German police rescued a man who had been trapped for more than three days in handcuffs in an apparent "autoerotic accident", a spokesman said.

Every Durban woman’s sex life just got hotter. Wait. Let me qualify that. Every woman in Durban who has picked up one or more volumes of EL James’s earth-shatteringly successful 50 Shades Of Grey trilogy and who has actually read it and found it a turn-on... their sex lives just got hotter.

Maybe that needs a qualifier too. Their sex lives just got hotter but for some the heat has gone up in measurable reality-based terms. Think spiced-up, with more good orgasms. For others, the heat has gone up on their fantasies.

The thing is, there is a missing link between the book and real life, and it’s major.

A clue? “We went to the East Coast Radio band gig in Durban last weekend. But did we look at the bands? No! We were looking at the crowds seeing how many Christian Grey possibles we could spot,” confessed Kim and Samantha (not their real names), who both in their early 30s.

Hilda Tod, dominee’s daughter turned women’s sensuality boutique co-owner, says: “What’s been really interesting to me about the Shades of Grey phenomenon has been the realisation that fantasy really is the female Viagra. And the books are all about fantasy.”

Chantal Edouard-Betsy, her partner at The Bedroom in Umhlanga, says: “When women used to come in for something to turn them on, it was for cream, lubricant and a vibrator. Now, it’s those… plus Fifty Shades.”

If you’ve read the books, you’ll know that while they seem raunchy at first glance with their dominant-submissive sub-theme, they are in fact BlackBerry and iPad-era Mills and Boon. She talks about “my sex”, never her vagina; and “his erection”, never his penis. And while there’s many a hard-on, there’s nothing hard-core. All is couched in innuendo and written by a plump and unthreatening mommy-porn author who was inspired by the Twilight series to write a fairy-tale girl-meets-Prince Charming, with white horse replaced by private jet, yacht and helicopter – and where his sexual kinks add just enough spice, but all is conquered by love.

Christian Grey, the hero, is gorgeous, rich, vulnerable… and good in bed, be it with whips, handcuffs, a silk tie and spreader bars or engaging in “vanilla” sex, as he calls sex without the BD/SM (bondage domination sado masochism) add-ons. The rich part would not be of consequence except that he delights in showering his riches, often in the form of adventures, on Ana(stasia) Steel, who, it would appear, is also gorgeous and good in bed. He is 27 and she is 21 (so no dirty-old-man sugar-daddy stuff).

The BD/SM is all consensual – and references to his nightmare childhood explain why he’s into it. There are a lot more “shades of darker” things talked about than engaged in. There are accepted hard limits. When things get beyond the limits for Ana at one point, it turns out she has forgotten to use her “safeword”, which one-time is “popsicle”. True. When Christian blindfolds Ana and gives her visible hickeys, she is furious.

There have been loads of criticism of the writing, but as Betsy says: “You don’t read Shakespeare and expect the writing to make you wet and horny any more than you should read EL James and expect Shakespeare. These books are women’s porn. All they’re expected to do is turn you on. They’re not literary works.”

And turning many on is what they’ve been doing.

Westville and Ballito clinical psychologist and sex therapist Diante Fuchs says: “The sex appeal of the book lies in its ability to tap into the majority of women’s fantasies around being ‘submissive’ in some way. This allows women to be sexual without being ‘responsible’ for it.

“Why are women willing to admit being turned on by the book? With media such as (TV series) Game Of Thrones and Shameless making sex so open, it has liberated women in general to talk more freely about the topic.”

Janine, a 45-year-old Durban North high school teacher said: “I read the first one and got so hot, my hubby didn’t know what hit him. He complained I was exhausting him. When I asked him to tie me up, he walked out of the bedroom. I thought he was going to get something to tie me up with. But, he didn’t come back. Turned out he’d gone to sleep at his brother’s for the night. We’ve talked about it and reached an agreement. Our sex life was dead. It has perked up. But no bondage!”

Rani, 32, says: “After I finished reading the first one, I bought some bedroom toys and put them on a box on Matt’s pillow. Reading the books has put some spark back. The toys were new for both of us. The novelty has been good.”

Betsy says: “We’ve seen a dramatic upswing in business – what I’m calling ‘Fifty Shades mania’ since March.”

It reflects a worldwide trend. As book sales have soared, so has international demand for vaginal balls (in the trilogy, Ana gets spanked while wearing them in one scene and in another, goes out pantyless, with them inserted, and gets very turned on), paddles and whips (locally, the demand is for the more playful varieties that don’t inflict pain), handcuffs (fair demand), restraints (fair demand), butt plugs (more curiosity than real interest, anal sex being a hard limit for a lot of women), nipple clamps (yikes! – and not in demand), grey ties (big demand), blindfolds (big demand) and other bdsm objects that feature in the book. Interestingly, not just sales of fetish stuff have gone up, says Betsy. “What Fifty Shades is doing is causing a heightened interest in sex in general. And I think if it starts a conversation and they get kinkier in the bedroom, it’s a great idea.

“And, a lot of women say they don’t tell their husband they’re reading the book. They almost don’t want to give away credit for the change in the relationship.”

Tod says: “A lot of what’s going around – women openly admitting they’ve read the books and felt turned on by what they’ve read – is about permission, it seems.

“Fantasy is incredibly powerful for women and it’s also safe. It’s almost like women have been given permission to read the books, to fantasise and to act out their fantasies through the fact that celebrities and others regarded as role models are speaking out about it.”

The books are definitely geared to women, although, Joanne King, the Umhlanga store’s manager, says: “I heard from a friend whose husband is in Afghanistan that all the British guys there are reading the books. And generally, younger guys are keen to read them. They’re more in touch with their feelings – and curious. A lot of older men, and men who are not good lovers, are intimidated by Christian Grey.”

“At the end of the day,” says Tod, “it doesn’t matter what you look like, what age you are or what experiences you’ve had, we’ve found a sisterhood in Mr Grey. We all want to have sex with Christian Grey.”

Niall Leonard, husband of Fifty Shades author EL James, said most people expect he and his wife are leading a wildly exciting life. “But,” he says, “we’re mostly just a regular family.” You see, she needs a Christian Grey too. - Sunday Tribune