The age old adage ‘SEX SELLS’ has guided the advertising world for centuries, steering the wallets of hot and bothered consumers towards loin tingling purchases, faster than you can say ‘Wonderbra’.
You will remember the provocative ads of the 90’s; those featuring the likes of Eva Herzigova in her sultry ‘Hello Boys’ campaign, or a topless Kate Moss donning Calvin Klein’s at the tender age of 17. However, up until this point, no celebrity has ever commanded control over her own naked image as audaciously as Madonna and no one has done so with such trailblazing authenticity since.
The book, simply titled ‘SEX’, was a companion piece to the album Erotica (which was released the day before) and featured the Material Girl performing (or simulating) R- and X-rated sex acts—watersports, rimming, cunnilingus, etc.—with models, porn stars and celebrities including Isabella Rossellini, Naomi Campbell, Big Daddy Kane and Udo Kier.
Unsurprisingly the provocative tome established Madge as perhaps one of the most controversial public figures of the time, whilst simultaneously defining her as a rebel icon amongst her fans. Sal Cinquemani describes this period in Madonna’s career as her at her most relevant, "no one else in the mainstream at that time dared to talk about sex, love, and death with such frankness and fearlessness."
To this day the book remains one of popular culture's most unflinching explorations of sex, attempting to redefine eroticism in mainstream media through cutting-edge art. In fact, not only did the book reach the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list during the year of its release but Rolling Stone has since listed it as one of the Greatest Moments in Rock Star Nudity, cementing its iconic position in popular culture.
With backlash at the time of its release reducing the book to nothing more than pages filled with ‘smut’, contemporary critics argue the book is no longer relevant due to the overt sexualisation of modern culture as a whole, with the antics of stars such as Miley Cyrus dampening the rebellious liberation that SEX inspired.
However, while it is impossible to refute that sex is now deeply ingrained in the consciousness of the modern celebrity, with increasing numbers of stars casting off their squeaky clean image in favor of overtly sexual displays, there exists a striking contrast between these carefully contrived, corporately approved packages and the authenticity of Madonna’s work in SEX.
Madonna claimed ownership of her sexuality in a way that modern stars do not, taking the exploration of erotica into mainstream media and opening up the discourse on sex and love. Despite no longer possessing the shock factor the book held during the time of its release, SEX maintains its relevance due to Madonna’s unapologetic and uncontrived approach to her work.