Gulag is a little steep, dontcha think?

In Laurie Penny’s review of Erotica 2010 she describes the event as a ‘prison for human pleasure’ and a ‘gulag of desire’. I was there, and I can’t help but feel that she has exaggerated the experience to make a point. Now, I had my issues with the day (I *hate* pushy sales people, and botox demonstrations are hardly sex-positive, are they?) but I really feel that she misses the point somewhat.

Yes, there was a strange mixture between the people walking around in full-body latex being lead around on a chain, the man dressed as a dalmation puppy and the one dressed as a four-year-old girl, and the grey-haired men in anoraks and their wives with sensible shoes. But isn’t that just the point? Erotica is for everyone. You could get dressed up in stilettos, corsets, stockings and all of that regalia (regardless of your gender) or you could just wander in off the street. As long as you were over 18 and consenting no one had a problem with you. As it should be with sex.

Now there are various issues surrounding trying to sell sex, or at least trying to sell the promise of better sex. But I’m not sure what is to be expected from an exhibition? That’s where you sell stuff isn’t it? And no, you couldn’t actually buy an orgasm. But if you were in the market for sex toys or sex furniture or paraphernalia of any kind then what better place to go? There was the inevitable dodgy materials that cheap sex toys come in, but there were brilliant brands like Lelo, Tantus and Liberator on display as well. For the discerning buyer, what better place to go? Some people do find this stuff sexy, and sensual.

The show involved feats of contortion never before seen by this amazed viewer. The guy who managed to strip whilst sitting in a metal ring suspended above the stage? That’s impressive no matter what your sexual or entertainment preference. Dita von Teese was something of a let down (a slow motion strip tease with a hint of Orientalism is hardly as impressive as the pole dancer who could hold herself upside down by her thighs).

And, as with most things in the sex industry, it is the punters with the power and the money, and those at the stalls smiling through the fake tan may not be pleased to be there. But I think that you tread a fine line when you knock how people want to express their sexuality. It was not the sexiest place on earth, but we were not attending a sex party or sex show, but an exhibition of businesses connected with sex. No one was getting off there, but I have no doubt that some people were getting off afterwards. The same people Laurie Penny accuses of ‘resigning themselves to a middle-age in which desire and satisfaction are gradually replaced by the purchase of more plastic tat’ may actually be freeing themselves from a boring sex life by exploring the toys and experiences advertised at Erotica. And can you really blame them for that?

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