1992 – “Sex,” a book of erotic photographs of Ma…

1992 – “Sex,” a book of erotic photographs of Madonna, is released.

Sex is a highly-designed coffee table book written by Madonna with photographs by Steven Meisel and film frames taken from film shot by Fabien Baron. Sex was released on October 21, 1992 by Warner Books. The book was released by Madonna as an accompaniment to her fifth studio album Erotica, which was released a day earlier (October 20, 1992).

The extremely controversial book featured strong adult content and softcore pornographic photographs depicting simulations of sexual acts, which included homosexuality, sadomasochism and anilingus. Madonna wrote the book as a character named Mistress Dita, inspired by the silent film actress Dita Parlo.

Featured in the book, aside from unknown models, are actress Isabella Rossellini, rappers Big Daddy Kane and Vanilla Ice, model Naomi Campbell, gay porn star Joey Stefano, actor Udo Kier, the European socialite Tatiana von Furstenberg, and nightclub owner Ingrid Casares.

For the release of Sex Madonna gave a party at New York City’s Industria Superstudio, which she attended dressed as Little Bo Peep with a stuffed toy lamb.

Aside from Steven Meisel himself, photographers from his studio were also employed. The book credits Michael Stratton, Darren Lew, Line Barzudkas, Stephen Callaghan and Chris Hobson. Fabien Baron, one of the book’s designers, also shot many of the photo sessions on film (mostly on Super 8 mm). Many stills from Baron’s film were used in the book. Filming was done entirely on Super 8mm, and the filmmakers were Fabien Baron, Stephen Callaghan and Darren Lew.

History

Warner Bros. Records and Time Warner executives were reluctant to allow Madonna to make such a book, and though they eventually gave her permission, they remained greatly opposed to the idea. Madonna was made to sign an agreement that forbade her from including any photographs depicting religious imagery, bestiality, or child pornography.

Not long after signing this agreement Madonna founded Maverick, a multi-media entertainment company. Since by contract she had total artistic control over any of the work released by Maverick, the agreement she signed with Time Warner concerning what not to do in Sex became obsolete. As a “tongue-in-cheek” way of demonstrating her power to the executives who had so vehemently opposed the book, Madonna included two photographs that “broke the rules”—a photo where she is tied à la S&M on a low cross-shaped table surrounded by candles with a large crucifix displayed on the wall behind her, and another photo of her kneeling on the ground with a dog underneath her on its back, creating the impression that she is straddling the animal while it is giving her oral sex. However, should one look closely at the photograph, one will see that Madonna is not straddling the dog’s head at all, but rather kneeling on both knees beside the dog.

Warner Bros. commented that Sex was very difficult to produce, requiring contributions from many different printing and publishing companies, with Mighty Dimension Inc. coordinating the project—LTI, Bishop Studio, Master Eagle Graphic Design, and Shorewood Packaging, all based in New York City; as well as Laserscan Inc. in Phoenix, Arizona; Benson and Palmer in Newport, Rhode Island; Mohawk Papermills in Cohoes, New York; C&H Packaging Company Inc. in Merrill, Wisconsin; and Nicholstone in Nashville, Tennessee. At some point while the book was being produced some of the photographs were stolen, prompting an FBI investigation that quickly recovered the photos. In the credits of the book Madonna thanks the FBI for ” … rescuing photographs that would have made J. Edgar Hoover roll over.”

Madonna had originally intended to call the book X but changed her mind when Spike Lee’s upcoming film Malcolm X began to be promoted—the film was released three weeks after the book, and inspired the fashion trend of wearing hats and shirts with a large X in honor of Malcolm X. Madonna wanted the book to be of an oval shape, but the printing and manufacturing of such a book would have been too expensive. In the end, the original design for the X title and shape of the book were only retained on the back cover (see below) and on the accompanying CD and its packaging.

Design and printing

Sex was designed by Madonna and Baron & Baron Inc. (consisting of Fabien Baron and the photographer Siung Fat Tjia), who also designed the packaging for Madonna’s Erotica album and single. The book is largely presented in a style not far off from Andy Warhol’s works, namely the famous shot on the metallized plastic cover of the book (a colored reverse negative), which Madonna also used for the cover of her Erotica album.

Certain pages include images that are collages of ripped and pasted prints, proof sheets, entire pages in monochromes and full color, and other collages of photos that look as though they were stapled together. The text of the book varies from handwritten to printed, with eye-bending styles of typefaces and colors. In the French, Italian and Japanese versions of the book any printed text that was not printed in these complex typefaces had the French, Italian or Japanese translation printed over it, and any text that could not have the translated text printed over it was included at the back of the book on additional pages. In the Japanese version, Madonna had any photos that included visible genitalia “scribbled out”.

