Rachel, a 39-year-old mother and lawyer from New Jersey, specializes in medical malpractice and often asks "intimate" questions in obstetrical cases, but scenes from the new erotic trilogy, "50 Shades of Grey," shocked even her.
"I am not a prude and I am not shy," she said. "But this [book] made me blush."
The romance novels of EL James are heating up bedrooms across the country, and fans can't seem to get enough of what is being called "mommy porn."
Anastasia Steele, 21, and a virginal college student, can't say no to dashing 27-year-old Christian Grey, who insists she sign a contract that allows him to submit her to his every sadomasochistic whim.
In their first sexual encounter, Grey unveils his silver tie and binds her wrists in knots, and Steele does as she is told.
He is also fabulously rich, a telecommunications tycoon, and uses his wealth to take care of her like a pampered princess.
"Ana," as he calls her, willingly and excitedly agrees to spanking, whipping and gagging, with props like ice, rope, tape -- a repertoire right out of a BDSM [bondage, discipline, dominance and submission] manual.
Grey instructs her to call him, "sir," and sets rules on everything from her diet to her most intimate grooming routines.
"I loved the book -- all three," said Rachel, who has been married to her husband since she was 19 and has a healthy sex life. "But this is pretty hard-core porn."
"The first book is very, very graphic and harsh with a lot of S & M – and quite frankly, did not do it for me," she said. "I would never try anything with pain."
But, she got hooked on the romance that develops in the second book, when Steele tries to change Grey. "What I loved was that it was a great love story."
The heart of the romance is the notion of submission and the way in which Steele accommodates Grey to "make him love her," according to Rachel.
"She sees being submissive as a necessity to save him," she said. "He was broken. That was more of the appeal. And the sex was a bonus."
British mom and former TV producer James initially wanted to replicate the success of the "Twilight" fan fiction series. The novels were published by a small independent Australian press and hard copy distribution was limited. So 90 percent of sales were discreet ebook downloads, according to the New York Times, which saw it rise to number one on its ebook fiction bestseller list in March.
Vintage Books just bought the rights to all three novels and Universal and Focus Features plan to do a film.
Its success raises the question how sexual submission, especially when pain is involved, could be such a turn-on for many young well-educated suburban women who are empowered economically and enlightened sexually.
Most agree it's a cheese-ball narrative whose heroine is incapable of using adult language. She refers to her genitals euphemistically as "my sex."
"Our customers are very smart and they say it's badly written, but they are in the middle of book three," laughed Margot Sage EL, co-owner of the Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., which carries the trilogy. "None of us at the bookstore have been able to read it. The print on-demand version comes in and goes out right away."
"One woman couldn't believe her friend was so gushing about it," she said. "She was horrified by the domination."
"But when you're a young mom and everyone depends on you for everything -- your husband your mother -- the idea of having someone take care of you and telling you what to do, even in twisted sense, it rocks their boat."
The dialogue is, indeed, corny.
"Every time you move tomorrow, I want you to be reminded that I've been here. Only me. You are mine," Grey tells Steele after he takes her virginity.
After her first spanking, the "dom" congratulates his "sub:" "Well done, baby." She coos to the reader: "His words curl around me like a soft fluffy towel from the Heathman Hotel, and I'm so pleased he's happy."