Let’s talk about sex

Matthew Holroyd and Reba Maybury’s weekend of talks will discuss sex and sexuality in the era of Tinder, sexual capital and vanishing intimacy – all with great guests

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Erotic Possibilities
Courtesy of Eli Craven

In a world where you can go online, swipe left and swipe right and find a fuck in minutes – what do sexuality and intimacy actually mean?

Sex is commodified, whether it be in advertising, film, music, and even activism. In an increasingly post-truth, alternative facts-driven world, it’s difficult to make sense of the tsunami of misinformation and misguided rhetoric being thrown at us, and it’s no different when it comes to sex. Two people want to shine a spotlight on what sex and sexuality has become in the modern landscape, seeking to unravel the mishmash of sexual content across fashion, politics, celebrity culture and art.

Matthew Holroyd, co-founder of erotic journals Baron and Baroness Magazines, and founder of Wet Satin Press, Reba Maybury, have teamed up for a weekend of talks at Hoi Polloi in London called Erotic Possibilities. The pair are pop culture aficionados who want the schedule to play out like an episode of ITV’s This Morning, but a little less sanitised and with a lot more sex (something tells me Phillip Schofield wouldn’t quite fit the bill). A number of intriguing speakers have been lined up to lend their expertise to the complex question of what sex is in 2017, including everything from political activist Peter Tatchell to The Real Housewives of Cheshire’s Ampika Pickston and Dazed’s own editor-in-chief Isabella Burley and fashion features editor Emma Allwood.

Holroyd and Maybury are intrigued by sex and what it signifies today, have both made successful careers out of it, and remain optimistic about the future of erotic literature. Combining their academic backgrounds at the University of the Arts London with an unabashed appreciation for mainstream culture’s influence on constructions of sexual subjectivity, the duo are putting sex on the agenda in plain sight. Here we talk to them about them about the Erotic Possibilities series, how sexuality is changing under the lens of consumerism, and what gets people hot in an age of technological ubiquity.

Tell me about the upcoming Erotic Possibilities talks. Why have you chosen to create and host the event? Why is it important?

Matthew Holroyd: Of course it’s important! I still get called “batty boy” once a week. The event will be a bit like an episode of This Morning, but just about sex and divided into different themes, with Reba and I hosting. I am obviously the Holly Willoughby of the two us, though.

Reba Maybury: Sex is all we ever think about but often we don’t speak about it, so it felt necessary to create a day of talks exploring sex’s ever changing landscape.

How did you select the speakers?

Matthew Holroyd: We are both really into pop culture so that was one of the deciding factors and we wanted the event to also have a fun side so we included people like Ampika Pickston from The Real Housewives of Cheshire and Celebrity Big Brother star Nancy Dell’Olio.

Reba Maybury: We were fascinated by trying to think of juxtapositions of different people from different areas of sex. Everyone does it, and everyone has an opinion!

For you, is the digitalisation and commercialisation of sex a positive movement?

Matthew Holroyd: I wouldn’t have thought so a few years ago, but both Reba and I have made careers from making intelligent work about sex, so it’s also been positive.

What do we lose when intimacy is replaced by technology?

Matthew Holroyd: Thankfully the morning after breath! But I would have to agree with the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, that we are becoming more like shoppers, we want it now, low-fat and easy-to-eat and I do wonder if in the future we will edit out the hyper-emotional stuff, which could include intimacy and the stuff that causes heartbreak and anger etc. This could make us seem like we are constantly on Xanax or something.

Reba Maybury: The ultimate pleasure of intimacy is that it is informed by nothing else but the vulnerability of being totally alone with another person, vis-à-vis, without our phones.

Do celebrity endorsements of free sex and sexuality signify empowerment and liberalism? Or is it another marketing campaign?

Matthew Holroyd: We do live in a capitalist society, so most of our instincts and needs are currently being profited from and of course some celebrities are part of that. When we were researching celebrities for Erotic Possibilities, we were really lucky that those who agreed to take part dropped their fees because they loved the idea. Those that wouldn’t drop their fees had hourly rates that were ridiculous – Jodie Marsh’s hourly fee almost made me vomit. So the answer is, yes and no.

