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Sex is now more widely discussed than probably at any other point in British history. A hundred years ago, we were a nation of starched petticoats and tortured glances at concealed ankles. Now anal sex is freely discussed round middle class dinner table in the same breath as requests to pass the parmesan. At the same time the working population finds it increasingly difficult to find time for sex. Olivia LaMontaigne investigates the social mores, pitfalls, pratfalls and realities of modern sex lives in Britain in this veritable Kinsey report.
Sex toys used to be crude, often brightly coloured objects. A common motif in comedies of the late nineties used to be of a giant pulsing pink vibrator falling out of a highly embarrassed woman’s handbag, or being discovered in a luggage search at the airport. Only the brazen or the highly secretive could use sex toys. Sex toys in the aptly named ‘noughties’ have evolved far beyond this.
In 2003 Fiona McStraddle, now managing director of her own company, ‘Organic Boxx’, came up with an idea that would revolutionise sex toys and bring them to a new demographic of embarrassed middle class people who believe the way to solve sexual inadequacies is, like everything else, to throw money at it. ‘For many people’ McStraddle told us, ‘the idea of walking into Ann Summers and buying a 10 inch pink rabbit shaped vibrator was a total anathema. What we did was to bring people a product that was discreet, stylish, and represented more accurately the values they held in their lives.’
Organic Boxx started with a small vibrator, ‘The Courgette.’ This was the worlds’ first fairtrade organic sex toy, hand crafted and painted from eucalyptus bark by an aboriginal tribe, and ingeniously delivered direct in the most secret way possible- by organic box, along with the household’s regular vegetables. McStraddle laughs, ‘of course, eventually The Courgette itself became part of popular culture, and there would be a friendly wink and a nod between neighbours when their organic boxes arrived. And of course, I’ve heard stories from women whose husbands have discovered The Courgette when they’ve been making ratatouille and so on.’ Organic Boxx sold 30,000 of The Courgette in the first quarter of business, and McStraddle quotes 5.8 million Courgettes sold to date. Since then, Organic Boxx has diversified in its product range, including a set of anal beads shaped like curly kale.
Not only have taboos about discussing sex diminished in recent years, but taboos about different kinds of sex have also disappeared into thin air. ‘I think this new found interest in diverse kinds of sexual activity fuels romance’, comments Ken Meredith, 27, a City trader. ‘Girls used to be very inhibited. If you asked them if you could buy them a drink in a bar, and they accepted, they were so inhibited that they could only accept the drink and nothing else. Now, when a girl lets you buy her a drink, it’s pretty much a green light for hardcore anal sex, whether she expresses that in actual words or not.’
The move away from so-called vanilla sex to more diverse forms of sexual activity is also noticeable. Samuel Huntingdon, an economic analyst at J P Morgan, told the Bourgeois, ‘if I met a girl who was only into vanilla sex, I would be amazed. I would think that anyone on the dating circuit today who was only prepared to engage in ‘vanilla’ sex, that is merely heterosexual, one on one, straight as you like sex, is probably extremely repressed.’ Huntingdon continued, ‘my parents introduced me to the exciting world of domination and submission when I was only seven years old. Now I can only get a lob on if my partner’s thrashing me with a leather strap. Thanks mum and dad.’
Reading The Bourgeois only thirty years ago seems like another era in the sexual politics of the nation. In the 1970’s, disapproving voices could be heard making ridiculous claims like ‘pornography objectifies women.’ Like, whatever. In the 21st century, women have finally rid themselves of the ridiculous notion that pornography is somehow unrealistic, objectifying and demeaning towards women, and have signed up for brazilian waxes and fanny tucks with abandon.
However, pornography is not something that can be picked up and acquired without some careful study. Amanda Spitte-Roste, an expert in sexual etiquette who has advised an exclusive portfolio of clients from Princess Diana to Bono on their sex lives, explains. ‘What many people do not realise about material to stimulate sexual arousal is that there are certain things that it is acceptable to see on ones bookshelves, and certain things that are most definitely not. For example, take that marvellous film ‘9 Songs’, by Michael Winterbottom. This is a film, with a real plot, a real director, and real actors, who happen to have real penetrative sex to some most delightful indie musicians like Primal Scream, and Travis and the Verve, um I think. Such films are perfectly acceptable both for your friends to judge your impeccable modern tastes, and for you to introduce an element of titillation on perhaps a third date. Films such as ‘Fisting friends 3’ fail to achieve that same affect.’
The same applies to printed material, as Ms. Spitte-Roste goes on to explain. ‘There exists a great tradition of literary pornography, which can be used to great effect in presenting you as both a sexual and an intellectual being. Consider the following example. A girl is reading ‘The story of O’ on the train, a literary masterpiece where a woman gains sexual satisfaction by being beaten and tortured. This is likely to be advantageous to her efforts to attract discerning men and to meet a suitable match. Consider by contrast a man reading ‘Razzle’, and the impression that he is likely to create.’