All the fuss about the Harford County Public Library's director, Mary Hastler, choosing to keep "Fifty Shades of Grey," an erotic novel with generous gobs of sadomasochism, by British author E.L James, from off the shelves has met with condemnations of censorship. But library heads have broad decision making powers about what books they will or will not stock. The novel has become a sensation and other libraries have long waiting lists of eager readers who want the book. But some reading materials are simply not suitable for adolescents, and once a book is on the shelves it cannot be kept out of the hands of kids who shouldn't be reading it without parental guidance or consent.
"Fifty Shades" is no more than pornography masquerading as literature. It has no redeeming value for kids between the ages of 14 to 18 years. This is a country where sexual trafficking, child pornography and sexual exploitation of young girls and boys are of grave concern. Campus rapes, date rape drugs, sexual abuse and unequal relationships are pervasive and problematic here. Novels about kinky sex may be perfectly fine for adults, but when middle school and early high school age children line up to borrow such books, then libraries are placed in the unsavory position of becoming purveyors of smut to the young and the impressionable. Those who defend sadomasochism as acceptable among mutually consenting adults and those who comment that the popularity of the book among moms exemplifies that women are now less inhibited or guilty about their own sexuality and hence are prepared to read, discuss and incorporate taboo sexual content in their own lives, miss the point.