When the “Fifty Shades” trilogy was released in 2012, Doctor John’s Lingerie and Novelty Boutique noticed an increased interest in some of its products.
Now that the film adaptation is opening Friday, district manager Lori Humphrey is bracing for another big economic hit.
Blindfolds, silk cuffs, handcuffs, floggers and other erotic products suddenly became popular at Doctor John’s located off of Singing Hills Boulevard.
“The Ben Wa balls, I’ve had those in the store for years, and I couldn’t keep them in stock after that,” she said. “The whole nation wanted Ben Wa balls. Our vendors couldn’t get them to us. They were out of stock and couldn’t keep enough.”
The “Fifty Shades” trilogy generated a wave of controversy when it was first released that mostly stemmed from the series’ simple writing style and erotic subject matter involving BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism & masochism).
The criticisms and commentary didn’t deter book sales. The three books – “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” -- went on to sell more than 100 million copies. Author E. L. James was named one of “The World’s 100 Most Influential People” by Time magazine.
Thanks to the film adaptation, the Sioux City Public Library has noticed an increase in checkouts for the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, according to operations manager Sara Doyle.
“That happens a lot when any movie comes out based on a book,” said Doyle. “We have to buy copies once more because of the spike in interest.”
The “Fifty Shades” phenomenon was alive and well after the books were released in Sioux City. The first book in the series was checked out 360 times. All three titles totaled 687 checkouts. To get an idea how big that was, the popular Gillian Flynn novel “Gone Girl” -- also released in 2012 – was checked out 586 times.
“We had to see if there was interest in our community,” Doyle said. “Once we started getting requests, we purchased more copies. We saw a huge hold list when it ('Fifty Shades') first came out. It was extremely popular.”
The books can be found in most retail stores. The trilogy was also sold at Doctor John’s. Humphrey said the store sold many copies when the books were first released but sales have since tapered.
“But probably with the movie coming out, I better make sure I’ve got a good stock,” she said.
Humphrey said she noticed an influx of husbands and wives visiting the store looking to try something new after reading the “Fifty Shades” series.
Even with all the controversy surrounding the book's portrayal of BDSM activities, Humphrey said “Fifty Shades” was able to shed a positive light on the lifestyle.
“I do think it opened up people to maybe explore a little more because most of this stuff isn’t going to hurt you, especially if it’s with two people in love,” she said. “The books may have opened people up to experience different things.”
Having read all three books, Humphrey said “Fifty Shades” is less about the BDSM aspects and more about the construction of a relationship between the two leads – Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.
She enjoyed how the two characters taught each other how to be in a mutual partnership instead of a one-sided, dominant relationship. Grey, Humphrey said, wanted to control every aspect of the relationship and not become emotionally involved.
“Anastasia teaches him how to have that emotional part of a relationship,” she said. “That’s how I read the book – the relationship that was building and the love that came out of it. He never knew love. It was just something he did.”
Humphrey said “Fifty Shades” made those sexual interests highlighted in the book seem less taboo. It just became a different way of loving for some people. She added that most people think of BDSM as some form of torture. Extremes like dominatrices and whips and chains, do happen. But that’s their choice, she said.
However, there is a softer side to it all. She said the two leads are connected to what they are doing and know they cannot cross a certain line.
“I think that’s what resonated the most with me,” she said. “I always thought nobody is listening to anybody; they’re just beating each other. They’re not.”
The communication expressed in the book between Steele and Grey, she said, made their sexual activities seem OK.
“I feel like that’s important,” she said. “You need to be able to talk to your partner. That’s what makes up a relationship.”
As far as the “Fifty Shades” books directly affecting the sales of Doctor John's products, Humphrey said she cannot know for sure. The books certainly haven't hurt business.
"I have noticed that we do sell more fetish stuff," she said. "Is it because of the book? I don't know. Is it because the fetish community is coming out a little bit more because of the books? Or is it just getting to the Midwest finally?"
Or perhaps the movie will garner more interest. As of now, Humphrey said Doctor John's hasn't seen a sudden increase in certain items.
"I think everybody is waiting in anticipation for the movie," she said. "Then I think we'll see that increase again. More people think this isn't such a bad thing."