Included with the book is a CD single. It contains a more subdued version of the song “Erotica”, titled “Erotic”, which was only released via the book (this version of the song was also released in an edited version on a promotional-only 12″ picture-disc released in the UK of the song “Erotica”). The song includes alternate spoken verse taken from the book’s opening pages.

There is a small photonovella-style comic bound into the back of the book titled Dita in “The Chelsea Girl” which depicts a party at the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. Allegedly Madonna created the dialogue of the comic book when photographer Steven Meisel placed a stack of randomly ordered photos from one of the book’s photo sessions on her desk. He suggested she conjure up a story while maintaining the random order of the photos.

The English language release of Sex was printed in 1.5 million copies in its first edition and another 1.5 million in its second (Madonna herself is said to own the very first printed copy of the first edition.) Warner Books only allowed Sex to be printed in the English, French, Italian, and Japanese languages. The Japanese, French, and Italian language releases all received a 1 million copy printing each for the first edition, and since the Japanese version was banned shortly after its release, it did not receive a second edition printing as the French and Italian versions did. The English version was the only version printed in the United States, while the French, Italian, and Japanese versions were printed in their respective countries, and aside from the translated text and differences in paper quality, they are identical to the English language version. The Japanese version was printed on art paper of far higher quality than that of the English, French and Italian versions.

The Japanese version was the only release of Sex to be put into a special box. Although all of the other official releases of the book include the title on the metallized plastic cover as “Madonna Sex”, the Japanese language release had the title printed as “Sex by Madonna” on the metallized plastic cover.

Books that were printed in languages such as Spanish, Thai, or Russian are all unofficial and were manufactured without the consent of Madonna or Warner Bros. These versions of the book were printed in a variety of styles, with varying covers and quality.

Release
Prototype edition mylar cover of Madonna’s book Sex
Prototype edition mylar cover of Madonna’s book Sex
Packaging for the promotional CD of the song Erotica, which was included with the book and seems to represent a condom packet.
Packaging for the promotional CD of the song Erotica, which was included with the book and seems to represent a condom packet.

A huge public “buzz” preceded the book’s release, which took place on October 21, 1992, generating massive publicity. Several organizations tried to boycott the sale of the book, while many book stores refused to carry it. There were many negative essays by critics that considered Sex to be a calculated controversy timed to boost sales of Madonna’s new album. Soon after the release of the book there came a phenomenon which was considered to be a “Madonna backlash”, with many people feeling that the singer had finally “gone too far”.

In spite of the controversy and negative reviews, Sex sold 150,000 copies on the day of its release in the USA alone. Three days later all 1.5 million copies of the first edition were sold out worldwide, making Sex the most successful coffee table book ever released. The bookstore chain Waldenbooks sold 22,000 copies of the book on the day of its release, and commented to MTV that they had never once seen a book sell out so quickly.

The day after the release of the book MTV aired a special called The Day In Madonna hosted by Kurt Loder (the title of this special was a pun of the title of the channel’s daily show The Day In Rock), which profiled the release of Madonna’s Sex and her new album Erotica, even taking the book to the streets to allow people, including a sex therapist and group of real-life New York City Dominatrices, to view it. MTV also interviewed many people who had viewed the book on the day of its release at the HMV music store in New York City. In celebration of the release of the book, the store held a Madonna look-alike contest and set up a booth where people could view the book for $1.00 a minute, with all of the proceeds going to Lifebeat, the music industry organization founded to help fund AIDS research.

Since all of the first edition copies of the book sold out so quickly, there was a huge demand for additional copies, with Warner Books deciding to print a second edition of the book.

The Japanese version of the book was released on December 1, 1992, and after a week of being for sale in Japan the book was banned, leaving many book and music chains that purchased copies of the book unable to sell them, prompting these chains to sell the books via the internet. In mint condition, this version of the book is today very valuable.

Now long out of print, Sex is very valuable—prices for a brand-new unopened first edition can start at USD200 on Amazon.com or eBay.com. As a result of the Japanese version of the book only being printed in 1,000,000 copies and being banned shortly after its release, an unopened edition can start at prices as high as USD400.

Madonna later responded to the negative publicity and controversy with her 1994 song “Human Nature”, which was included on her album Bedtime Stories. The song is considered one of Madonna’s most personal. Powerful in its message, the song contains the repeated phrase “express yourself, don’t repress yourself”, while in the chorus Madonna sings to her critics, “I’m not sorry. It’s human nature. I’m not your bitch. Don’t hang your shit on me.”

According to the American Library Association, Sex was the eighteenth-most challenged book in libraries in the 1990s.

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