My Weird, Wonderful Journey With Madonna’s “Sex” Book

"In other words, there was no way to sneak a look at Madonna's beaver and go home."

Twenty-five years ago this week, literature changed forever with Sex, Madonna’s coffee-table book featuring erotic poetry and dirty photos of her performing all kinds of lurid sexual fantasies—from BDSM to gang rape and rimming. Some of the photos even included celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Big Daddy Kane, and Vanilla Ice.

And yes, there was a time when all three of those people counted as celebrities.


I was only 13 when Sex came out, so it was really hard for me to process the arguments it generated—about Madonna’s power in the marketplace, about her ability to shock, about critiquing oppressive sexual traditions by gleefully thumbing her nose at them.

All I knew was that this book was making everyone crazy, so I figured it was probably the nastiest thing ever created. Since I was already several years into my Madonna obsession, I also figured that nastiness was righteous.

E stands for Erotica. "Sex is a coffee table book written by Madonna with photographs by Steven Meisel Studio and film frames taken from film shot by Fabien Baron. The book was edited by Glenn O'Brien. 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. …" #erotica #eroticart #sex #book #photography #photographer #photo #photooftheday #madonna #stevenmeisel #fabienbaron #glennobrien #culture #1992 #nudes #porn #adult #blackandwhite #amazing #censored

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Being a young, law-abiding thing, I didn’t get a look at Sex when it first hit stores. And then it quickly went out of print. (At least I got to see the “Erotica” video when MTV aired it—after hours, of course).

But in 2000, when I was a college senior, I went to the Emory University library’s Special Collections to take a look at the real thing.

25 YEARS AGO…EROTICA…I LOVE YOU MADONNA ❤️ FOR EVER AND EVER MY QUEEN #madonna #erotica #happyanniversary #album #stevenmeisel

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You have to understand: Special Collections is a place where scholars go to look at, like, thousand year-old Bibles or letters stained with Emily Dickinson’s tears. At the time, you had go to a special floor and fill out a slip requesting a librarian to go get a book for you. They then placed the title on a lectern and made you turn the pages with tweezer-like things. That way, none of your gross body oils could get on the priceless pages.

In other words, there was no way to sneak a look at Madonna’s beaver and go home. I had to make a giant production out of it.

E stands for Erotica. "Sex is a coffee table book written by Madonna with photographs by Steven Meisel Studio and film frames taken from film shot by Fabien Baron. The book was edited by Glenn O'Brien. 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. …" #erotica #eroticart #sex #book #photography #photographer #photo #photooftheday #madonna #stevenmeisel #fabienbaron #glennobrien #culture #1992 #nudes #porn #adult #blackandwhite #amazing #censored #mirror #epic

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I clearly remember filling out the slip, because in the space where it said “Why are you requesting this book?” I wrote, “Just a fan. Not a pervert.”

I had a friend with me, and it was really difficult to enjoy flipping through the pages while were in this crazy room with those crazy tweezers. Plus, there was some grad student looking at an obscure French novel a few feet away. She was probably getting lost in French philosophy, and my friend and I were looking at Madonna’s boobs as she went hang-gliding naked.

ROMANCE @madonna #sexbook #erotica #25years #madonna #fetish #lgbtq #stevenmeisel #photography

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I know that some people pinpoint Sex as a turning point in Madonna’s career—when she projected a hardness that didn’t go away until the earth mother vibe of 1998’s Ray of Light . But, for me, that book will always symbolize my adolescent curiosity. And the most awkward moment I’ve ever had in a library.

Isn’t it fascinating how a scandalous book from 1992 can become a “special” one just a handful of years later?

Maybe in 2040, there will be college students shamefully flipping through preserved copies of 50 Shades of Grey.