David Usborne: Our Man In New York

Like smoking, sex is under siege in the steamy metropolis
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Summer has officially started and here in Gotham our hazy torpor is interrupted only by the sour smells of a city on a slow boil and thoughts of, well, sex. This is the season when the blood fizzes and the avenues of Manhattan become catwalks for a fashion style that is best described as minimalist-skimpy.

But then, as you may have heard, sex, like smoking, is under siege in family-friendly New York. Carnal shenanigans and nicotine inhalation are still acceptable in the privacy of your home, but who knows for how much longer. Protracted kissing can get you ejected from even the shadiest of clubs and most of the seedy sex shops that once dotted Times Square were booted out long ago.

Violators of the new moral code are quickly found out and shamed. Take the day last week when a lone protester planted himself outside my midtown office building. His props were two six-foot oil paintings of semi-naked women adorned with graffiti like "Lust=Evil". No, he was not targeting this newspaper, but rather our neighbour, New York Magazine. Its sin, he explained, is accepting classified advertising for such dubious services as female escorts.

I briefly considered challenging him. These are tough times for the print media. Classified advertising has all gone online, so don't begrudge the guys upstairs sweeping up what's left. Besides, I wanted to say, "Wake up! If New York doesn't publish these ads, someone else will."

It is time for a reality check. The spirit of naughtiness hasn't withered, but it may have moved up-market, like so much else in this city. The once tawdry Billy's Topless in Greenwich Village is gone, but check out Kiki de Montparnasse.

Furtive glances are not required when entering Kiki, which opened earlier this month on Greene Street among the pricey boutiques of SoHo. It is a shop that sells sex but calling it a sex shop just won't do. More boudoir than bawdy, Kiki, according to its own blurb, is a "luxury fashion and lifestyle brand that celebrates intimacy and inspires the romantic imagination".

Inside you will find erotic toys in lacquer display cases, snake-skin condom holders, saucy lingerie and original art. I liked the three light settings in the dressing room - "before", "during" and "after" - as well as the faux hard-bound book that is actually a secret hiding place for gold-plated handcuffs. (It was Moby Dick.) But you have to wonder who can pay $3,750 for an item they call a "diletto" (it is made of titanium) or $85,000 for a Picasso etching.

While Kiki may fancy itself the Tiffany's of titillation, it does not have the niche to itself. Posh sex shops are popping up all over. Take La Petite Coquette just blocks from my home, Myla on the Upper East Side or Catriona MacKechnie in the Meatpacking District.

There are other signs that sex in Manhattan is best enjoyed by the rich. We shan't linger on last week's tabloid frothings about a woman charged with running a sex-for-hire business out of a million-dollar apartment. And what are we to say about a report in Details Magazine about misbehaviour in the toilets of Manhattan's most exclusive restaurants and clubs?

"It doesn't surprise me that people are having sex in the bathrooms," was the response of Amy Sacco, whose discreet Bungalow 8 club still attracts a nightly throng of wannabe and actual celebrities. "Mine are beautiful". Other spots favoured by those who have no need for beds, sheets or anything horizontal (and evidently no patience either), reportedly include Nobu Next Door, the extension to the original Nobu eatery in Tribeca, and also Bar 89 in SoHo, which frankly encourages frolics in the facilities with glass toilet doors that magically fog up when they are locked.

The moral for our moralising city leaders seems to be that while you might be able to take the city out of the sex, you will never take the sex out of the city. And if you take it out of the gutter, you will only find it higher up the social chain.