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(Handout | Heidi Green Photography)
(Handout | Heidi Green Photography)

Mom's guilty pleasure: kinky bedtime stories Add to ...

It’s Real Housewives meets mommy book club meets bondage.

Manhattan moms who were only recently tearing through The Help and parenting books by B-list celebrities (anyone remember Soleil Moon Frye?) have found a new and unlikely addiction: Fifty Shades, a 1,200-plus-page trilogy that centres on the BDSM relationship – that’s bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism – of hunky billionaire Christian Grey and an inexperienced college student with the improbable name Anastasia Steele.

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For yummy mummies in NYC and beyond, the trilogy is a grown-up Twilight – their “mommy porn,” as some have put it.

The first book in the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, was released in 2011, but the series truly picked up speed in January, after a horde of New York socialites celebrated the launch of the third instalment, Fifty Shades Freed. In a Chelsea penthouse, they munched on sugar cookies decorated with the books’ kinky themes: handcuffs, ornate masks and grey ties, a staple in the billionaire’s closet and one method of many used to tie up his concubine.

Through an independent publisher in Australia, the trilogy has sold more than 100,000 copies, the bulk of them e-books, and landed on the New York Times bestsellers list. First time-author E.L. James, a television executive living in London, honed her erotica chops penning BDSM-themed Twilight fan fiction. She has said that the bondage opus was her “midlife crisis.”

Fitting, since many rabid fans suggest the book has tapped into their “mid-wife” crises; some are even crediting it with re-invigorating the conjugal bed.

“It’s becoming like a marital Band-Aid,” said Lyss Stern, who takes credit for the book’s explosive arrival in New York; she hosted the January launch party. (Print copies have since sold out on Amazon.) Ms. Stern, 38, ignited a word-of-mouth campaign through her site DivaMoms.com, which aims to “bridge the gap between a glam, pre-baby lifestyle and a post-baby life where, well, let’s just say there are more midnight feedings than midnight soirées.”

So what’s the appeal – why this, in a heap of Harlequin bodice rippers?

It’s the “love story,” fans say ad nauseam. Probed further, it’s actually that age-old fantasy: Tame the bad boy.

Christian, the enigmatic, slap-happy protagonist, aged 27, “needed love, to be taken care of. He needed to be understood. And the main character truly understood him on a much deeper level than a lot of the women did in his past,” Ms. Stern explained.

“It’s a fantasy that all of us would love to have,” said Carla Rose, a 52-year-old psychotherapist who attended the launch. “A billionaire who sweeps us off our feet when we’re young and teaches us how to love and wants us every minute and also supports us and whisks us off to Europe when we’ve never been anywhere in our life. It’s a great story.”

Although the trilogy is set in Seattle, the real-estate porn of Christian’s digs appealed instinctively to Manhattan socialites: “Harlequin is more middle America. This is like, New York, Upper Eastside: I can see it. He’s a billionaire, self-made,” said Ms. Rose.

How does it translate to real-life hubby? “Moms, we’re so busy with our children, sometimes we forget that our husbands also have needs and wants,” said Ms. Stern, who has an eight-year-old and a four-year-old.

She described her friends buying up grey ties in droves for their husbands: “The women are now guiding the husbands, and the husbands are thrilled. Men also want to read it too, to know what’s going on.” Well, the steamy bits at least.

Another, more contentious draw? Anastasia is a kept woman, in every sense of the word: beyond sexual submission, a “BDSM contract” drawn up by Christian prescribes the awkward girl a new diet, exercise regimen, clothing budget and sleep schedule, although the contract goes out the window later in the series, when the couple starts jet-setting. ( Pretty Woman, anyone?)

Rachel Kramer Bussel, a New York-based author and editor of the Best Bondage Erotica series, as well as 40 other anthologies, said Fifty Shades is tamer than much of the material that crosses her desk. It’s erotic romance, with shades of both erotica’s explicitness and Harlequin’s cheese.

Still, she allows that “romance novels have gotten a lot kinkier.”

“You can walk by the romance section and there are handcuffs on the cover. Once you start reading, there’s ménages à trois, dominant submissive relationships. It was much tamer when I was reading romance novels as a teenager. Overall, the market has gotten more risqué.”

As for the quality of the writing, Ms. Bussel is unmoved. Even diehard fans admit it’s a touch limp.

“I think the book is okay, but there are better erotic novels out there in terms of writing,” she said. “If you’re already versed in the genre, this might not be necessarily what you would read.”

That said, she can see why those unacquainted with BDSM would find it alluring: “The [female]character in the book is new to BDSM. It’s her introduction as well.”

A hopeful Ms. Stern believes “moms are going to start reading more erotica now.”

Beyond the perks for hubby, the New York women noticed that it got them commiserating with each other about sex again, this time, in book club style.

Said Ms. Rose: “It’s about women talking to each other like they did when they were in college.”

Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

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