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Madonna has helped change our culture and openness about sex and now she is about to open up the world of the old-school record labels. With Madonna back in the news again signing a mega-million deal with Live Nation it made me do some downloading of all things Madonna including books and video media. I came across a .pdf file of a book of culture some may not remember.Think back to 1992. October 21st to be exact: was it a coffee table photo book? A publicity stunt? A personal view of sex? Whatever it was, it’s a fact that the world was shocked by its appearance. Actually I like to think of it as a coffee table photo book – which was what it was intended to be and even today I am still a little shocked by it.

I am talking about Madonna’s infamous book simply called “sex”. Looking at it again now in retrospect I don’t find it as shocking as when I first saw it and that’s because the world has moved on – and because I spend a lot of my time reviewing and writing about all things gay. But that doesn’t mean I find Madonna’s book pornographic, though that was one of the arguments against it when it came out. The thing that shocked everyone so much back then was that a mainstream artist, as Madonna no doubt was and still is, had never revealed themselves so much in print before.

The book contains a mix of text and images. The photography is by the same guy who photographed Madonna for the cover of the ‘Like a virgin’ album in 1984, a guy called Steven Meisel. He was also responsible for most of the photos of the superstar during the early 1990’s. Along with Herb Ritts, in the 1980’s, they have created some of the most iconic images of Madonna to date. The text is by the great lady herself though comes from the point of view of a character. Dita, inspired by silent film actress Dita Parlo, a character who appears in some of Madonna’s work of 1992/93, tells us of her lust and longing for sex in a kind of journal form where she fantasises about another fictional character, Johnny.

The publicity for the book, I remember, was enormous and the fact that it came in a sealed, silver mylar-wrapping made it all the more intriguing to the hyped up public. Everyone was clamouring to get a view inside without having to buy it but, in the end, the only way to see what all the fuss was about was to buy a copy. And when you did…

It is not only Madonna who makes an appearance inside. There are images of her engaged in sex acts, and other erotic and non-erotic poses, with guys like Vanilla Ice, Tony Ward and Daddy Kane. Naomi Campbell and Isabella Rossellini make an appearance too. The images, and the text for that matter, often have a dark, urban quality to them so should you ever get your hands on a copy don’t expect to see the kind of images you would see on an adult website for example – you may even find some that you find disturbing. I’m not talking about the three-way sex poses or the erotic lesbian images, in fact most of the pictures are what you’d call ‘classy’ and ‘arty’ – but there is something raw and undefined beneath all of that which leaves you with a sense of having seen something not only unique but somehow forbidden too.

Actually several organisations tried to ban the book, when first published, because of the imagery involved. Not least of all the religious ones. But the 1.5 million, limited edition print run sold out within a couple of days. Each copy was numbered and that was that. As far as I know there are no plans for a re-release and you’ll be very lucky to find a copy in good condition and for sale. You may have some luck at places like E-bay or specialist on-line stores but be prepared to spend mega bucks getting your hands on such a rare and sought after item.