by Lauren Rosewarne, University of Melbourne, Australia. The typical Christmas word cloud is filled with holly jolly words like wishes and faith and festiveness. Bethlehem, yuletide and snowflakes are likely included; a word with no place there is sex. Easter we could, perhaps, draw a bow long enough to recognise that with it being a season associated with rebirth and renewal, fertility might play a role. However, the birth that – in a roundabout way – led to the celebration of Christmas didn’t involve intercourse. Distinctly so. To stir sex into the season therefore, feels inappropriate. Christmas is about family and gift-giving and fat men clad in red; all the debauchery, seemingly, gets postponed to New Year. At least in theory.
by Katie Barnett, University of Worcester, UK. John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole (2010), an adaptation of David Lindsay Abaire’s 2006 stage play, deals with the aftermath of a family tragedy as Becca and Howie Corbett (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) struggle to come to terms with the death of their four-year-old son Danny. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that Becca and Howie are dealing with their grief in very different ways. They circle around each other in their large, empty house. As Howie endlessly tries to remember Danny, watching old videos on his phone, Becca desperately tries to forget, stripping his drawings from the refrigerator. Their grief separates and isolates them. This emotional estrangement extends to a physical estrangement that makes Becca flinch whenever Howie touches her.
by Ellen Wright of De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Model Bettie Page and filmmaker/photographers Irving and Paula Klaw have left a curious cultural legacy. Their work together, between 1952 and 1957, often filmed in a studio above the Klaw’s photo and bookshop, resulted in a catalogue of pin-up and fetish photographs, a clutch of burlesque revue B-movies and a number of short, silent 8mm and 16mm, mail order fetish ‘specialty’ films, intended for home exhibition. In these films Page, clad in lingerie, stockings and vertiginously high heels, would enact requested fetish and BDSM scenarios, either alone or with other young women.
by Lynn Comella, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, US. Susie Bright was not yet the nationally known author and trailblazer Susie Sexpert when she walked through the doors of Good Vibrations for the first time in 1980. She was 22 years old and lived around the corner from the store at Twentieth and Valencia Streets. Bright remembers that initial visit vividly. Honey Lee Cottrell, who would later become Bright’s lover and collaborator, was working behind the counter. Cottrell, a butch lesbian with prematurely greying hair, was opening envelopes that contained a single quarter – the amount that the store’s founder, Joani Blank, was charging at the time for an itemised list of vibrators that doubled as the company’s mail-order catalogue. Bright watched curiously as Cottrell opened the envelopes and stacked the quarters, one on top of the other, next to the cash register. ‘Why don’t you just put them in the register?’ she finally asked. ‘We don’t know how to record it’, Cottrell replied. ‘It’s not a sale and no one can figure out what it is, so we just pile them up on the side and Joani says she will deal with it later’.
by Caroline West, Dublin City University, Ireland. Sex: The Annabel Chong Story (Gough Lewis 1999) is a documentary based on a porn film starring Annabel Chong, a woman catapulted to infamy through porn. Chong, whose real name is Grace Quek, is a 22-year-old Singaporean woman who partook in a gangbang, billed as The World's Biggest Gangbang, in having sex with 251 men over ten hours. The film follows Chong as she discusses her motivations for taking part in the film, the buildup and promotion of the event, and the fallout.
by Neil Jackson, University of Lincoln, UK. The uncut Caligula (Tinto Brass 1979) received an 18 certificate in 2008 regardless of the fact that it was relieved of more than 10 minutes of its running time before an ‘X’ certificate was granted for its theatrical release in 1980. This new-found sympathy for the film was justified because its hardcore imagery supposedly ‘served some kind of purpose in order to illustrate the decadence of ancient Rome’, that wasn’t ‘wholly gratuitous’ and that, quite importantly in this context, ‘it would be viewed today as a historical curio’. This is underpinned by the contention on the BBFC’s own website that ‘the passage of nearly 30 years had significantly diminished the film’s impact’. Regardless of all of this obfuscation, the fact remains that this was a film produced by Bob Guccione, one of America’s premier pornographer publishers, and directed by Tinto Brass, Europe’s seminal exponent of high end, softcore erotica. In light of Cooke’s justification, it would appear that two male individuals, both of whom were steeped in the creative and commercial global possibilities of real and simulated sex on film, somehow forged an infamously uneasy alliance that contrived to produce something that wasn’t actually a ‘sex work’.
by Carol Siegel, Washington State University Vancouver, US. As many people who are part of or at least conversant with BDSM communities have pointed out, the Fifty Shades novel and film series is not about the consensual sex that they practice. In such communities the masochist is not only generally truly in control of the situation due to prior negotiation but, more importantly, because most BDSM practitioners identify as bottoms (i.e. masochists). As Gilles Deleuze explained in his landmark introduction to Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novella Venus in Furs, sadism and masochism are distinct sexual systems.  In sadism the sadist's desire to control and hurt the partner is the driving force of an encounter. In the masochistic system, ‘the masochist's sadist’ concentrates on pleasing the partner and meeting that partner's needs for specific kinds of pleasurable pain. The sexual system of sadism is inherently patriarchal just as it is inherently about exerting power over a person who lacks the power to resist, while as many from Theodor Reik on have argued, the masochistic system is inherently anti-patriarchal because it strips away the ability of the powerful to control the subordinate by making a mockery of punishment.  If beatings don't daunt but instead delight then they can't be used to control. In contrast to this, Fifty Shades seems to be about the pleasures awaiting women who are willing to submit to the infliction of pain they don't enjoy in order to be loved, protected and (lavishly) financially supported.