A New Year is calculated to bring surprises. The first was a faxed invitation from Playboy to join their new 'sex and politics tour' of Washington. The second was the order from The Independent to `drop everything' (well, given the context, perhaps not quite everything) to accept.
Now, looking for sex in Washington is - as the tour guide, James Petersen, explains - a bit like looking for the miniature Wally figure in those endlessly convoluted drawings. He should know. As author of Playboy's series `History of the Sexual Revolution', he has been around a bit. He has already organised sex and politics tours of New York City and plans one also for San Francisco. But Washington presents a challenge of a different order.
It may well be, as we were told, and recent books confirm, that JFK had a sex life that even Hugh Heffner could envy. The problem for a tour company is that it was well shielded by the walls of the White House and protected by the Kennedy clan. William Jefferson Clinton (somehow WJC is never likely to sound convincing) has enjoyed less media deference so far as intimate matters are concerned. Living, serving presidents, though, seemed delicately off-limits.
Not that there would be much to show. WJC is said to have wanted the presidency so badly that his White House years may turn out to have been some of the most sexually pure in US presidential history. The raunchy stuff came earlier. The only allegations to the contrary relate to a supposed liaison conducted at dead of night at the downtown Marriott hotel, which he is said to have entered, Deep-Throat style, through the underground carpark. But the author of these claims now says his sources may have fabricated it all. Anyway, Playboy for once plays safe. The Marriott is not on the route.
One of the highlights, on the other hand, is the Washington townhouse of Gary Hart - he who lost his chance of the presidency through a dalliance with Ms Donna Rice on the good ship Monkey Business.
We had assembled an hour or so before outside Union Station, where the Playboy bus was already attracting curiosity from waiting taxi-drivers. Union station, we were told, was where the sexual-political history of Washington began, with the Mann law that laid men open to arrest for bringing young women across state borders for immmoral purposes.
The whipped-up moral outrage that brought the law into being was just a prelude to the hypocrisy and law-bending that followed. The best collections of porn always belonged to the censor. Sex was seen as a nasty foreign intrusion into wholesome American life, probably French.
So hung-up were Americans about sex that Dorothy Sanger, America's answer to Marie Stopes, who spent 60 years campaigning for birth control, imported diaphragms from Holland in shipments of illegal gin. The tour stop that illustrates this gem of history, though, is the building of the National Civil Liberties Union - which only goes to show: in Washington, even Playboy has to search for sex.
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