:

(1) Men’s Business, by Matt Philp, Your Weekend, The Dominion Post, Aug. 8, 2009

(2) Kiwis 8th best husbands, Aussies worst, AAP, Aug. 4, 2009

(3) Men with livelier, more plentiful sperm live longer, by Anne Harding, Reuters, July 27, 2009

(4) 5 Compliments Every Woman Loves To Hear, by YourTango, Aug. 4, 2009

(5) It’s Hip to be Round, by Guy Trebay, The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2009


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My neighbour, Daniel, is a nice young man with an attractive wife and a child with dimples to die for.

Daniel and I recently discussed setting up a barter system whereby those of us with backyard gardens would exchange fresh fruit and veggies. This was how things were done in the good old days. And by that I mean before the Sumerians invented money and were subsequently invaded by investment bankers, mortgage lenders, stockbrokers, and a distant relative of Bernard Madoff, who must have arrived from Egypt because he was going on about some kind of pyramid.

When Daniel isn’t being a good neighbour, loving husband and doting father, he helps residents of the United Kingdom have sex.

Not literally, of course. He’d need an awful long, um, reach to accomplish that all the way from New Zealand. Instead, he operates the website

What a good Kiwi bloke is doing helping Brits get their rocks off, when there are perfectly decent New Zealanders in need of a happy ending, all comes down to money. As in, Daniel wants some.

He could have set up a site in New Zealand but that would have involved spending great gobs on templates and other Internet thingees that make my brain hurt to think about. And so Daniel turned to an English company which allowed him to access its existing files of dating software, payment processing, customer support, hosting infrastructure and the like.

Because it’s an English provider, at this time Daniel can only cater to the UK market, but that’s OK because, apparently, Internet dating services are very popular in that dreary part of Europe. No surprise, really. Some of those accents are so thick you could spread Marmite on them. At least if you type up a bio, everyone can read and understand it. Well, considering this is the British we’re talking about, make that most everyone.

Daniel says one of the reasons he was inspired to start the company was due to bad experiences his mother had with the whole Internet dating scene. She complained that most men she contacted were only interested in shagging and bugger the romance.

Men wanting sex? Who’da thunk.

Anyway, Daniel’s business plan went something like this: Give the horny bastards what they want.

So if you have frilly longings for poetry and candlelit dinners and picnics and puppies, there is no need for you to access (In fact, with a wish list like that, you’d be well advised to avoid all contact whatsoever with Planet Man.)

Being a highly-trained professional, I decided to do my own spot of journalistic investigation (and, admit it, you’ve only read this far in the hopes that things would get naughty). 

I had to sign up first, of course, which means pretending to be British. Having lost a tooth to an errant hockey stick, I qualified based strictly on my dental records. Accordingly, I now “live” in Avon (chosen at random because it sounds vaguely Shakespearean, and we’re all about the classics here on Planet Man).

In the course of filling out my personal profile, I grew slightly taller. And younger. I also managed to reclaim most of my hair. 

I know what you’re thinking and, yes, this is a lot of work just to have sex.

So far, all I’ve done is sign up for the free membership, which allows me to press my nose against the window, as it were, because you need to provide a credit card number to have full access to the merchandise. But, even once removed from the goodies, it’s been an education.

I offer the following examples, while warning the quoted personal profile excerpts are presented verbatim: 

I clicked on 18-year-old Sarah’s profile and my screen was immediately filled with an image of her genitalia.

Dear Sarah: Hello! Nice, ah, angle, but you’ll have to excuse me if I appear a bit cautious. You see, this is a bit like those real estate ads where they only show you a house’s interior because the exterior is a real disaster. So while your interior appears to be in good working condition, I’m not about to start moving my furniture in quite yet.

Linsey, 36:

 Ok, a little about myself. I’m friendly, brunette.. i am a natural 38GG-24-38 …with succulent nipples, i will be nice to a well endowed man or bi woman … return i will give you things you only fantasies about??

Dear Linsey: Do I really want to know what GG means? (Gigantic Globes? German Ghosts? Gnarly Gnomes?) At the risk of being anal retentive, I believe “well-endowed,” when used as an adjective, is hyphenated. And, following up on that whole pesky grammar thing, I’m not sure I really want to hook up with someone — no matter how succulent they may be — who can’t spell “fantasize.” I guess I’m just kinky that way.

Chrissy, 27:

Right everyone i’m here and i’m here for one thing only. SEX! you could call me a slut cause i’ll have anyone even if he has a wife,girlfriend or whatever. i always get what i want and i dont stop until i get it. Sex is my main priorty in life. i want to find a man who wants the same, a shag and thats it. none of the i want to take you to dinner and stuff. 

Dear Chrissy:

I’ll be on the next flight. Please pick me up at the airport.