Helen Croydon: Reading between the sheets

Are we so reticent about sex that we must mask it in a highbrow facade?

Share
Related Topics

Erotica is, by definition, literature or art of a sexual nature. Unlike pornography, it doesn't necessarily have the aim of arousing sexual desire. That makes last weekend's Erotica '09 exhibition in London inappropriately named.

Yes there was an entertaining mix of exhibits from extravagant love Jacuzzis and leopard-print silk bed spreads to downright terrifying whips, chains and – look away now if you're faint hearted – gadgets that give electric shocks. Shudder. There was plenty of eye-candy too: glamorous girls towering 8ft high on stilts, and dancing male models with stomach muscles as bumpy as a mountain of moguls. There was an eye-popping display of sex toys so technically advanced that it made the Large Hadron Collider look like a Wendy House. One exhibitor, LoveHoney, has got sex down to such a science that its staff stood in lab coats with clip boards offering personalised anatomy-specific advice.

But there was very little art or literature. Why do the British feel the need to mislabel anything racy with the term erotica? Apparently if you want sordid no-strings-sex with a stranger you go "erotic dating". If you want to try swinging but are too worried about your Google search history and the IT-police, no problem, just look for an "erotic ball".

Is it because we are so reticent about sex that we feel the need to mask it with a highbrow façade? Or is it social snobbery? It's not chic to talk porn, but go to a dinner party and retell your visit to the Le'enfer exhibition at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and that's simply fascinating, darling. You can have a painting of Lady Godiva above your fireplace, but would you admit to being drawn in by pictures of Katie Price posing seductively on a horse in a recent promo for equestrian clothing?

Art critics attempt to distinguish erotica from porn by suggesting that eroticism explores the emotions of sex, while pornography is limited to the physical aspects. But the boundaries have always been blurred. In 1857 Michelangelo's naked statue, David, arrived at a London museum. All were content that this was "art" but curators still thought it best to reach for a fig leaf.

Then there was Lady Chatterley's Lover. What a definition nightmare that book was. It was banned under the Obscene Publications Act until 1961. But now that it is safely in the genre of literature, we can read it on the Tube. Consider also the kerfuffle when super-model Lily Cole – beautiful, pure, with skin like porcelain – appeared nude on the cover of French Playboy, her assets concealed by a teddy bear. She said it was art. Others considered her downgraded to Bunny Girl.

Historically language changes the most quickly in areas of taboo. The more times a euphemism is used, the quicker it becomes associated with the negative connotations we are trying to avoid. It would be a real shame if "erotica" became one and the same as a backstreet Soho store flogging PVC nurses' uniforms and glow-in-the-dark nipple tassels just because we aren't brave enough to use the s-word.

There sure as hell isn't anything wrong with high-octane vibrators, quick-fasten suspenders and multi-sensual massage machines, but let's call them sex commodities. Don't deride art with all your linguistic dodgings.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Specialist - HR Team

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Sales Advisor - OTE 18k-23k

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Ford's leading Parts Who...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A man enjoys the  

If you really want to legalise cannabis, then why on earth would you go and get high in a park?

Peter Reynolds
 

No wonder 1,000 women a year are getting abortions because of extreme morning sickness. When I was suffering, my doctor said it would 'cure' me

Jo Crosby
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders