Sex sex sex sex sex

Always an attention grabbing headline, don’t you think?

Anyway, it is an appropriate handle for what follows. I went to the Barbican yesterday to see the Seduction exhibition. It is an arty form of what you might see in the various sex museums throughout Europe, such as the one in the Pigalle in Paris. Drawings, sculptures, paintings, photographs and videos depicting naked bodies and sexual acts from early times to today and encompassing the Occident and the Orient. The exhibition is wonderfully well spaced out and the audience admitted in restricted groups so that there is a kind of intimacy necessary for such an event. In other words you could stand in front of some act of fellatio or fornication without feeling you must “move along now, sir”.

Whilst there was much graphic representation to see (and warnings that sections of the exhibition might shock) the overall effect was remarkably untitillating. Whether we were being extolled to see sex as a mystical union with nature, a purely physical act of conjoining or self-obsession, or an unequal economic exchange between the genders, the images slipped by and my mind turned over the social and philosophical implications of what was on view, rather than their erotic or pornographic content. There was remarkably little sense of ‘seduction’ in it all. Rather than exploring a range of wiles to persuade the ‘other’ into sexual congress, there was, instead, a cavalcade of frank and sometimes disconcerting, portrayals. Most of what human beings get up (or down) to, is here but, if anything, it lacks the capacity to draw the viewer in. In this sense it is less erotic than one might have hoped – if one agrees that eroticism involves a high degree of mental commitment and participation in a gallery audience.

In the end, I left fully confirmed in my unshakable belief that sex should be the least problematic area of human existence. It should be celebrated for the capacity it has to make us feel less alone, to transport us to poetic realms or to deepen the feelings we have for each other. It becomes a taboo and a danger only when it is used as the oppressive coinage of religious or political bigotry, of debasing commercial interests, or if it lacks true and unequivocal consent by one of the parties involved.

It is really worth paying for sex at the Barbican. But go expecting a cool and surgical account of this most significant human activity, rather than any deeper analysis of its ramifications in the exigencies of social life.

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