Fans of Bridget Jones and Girls, rejoice: there's a new kid on the block. Melissa Pimentel's Age, Sex, Location is a wonderfully fresh romp through the modern dating scene, where one wrong left swipe could throw all chances of happiness down the pan. Lauren is 28 and is emphatically not looking for love. Recently divorced from her college sweetheart, she's moved from Portland to the Big Smoke and into a dingy room in Old Street.
We need to decide how the 50 Shades drinking game will work… As one of many women who went to see the new 50 Shades of Grey film in its first few days of screening, I think there’s an important conversation we all need to have. No, not about the merits of bringing erotica to a mass market, not even about the sexual politics highlighted by Anastasia and Christian’s relationship, or whether the flagrantly capitalist fantasy holds up a mirror to something dark in our society. No, we need to decide what the 50 Shades drinking game will be. How will it work?
This is a film to be savoured in the communal atmosphere of a darkened cinema. The solidarity of those eager, giggling bodies around you, some women dragging along sheepish male partners, most tripping in with a shoal of girlie mates, all bearing glasses or even bottles of wine and/or champagne, made the experience enjoyable from the off.
What good is sitting alone in your room, I’m wondering, as I pull on some tights to go out. On a Sunday. When Poirot is on, there’s leftover spagbol in the fridge and my enormous old sofa (courtesy of Erotic Towers, no less) has developed a pleasing groove from where I’ve been lying on it all day. Life is indeed a cabaret, I think, as I walk to Elephant and Castle station and stumble on a rolling can of Special Brew. We’re off to Balham for Suburbaret, a new smorgasbord of singing, dancing and lip-syncing talent in the beating heart of Zone Three. Things are already looking up as it’s being held in the dark underbelly of an old favourite pub, The Bedford, and within minutes of arriving we’ve got pineapple and Red Leicester on sticks, “to get you into that Abigail’s Party, late 70s mood”.
The legalised brothel issue has long been a favourite British media topic; and one to which our legislators and moralists of all stripes frequently return. In recent times it has been given added momentum by the trafficking problem. Early in 2014, egged on by commercial interests eager to turn the area into more luxury apartments and sheltered by Articles 52 and 53 of The Sexual Offences Act, police raided a number of the modest Soho flats used by prostitutes and their maids. These sex workers were abused, turned out of their places of business and, it is alleged, had their money confiscated.
I am sitting on a late Friday afternoon staring disconsolately at a pile of books recently sent to Erotic Towers for review. All, pretty much, have restrained grey covers and strap lines like ‘An erotic series so steamy, it sparkles!’
Josephine Butler was a middle-class Victorian woman; a respectable wife and mother, safely ensconced in a culture that idolised wives and mothers. She nevertheless exposed herself to abuse and humiliation in her campaign for the rights of prostitutes. Under the Contagious Diseases Act, these often vulnerable and voiceless women were subject to humiliating and painful gynaecological examinations and forced quarantines. Butler was a vocal opponent of the Contagious Diseases Act and, as a result, the target of insult and innuendo. One MP said ‘I look upon these women who have taken up this matter as worse than the prostitutes’. Helen Mathers’s biography of Butler – Patron Saint of Prostitutes: Josephine Butler and a Victorian Scandal – builds a rich history of sexual ethics and early feminist thought around the life of one remarkable woman who isn’t as celebrated, or as well known, as she should be.
I first encountered Émile Zola’s anti-love story Thérèse Raquin, by that giant of nineteenth century French literature who gave us J’accuse, some time in the winter of 2006 while recovering from my first genuine French love affair. Consoling myself with incomprehensible continental philosophers and copious quantities of vin rouge, I happily embarked on a new liaison, of the literary kind.
‘The Institute of Sexology’, the Wellcome Collection’s inaugural exhibition in its newly refurbished gallery space, is tellingly subtitled ‘undress your mind’. This is a thoughtful traipse through the history of sexology rather than (or at least as much as) a titillating collection of curiosities, though you wouldn’t know it from the kind of sniggering coverage it has already attracted.