Rampant exhibitionism

For unusual stocking fillers, head to Erotica at Olympia, says Joshua Sims

The British have always liked things erotic kept well under the duvet. So, it might surprise readers to know that what might be thought of as Britain's largest-ever peep-show is set to open at the end of this month.

Erotica, at Olympia from 28 November, will be Britain's first attempt to get the best of the straight, gay and fetish notions of the titillating under one roof. With more than 100 stands of naughty bits, Erotica will put the exhibition back into exhibitionist, bringing together top-flight, top-shelf merchants of magazines, books and videos, sex toys, holidays, kinky boots, frilly panties, piercing and all manner of Carry On innuendo in the classic British tradition.

Erotica Ltd, the show's organiser, has cautiously timed the event just before Christmas to provide shy punters with an excuse to visit (this, after all, will be the place to pick up that special stocking filler you can't find in Harrods). More altruistically, the company hopes that, in a nation where buying a packet of condoms in Boots remains a traumatic experience for many, the Erotica show may go some way to relaxing our attitudes. "There has been a sea-change over the past five years," says chairman Brian Wiseman, "one that has really accelerated over the past 18 months. There is a mood among the British now that they want to know more."

Not that the show will be too in-your-face. Compared with Europe's five leading exhibitions of the erotic, notably the Munich Fetish Fair and Paris's Hot D'Or, Erotica will, says Wiseman, be "pretty tame". He adds: "In Germany you'd get live sex, for example. The English public would find genitals on show more of a deterrent than an attraction. This isn't hardcore. It's for a broad base of people with sexual interests, an opportunity to get information about how to fulfil your fantasies. For some people that's winning the lottery next Saturday. For many more, it's a sexual thing."

Anne Stokes, events producer for Wam Bam/Vision Group, the show's party organiser and, as a leading distributor of adult videos, one of its main exhibitors, even argues that the London show could have great social significance. She feels that Britain is still stuck in a double-standard mindset that increasingly uses and responds to subtle erotic imagery in highly effective advertising campaigns - think of Cadbury's Flake, Haagen Daz and Levi's New York Cab ads - but only screens them after the 9.30 watershed.

"The British are still scared to stand up for their sexuality," says Stokes. "Attitudes are changing, but slowly. We really need to take more responsibility for our sexuality, to celebrate it, which is what this show's all about." "Things are on the move," agrees Robert Johnson, spokesman for Private, the sex-shop chain. "A while ago, the sex-shop customer here would rush in and quickly buy the basic pounds 5 vibrator. Now they are more discerning. They want a quality item, a pounds 25 latex, life-like dildo. It does suggest a much less furtive approach..."

Naturally, Erotica will be open only to those over 18. Expect many a tampered-with birth certificate to be shown at the door.

Erotica will be at Olympia Exhibition Centre, Hammersmith Road, London W14, from 28- 30 November. Tickets cost from pounds 10. For advance bookings, call 0171 244 7774

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