Every few years a concerted effort is made to liberate sex from porn. The stated aim of ‘the campaign for real sex’, launched by the Guardian in 2006, was to combat the ‘Mcdonaldisation of sexuality’ and debate alternatives. Libby Brooks wrote:
“For all that they are over informed about how other people do it, this has not brought young men and women closer to developing a common erotic language. There must be a way to diminish the junk succour of public sex while freeing private appetite.”
Eight years later, if you believe media reports, ‘real sex’ still isn’t happening, but the effects of porn on our sexual consciousness have been widely documented. It’s easier to point out what’s wrong, as playwright Penelope Skinner did brilliantly in The Village Bike, than settle on an alluring alternative. The ‘Mcdonaldisation of sex’ is a sexier concept than ‘freeing private appetite’; which sounds like a post-prandial lunge by a well upholstered restaurant critic, rather than an intimation of liberated sexuality. However well intentioned, media attempts to whiteboard sex are always wide of the mark.
I left Skinner’s play profoundly grateful that my flirtation with porn was a youthful dalliance rather than a life long obsession. I’ve avoided it assiduously for twenty years, even feminist porn, which seems like an oxymoron.
Several years after the Guardian campaign, very little had changed. Then Channel 4 nicked the idea and pornographised it. With staggering literal mindedness their ‘campaign for real sex’ featured real couples having sex in a box, in front of a TV audience of voyeurs. Like the Jacuzzi sex in Celebrity Big Brother, the sex box was staged for the public titillation, inauthentic by definition.
I agree with Frank Furedi (for once). His piece about the sex box in the Huffington Post said it’s worse than “banal porn because it masquerades as a public service.”
There is no need for any public conversation about sex, he says. The media’s alibi for their fetishisation of sex is always that they are “removing the stigma” around it. What stigma? “Sex talk is so constant that you have to search an old people’s home to find a hint of embarrassment about the subject.”
I think the media campaign for real sex is a contradiction in terms as long as it’s conducted in public. A second sexual revolution is needed to return sex to the private realm, where, according to Furedi, “it gains its meaning in the context of an intimate relationship, group of friends or family members.”
I was recently asked to review The Poetry of Sex for another paper. The big black X on the cover of this anthology made me worry that it would be yet another pornographic spectacle; a series of X rated revelations with a literary, rather than an educational alibi – though the title does offer a different approach to this well trodden terrain.
Media reports about the death of ‘real sex’ have been greatly exaggerated. I wondered why journalists and broadcasters were adamant that ‘real sex’ isn’t happening. Then it dawned on me that the ‘campaign for real sex’ was an expression of erotic ennui; as dangerous liaisons between glamorous media figures, like those described by Julie Burchill in Ambition, have gone the way of expense accounts and Sea Breezes.
Outside the purview of the media however, poets are fucking like rabbits in every conceivable configuration; they are having threesomes and relationships based on sodomy. There is no ‘common erotic language’ but energy and variety, the opposite of porn. Poetry is the right form for sex because it evokes rather than demands.
It is not clear whether the poets are fucking other poets. If so I will go to more poetry readings. I was reassured to hear someone was doing it, but also rather sad to be a middle aged female journalist with a neurological calamity ahead of me, as I feel my own erotic capital declining. If my husband ever left me, who would want me? The poem that affected me most was called Whatever Happened to Sex By Amok Huey, which begins with a quotation from a freshman essay:
“When sex was more popular in the 60s”
I can attest that sex was also popular in the false boom of the 90s and maybe less so in a recession. For Amok, at some point, “Sex is a bungalow the Hollywood Hills/That only comes out at special occasions.”
“Sex tries hard not to whine for the good old days.’ but ‘can’t help but ache to be popular again.”
I liked this collection more than the books about love I poured over when I was looking for a reading for my wedding. I ended up with something from Heidegger’s Being and Time instead. I’ll leave this as an open question rather than another contribution to the wholly inappropriate public debate about sex.
Photo: Jean Koulev
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