It is often said that the most exciting turns in our lives are the ones we can’t see coming; the twists on the road ahead nestled in the blind spots of our predicted illustrious futures; the bends, the curves and the kinks. The latter of those three is the best way to describe the change that occurred in my life some years ago – the one that led to me writing about sex for a living.
It will come as no surprise to learn that sex journalism isn’t something you stumble into. It was a perfect storm of right time, right place and soon enough, as with any journalist’s specialism, you end up with a contact book as thick as the bible, a trusted reputation and just like that you become “the go-to guy on sex.” And I haven’t looked back, despite making my mother choke on a Yorkshire pudding when I first told my folks, I’ve now embraced the “sex journalist” moniker and there is no doubt that every day is different!
I’ll spend a morning speaking with an academic about the ethics of chemical castration and the afternoon researching virtual reality pornography. It’s a job that’s taken me to places I never thought I’d go. I’ve “frosted breasts” at an Erotic Cake Decorating workshop and joined a new age “cuddle class” to meet men seeking out physical contact without being accused of coping’ a surreptitious feel. And it’s surprisingly seasonal. Last Christmas I explored fetish of Santaphillia – men and women who are aroused by Saint Nick. It has nothing to do with the hat.
After four years, nothing surprises me any more. It’s just a job and one that I’m very fortunate to have. And yet, of course, sex is sex and although it’s day-to-day for me, for everyone else I understand that it can be taboo to meet someone who writes about it for a living. As a result, the questions are often aimed at my motivation – “Why would you write about that?” As we all know, the British can be a prudish bunch and when someone mentions “Sex!” we always think of the act itself, not the sexology, the science, the psychology, or anthropological elements. Show a Brit a Greco-Roman winged phallus fertility symbol and more often than not they’ll giggle. They’ll struggle to see the cultural relevance. They’ll just see the dick.
Of course, there are moments when I see the funny side too. Like the time I was sent a $1,000 vibrating pair of silicon buttocks from the US and I had to speak to an official from Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, to explain how the package was for “personal use” not “commercial gain.” It was actually for a review. And trust me, once you’ve seen yourself wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs and a ball-gag, wearing that Christmas jumper you’re Auntie Mavis bought you, it really isn’t the crime against fashion you might have once thought it to be.
But the real stories of sex in the 21st century aren’t found in bondage paraphernalia or synthetic gluteus maximus. They’re found in the fascinating and sometimes frayed worlds at its edges: in the adult industry, in fertility societies, bioethical bodies and academic institutions. I’ve explored women wearing hijabs in adult content to reclaim their cultural identity and investigated men donating sperm via Facebook because the UK’s National Sperm Bank is wrapped up in red tape (the latter achieving five donations in a baffling eight months, the same amount achieved by the “Sperm Donors” group in just three weeks).
When the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation issued eleven $100,000 grants to condom designers and manufacturers, I pro led condoms made from cow tendons and the atom-thick graphene. I’ve written about Japanese twenty-something males losing their sexual appetite and questioned whether we do enough to protect male sex workers. Then there are small forays into anatomy, an interview with Sigurður Hjartarson, founder of The Icelandic Phallological Museum, which houses nearly 300 mammal penis specimens including human. As well as articles on penile fractures and – take a deep breath – even transplants.
Yes I have fun and a lot of it, although trying to squeeze into a pair of latex pants for a party at 1am in the morning isn’t exactly the definition I’d use (tip: talcum powder). There was the time I trialled natural Viagra for a week and genuinely feared I may have suffered from priapism, or when my father insisted upon spending the entirety of my mother’s 60th birthday garden party, going up to all his female friends and saying, “Go and ask Gareth about the male stripper he interviewed last week and make sure he mentions ‘the helicopter’.”
It’s a job that’s full of giggles and goodwill but it’s the people I’ve met along the way that make me happiest of all. Such as Dr Tuppy Owens, a stalwart of the sexual freedom movement and author of the Sex Maniac’s Diary – this septuagenarian has been championing the sexual rights of the disabled for the best part of 50 years. Or the 87-year-old ‘Jim’ who I spoke to for an article challenging the stigmatism surrounding sex and the elderly who told me, “Ballroom dancing was the key.” The penoplasty surgeon who listens to opera, whilst performing the most delicate of cuts. The numerous dominatrixes I’ve met for coffee with a sexual and emotional intellect, the likes of us could only fathom for a heartbeat or perhaps more appropriately, the swish of a cane. The evolutionary psychologists, the feminist pornographers and the sex education experts. All sex positive people who rally against the nonsensical shame surrounding sex every single day of their lives.
The truth is, we are all a little kinky, even if we don’t think we are. I like celebrating that kink in my writing, shining a light on the finer and at times, more disturbing elements of our sexuality. It always amazes me how shocked people are, that I write about sex. But as I often say to them, it’s why we’re all here. Isn’t it?