|October 21, 1992
|ML420.M1387 A3 1992
Sex is a book written by Madonna with photographs by Steven Meisel Studio 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.
The extremely controversial book featured strong adult content and softcore pornographic photographs depicting simulations of sexual acts, which included sadomasochism and analingus. Madonna wrote the book as a character named Mistress Dita, inspired by 1930s 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, socialite Tatiana von Fürstenberg, 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.
Warner Bros. Records and Time Warner executives were reluctant to allow Madonna to create such a book, and although 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 children, religious imagery and bestiality. 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 cross 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 the photo is an illusion—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.
The book was shot during the summer of 1992 in New York City and Miami. Locations in New York City included the Hotel Chelsea and Times Square's all-male burlesque Gaiety Theatre (dancers from theatre participated in one of the book's photo sessions). In Miami, the majority of the sessions were shot at Madonna's home and on various beaches and streets. 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. Photographers Stephen Callaghan and Darren Lew were also credited for filming. Many of the book's photographs are actually stills taken from this footage, which was done almost entirely on Super 8mm.
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 as the cover of her Erotica album.
Certain pages included collages of ripped and pasted prints (including some that were stapled together), proof sheets and entire pages in both monochrome & full color. 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 was a CD packaged in silver mylar packaging that resembled a condom. The CD contains a stripped down version of "Erotica", titled "Erotic". Although the sound is similar to Erotica, the song's lyrics consist of passages read by Madonna from the book.
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 and Japanese languages. The Japanese, and French language releases all received a 1 million copy printing each for the first edition. Since the Japanese version was banned shortly after its release, it did not receive a second edition printing like the English and French versions did. The English version was the only version printed in the United States, while the French and Japanese versions were printed in their respective countries. 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, and French versions.
The Japanese version was the only release of Sex to be put into a 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.
The book was sold at a price of $49.95 in the United States.
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.
Now long out of print, Sex is very valuable—prices for a brand-new unopened first edition can start at $150USD 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 $120USD.
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 ***CENSORED***. Don't hang your shit on me."
Many of the photos in the book Sex are actually stills. Photographers from Steven Meisel Studio shot many of the sessions with regular photography, while fashion photographer Fabian Baron, Stephen Callaghan and Darren Lew shot a number of the sessions on video, including super 8 mm.
Much of this footage utilized for the video for the single Erotica, which Baron directed. An hour of this footage was then compiled for a film that Madonna had played during a party she gave for the release of Sex at New York City's Industria Superstudio. Madonna also had 100 copies of the film made to give to her closest friends. This film boasted a soundtrack of vintage French chansons from the 1930s through the 1950s by such singers as Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Joséphine Baker. At some point in the early to mid-1990s, this film leaked out to the public, and for a time copies of it were sold as The Sex Book Video or as The Making of Sex and Erotica in versions with variations in editing and soundtrack in online markets such as eBay, where occasionally a copy of the film will still turn up for sale. Copies of the original 60-minute edit with the original French noir soundtrack once went for prices as high as $250USD—even more expensive than the book itself, although it is now commonly available for free due to the popularization of file sharing.