Encore

The Naked Launch

Madonna felt the joy, and disapproval, of Sex when her racy coffee-table book hit shelves 10 years ago.

Is it now safe to say that Madonna, married with two youngsters, will never push farther past the bounds of propriety than she did 10 years back, when she was snapped with two tattooed lesbians who tied her up and held a knife to her crotch?

The occasion was Sex, the $50 coffee-table book of risque photos she released on Oct. 21, 1992, alongside its sister album, Erotica. Floating on hype -- including a Newsweek cover in which she exposed only a gold tooth -- and defying its naysayers, the book's 500,000 U.S. copies sold out, making it the cultural event of the season and, as EW noted, ''the publishing event of the century.''

''Everything you are about to see and read is a fantasy, a dream, pretend,'' the superstar wrote in her introduction, which went on to plug safe sex. The book itself might as well have been wrapped in a condom, its 128 folio-size pages swathed in impenetrable Mylar packaging. Appropriately, at least one New York City store unwrapped copies and offered peep shows, charging readers $1 per minute.

Of course, one minute wasn't enough time to truly take in Madonna, as her alter ego ''Dita,'' dallying with greasy bikers, hitchhiking naked in Florida, squirting lotion on Naomi Campbell's belly, and even cozying up to a baffled Alsatian hound. Nor was it enough time to fully digest her pensees, interspersed throughout, on topless dancing, anal sex, and overweight men.

Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione approved, but more reputable critics shuddered. ''Six months from now it will be the first aluminum-covered soft-porn book ever to grace the remainder bin,'' promised TIME -- although today copies are going on eBay for more than $100. It was the CD, and her subsequent racy movie, that would go unremembered: Erotica's sales were iffy, and her 1993 thriller Body of Evidence was a laughingstock.

Since then, Madonna has toned it down, ''reinventing'' almost as many times as she bared her breasts in Sex -- as a wife and mother, as a Golden Globe winner (for Evita), as the electronica queen of Ray of Light, as the urban cowgirl of Music, etc. But there's no telling if her sexiest days are done.

''I learned, like most people, not to rule anything out when it comes to her reinventions of herself,'' says Grady T. Turner, curator of New York's new Museum of Sex. ''So even though she's not in a place right now where producing a book like Sex would make any sense, as she matures I would be surprised if she weren't someone who had a lot to say about aging and women's sexuality.'' Maybe she can call that book Madonna's 69. n

Originally posted Oct 25, 2002 Published in issue #679 Oct 25, 2002 Order article reprints