Erotic Economy Booms
As the world banking economy lurches this way and that requiring huge government bail outs the erotica and porn industries grow and grow. This article by Robert Fisk of the Independent takes a wry look at the ever expanding erotic economy. Maybe there's space in the industry for many of the financial spivs that lost their jobs over the last few days after financially shafting the many many people who now find themselves unable to pay their mortgages in a time where house repossessions are at their highest for years.
Once it seemed so simple. Representations of sex in literature and art were, we learnt, regrettable but just-about-allowable constituents in a larger enterprise. They were tolerated as flavours in a dish, provided they didn't threaten to overwhelm the other flavours. A sex scene in a movie was incidental to the plot; a nude in a Rubens landscape was part of a beautiful composition – even if she was, as EM Forster's tourist ladies in Italian art galleries would say, "a pity" for having been painted with nothing on.
Thirty or 40 years ago, one understood these rules. And so books and visual displays that concentrated too hard on sex, on naked flesh, desire, breasts, bottoms, genitalia and rumpy-pumpy were completely beyond the pale of decency. To go to see a movie explicitly about sex, or devoted to its depiction, was evidence of a beastly mind and a sordid disposition; it meant you were probably not a chap to trust to be alone with one's younger sister (or brother.) To read a book considered to be "gratuitously" (a word that reverberated through my childhood) concerned with sex, such as Lady Chatterley's Lover or Portnoy's Complaint – and especially to do so on public transport – was to lay oneself open to disapproval.
Today, things are vastly different. We are far more likely than ever before to talk about sex in public, to discuss Max Mosley's taste for being thrashed by five women in an underground cellar, and to attend "Seduction", an exhibition of strongly erotic images at the Barbican. On Channel Four's The Sex Education Show, the studio audience noisily discusses the correct use of condoms and the ins and outs, as it were, of shaving your pubes. A Sunday newspaper's Style section features Peaches Geldof and her young associates taking part in a sadomasochistic fantasy.
The Ann Summers chain of erotic clothing has gone mainstream, to be joined in a saucy-undergarment war by the more up-market Agent Provocateur (where, should you be in the mood, you can buy waitress aprons and sex toys), the luxurious Myla store (black silk blindfold with long luxuriant straps, £39) and the immensely stylish Coco de Mer (diamante whip, £165). Why, you can't even visit the Chelsea Flower Show without tripping over a few dozen naked girls, expertly sculpted in bronze resin, displaying their pink rumps in the shrubbery.
We have embraced the whole business of sexual display, sexual behaviour and sexual depiction as if our lives depended on it. Erotica, a word once used to mean simply erotic literature or art, has come to mean anything pertaining to the arousal of sexual desire – and gosh, how obsessed we are. The annual Erotica exhibition at Olympia pulls in nearly 70,000 guests every year, some of them from the sex industry, but the vast majority from what's called "passing trade," all of them inspecting with the liveliest interest a range of S&M whips, rubber leotards, dominatrix boots, nipple rings, butt plugs, fisting slings, urethra dilators and chain-mail codpieces as unembarrassedly as if walking through a B&Q warehouse in search of a better toolkit.