Positive take on taboo subject

Life lessons: Andrea Shrimpton, Joyce Mackenzie, Lynnette Smith and Jon Scholey
Life lessons: Andrea Shrimpton, Joyce Mackenzie, Lynnette Smith and Jon Scholey
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It’s been dubbed ‘a manual for sexual torture’, is the best-selling book in British history and now 50 Shades of Grey has found its way onto the school sex education curriculum

WHEN sex education worker Lynette Smith became aware of the best-selling book, 50 Shades of Grey, she held an emergency meeting with her staff at the Big Talk sex education organisation.

“We made it a first agenda,” she says. “We know it was going to have a big impact on the way teenagers and young people will interpret sex and relationships.”

The book has sold 5.3 million copies in the UK, making it the best-selling book in British history. Its publisher, Random House, has reported that the book has even outsold the Highway Code.

So it’s no surprise then, that – according to Lynette – as many as 95 per cent of 13- to 14-year-old girls have heard of 50 Shades of Grey, though few have read it.

“It’s so widespread now that if a couple of girls wanted to read it they wouldn’t have to look further than a hundred yards.”

But in spite of this, as far as the younger teenagers are concerned, the book referred to as ‘mummy porn’ is not proving to be popular.

“I don’t think the book captured the imagination of girls from that age group,” said Lynette. “And many of them are more shocked that their grandmas are reading it.”

But Lynette is concerned about the impact of the book on older girls and the delayed impact of the book. “When it first came out it was a beach read. But winter is drawing in and there are plenty of long nights indoors ahead. During the summer young people are doing things, but it’s now that its influence could start being felt.”

There is no age guidance on literature. While films and other media is governed by strict age restrictions, literature is not. One bookseller admitted to selling the book to girls aged 15 and 16 but said he would not sell it to girls under the age of 13.

And while there are Obscene Publications Acts, in a world of graphic internet porn – to which many teenagers are savvy – it’s hard to see a case like this coming to court. Indeed in 1960 Penguin was prosecuted under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act for releasing the uncut version DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s but the well-known publisher won the case. This became a landmark ruling for freedom of expression.

But as long as mothers and grandmas are reading the book, most teenagers don’t even have to leave the house to get hold of a copy.

And it is a concern. “It’s the curiosity about that kind of sex that I’m worried about with the older girls. The average age for a girl losing her virginity is 16 17 and this book undermines their sexual confidence.”

One of the issues Lynette has with the book is its portrayal of sex. “It pooh poohs conventional sex and pushes boundaries all the time and goes into masochism.”

She believes the book will make girls feel pressured to experience sex in a way that’s unrealistic. But it’s not all bad. Lynette is aware that, while many mums will have a copy of 50 Shades of Grey at home, it can be put to good use.

“Mums can use the book as a talking point and a gateway to discussions about sex. I would say to mums ‘do you want your daughter to learn about sex this way?”

Lynette’s company, the Big Talk, has won national awards for the sex education workshops it delivers across the country.

There is a book list on the family section of her website, which is www.bigtalkeducation.co.uk/