Reba Maybury: Everything is a marketing campaign under capitalism! We just have to decide what we will let influence us.

“The ultimate pleasure of intimacy is that it is informed by nothing else but the vulnerability of being totally alone with another person” – Reba Maybury

How does gender play into our sexual identities? 

Matthew Holroyd: We are going to be discussing this in our sex and activism panel, which will include the activist Peter Tatchell and artist Emma Gruner, and whether identity politics is limiting. We are both so honoured that Peter would take part, anyone who has attempted to give Robert Mugabe a citizen arrest has me sold.

Reba Maybury: Some people’s gender means they are born into being scared of their sexuality and the other 50 per cent only have that experience on a far, far smaller scale.

Is the porn film and magazine industry becoming obsolete with the click-of-a-button nature of online pornography?

Matthew Holroyd: No, I think they are all very much thriving online. Both industries still have an older demographic who want to buy magazines and films as physical copies, but the internet has seen the industry thinking about how to utilise the internet, such as camera shows, the expansion of adult toys and playwear, virtual sex and bringing sex to the big screen with films such as the Fifty Shades trilogy.

Can there be a coherent concept of sex in a world so over-consumed by information, and misinformation?

Matthew Holroyd: I think one of the biggest problems is that there has been a coherent concept of sex communicated that has misinformed and given one sexual orientation a higher value. I had this argument with a Jehovah’s Witness the other day who had come to my door to recruit me. I have been absolutely appalled with how the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been creating anti-gay cartoons aimed at young children, depicting the gay community as evil. So I brought this up with the lady on my doorstep and pointed out that throughout history the evidence actually suggests that heterosexuals have been far more evil than the gay community and I would never use this evidence to segregate heterosexuals. Or maybe I should? Watch out for my new kids’ book called #heterodog, coming soon.

Reba Maybury: Hopefully when we fuck we aren’t looking at a computer screen and we’re just focussing on how talking and touching each other feels.

Does the physical body matter anymore?

Matthew Holroyd: Of course, apparently we all want six packs, big boobs and dicks.

Reba Maybury: Yes, touch is everything.

Has the ‘erotic possibility’ of sexual relationships become more arousing than the act itself?

Matthew Holroyd: I would absolutely agree.

Reba Maybury: There is nothing sexier than possibility.

Do power structures based on gender, sexuality, race and culture influence our perceptions of sex? 

Matthew Holroyd: Yes of course, many would argue that all of the aforementioned are socially constructed to control, so a big yes.

Reba Maybury: They influence everything that we do! And sexual intimacy is the pinnacle of these expressions because they define how we see ourselves.

Why is it important to have erotic journals like Baron and Baroness?

Matthew Holroyd: It’s probably obvious to some, but I realised for the first time the other day that I have been so obsessed with sex and sexuality, and making Baron and Baroness was partly a response to having to deal with homophobia for my entire life. It was a reaction to that feeling of being signalled out for apparently having feminine attributes and for enjoying anal sex, even before you know what femininity or anal sex is, it becomes ingrained. Therefore, I think both magazines are a reflection of how sex and sexuality create divisions and are a reflection of a moment in time.

Does your work try and make sense of the constantly shifting tides of sex and sexuality? Or, are you doing it in your own way?

Matthew Holroyd: Both.

Why did you create Wet Satin Press?

Reba Maybury: I created Wet Satin Press as a way of documenting my experiences and to explore facets of sex culture which I think are interesting.

What is it about male fetish that interests you?

Reba Maybury: Male sexuality controls everything! Therefore I want to explore facets of fetishism created by men that don’t instantly seem to exploit anyone.

How do you choose the very specific and detailed subjects that your publications explore?

Reba Maybury: I don’t choose them, they come to me! Through my work as a dominatrix I cultivate relationships with submissives and try to explore their often surreal impulses as a formation of sexuality that doesn’t impose on anyone.

Buy tickets and check the schedule for Erotic Possibilities here.

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