Sex writing and the media

Yesterday I picked up a copy of the London Evening Standard and my attention was immediately drawn to the pretty girl staring at me from the masthead. “Introducing Millicent Binks” it said, “our new sex columnist”. Ah, sex… one of my favourite topics of discussion! Whether it was an educational advice column or a titillating tale of scandalous behaviour, this sounded like it would be the perfect thing to get London talking and would add a little of what had been sorely missing from the Standard’s Fashion Style & Sex section recently. I flicked straight to page 31 to see what she had to say and, after wading through all the photographs, must to admit to having to read the column twice before I managed to work out what point she was actually trying to get across. Not a great start.

Binks’ first column for the paper was a story of an apparently good Friday evening. I’m sure she intended it to come across as an amusing story of a night out with other sexually liberated 20-something Shoreditch folk but, instead, it seemed more likely to alienate many of the people who would be reading it. Do swinging hipsters read the Evening Standard? Probably not, and it’s just as well because the chap she mentioned as featuring in a threesome with her friends apparently didn’t make the grade! Yes, it was a story about a threesome, but one that Binks herself was not part of and so no real insight could be provided. There was no angle on how easy – or not – these encounters are, no comments on the best way to go about it or how to avoid heartbreak if you’re a couple inviting someone to join you. There was no useful information and also no real entertainment value either. It just left me cold. This was not merely due to the choice of subject matter either, because you only have to read Lucy Mangan in today’s Stylist to see just how a good writer can make even the most bland topic seem entertaining.

I’m not saying that Millicent Binks’ lack of journalistic training is to blame for my boredom – although she is billed as a burlesque star, radio DJ and Agent Provocateur model so I hope that someone gave her some writing tips to prepare her. The real problem is that newspapers don’t really know what they want from sex. When you put it on the front page it grabs readers’ attention, and no doubt increases circulation as a result, but sometimes celebrity adultery scandals are thin on the ground and so there’s nothing to print. When that happens, a regular sex writer can easily allow you to bleat about naughtiness on the cover but, sadly, deciding on who to front that column and what content to put in it is not always left to the most informed people. What do they think sex is? Something that only glamorous people do and the rest of us simply aspire to? Newsflash: sex is messy, complicated, exhausting and a hell of a lot of fun… and pretty much everyone does it! Surely a better use of column inches in a newspaper would be to help us all find out how to get more, better, safer sex?

I wouldn’t want you thinking that reading stories of other people’s shenanigans can’t be fun and also educational, because good writing can really be very insightful. It may be the case that the Evening Standard were hoping that details of Millicent Binks’ evenings at swingers’ parties would be as compelling as the writing of Zoe Margolis or Brooke Magnanti in their anonymous sex blogger days but, in taking this approach, they have most certainly missed a trick. It merely looks as if they have employed someone as a writer simply so they have an excuse to print lots of photographs of her looking glamorous, and that isn’t really helping anyone. Sex is an important subject and media coverage of it is often shamefully poor. I really hope that the Standard works with their new recruit to put this column to better use in the future, and I shall be waiting patiently for some improvements.

2 thoughts on “Sex writing and the media

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  1. Agreed, I'd rather read about relatable people and have less huge pictures of the columnist.

  2. There are so many good writers, writing about real sex in all its messy, complicated and sometimes painful glory that it seems a shame to not chose someone with a talent for writing about such a complex part of our lives.

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