Erotic freedom: Durban Sexpo shows it all

2008-02-08 00:00

Durban’s International Conference Centre has been host to such important events as the World Conference on Racism, the Non-Aligned Movement and the World Economic Forum. The latest addition to this illustrious roster is the Durban Sexpo, which opened on Thursday morning and runs until tomorrow night.

It says much about the transformation of our national culture that 20 years ago such an event would have been met with cries of "skandaal", and would no doubt have attracted hordes of Christian protestors decrying the disintegration of our moral fabric. But, in 2008, what was once verboten is now merely naughty.

Many of the 100 booths on display would have drawn horrified gasps from South Africans in the ‘80s. Today, they just raise an eyebrow and a chuckle. The stud butler, for example, a diminutive rubber man with an un-diminutive — and highly realistic — mechanised member, is both a little macabre and very funny. Some might see the device as disgusting, but none of the people who stopped to gawk at it on Thursday seemed to think so. They were, for the most part, gob smacked into silence, and then, almost without exception, burst into slightly nervous laughter, and some variation of "never in my all life!". Strangely, no one wanted to try it out. The price tag for stud butler was R3 500 — not much when you consider how much a real man will cost you in the long run.

I began my Sexpo experience not with the stud butler, but by getting my portrait painted by Pricasso, aka Tim Patch, the Australian artist who uses his penis as a paintbrush.

When Tim unfurled his brush, a crowd quickly gathered to watch the absurdity taking place. But, much like watching a more conventional painter at work, they soon got bored, and when it was announced that Ariana Starr — Miss Nude Australia— was taking to the stage at the front of the auditorium, everyone abandoned Pricasso and his grinning subject. (He kept on asking me to smile, and, looking at the banks of photographs of Pricasso’s previous subjects, proudly — or sheepishly — holding up their portraits, I couldn’t help noticing that the same grin he evinced from me was present in nearly all the portraits. I also noticed that the portraits were aesthetically generous — most of the subjects were not as good-looking as their portraits. Which is certainly one way of keeping your clients happy.)

Stuck in the portraiture seat, I missed Miss Starr’s opening performance. But one of the photographers present was very disappointed at the lack of nudity, particularly for someone who’s main — perhaps only — claim to fame is her nudity. "We see a whole lot more than that at Teasers," complained the photographer who, I should point out, is a woman. Likewise, when a couple of male strippers came on, we saw a flash of butt cheek, and that was it. Truth be told, you see more on Durban’s beaches than was revealed on the Sexpo stage, and I presumed that things would get a little raunchier as the weekend progressed. But after a little inquiry, I discovered that this is apparently not the case. I myself have never seen the point in such softly pornographic approaches,

particularly not when you can see live sex in some of Durban’s strip bars. (Not that I’m a strip bar kind of guy, but sometimes you need to drink in an inappropriate place).

Teasers had a booth of course, and the Teasers Girls tottered good-naturedly around on their punishing heels, promoting South Africa’s premiere strip show brand and generally adding to the sense of laissez-faireness that permeates Sexpo. The event might have a fundamentally low-rent feeling about it, but in terms of making the patrons feel comfortable about themselves and the goodies on display, Sexpo got it just right.

Watching a saleswoman talking to a customer, both with a dildo in hand, there was no sense of discomfort from anyone involved. Certainly, most of the saleswomen were more than comfortable brandishing their plastic phalluses — in fact, enthusiastic would be a very good word.

If the Pricasso experience was a little bizarre, it set the tone for the day. Sexuality often acquires a sheen of the ludicrous when taken out of the private realm into the public. The theatre of bawdiness that we find at the very birth of human culture still pervades much of our approach to sexuality. And so, apart from such functional absurdities as the stud butler, there was also a giant rubber penis wandering around the event, and a giant … giant … OK, I’m really not sure what to call it, but it was basically a rubber structure with breasts at the top (although in this case, "tits" would be more accurate) and a bushy suggestion of a vulva at the bottom. The feminists would have a field day with the costume, but in all fairness the costume designers were dealing with something of a problem. Male sexuality is easily reduced, in clichéd form, to the phallus. Female sexuality is not, and they evidently wanted a female "character", reasoning that you can’t have a lost dick wandering around, constantly being gawked at. It would have been lonely for the poor chap.

Although, if said penis was so inclined, it could always have gone in search of the Randy Rodeo, a mechanical bucking bronco in which the bronco was replaced with — you guessed it — a giant penis. And like most penises, if you ride it long enough, you will eventually get thrown off. People weren’t exactly queuing up though, and the only person brave enough to enter the metaphoric landscape involved in riding a giant penis was one of the Sexpo staff who returned again and again to the machine’s dubious pleasures.

Finally, if there is the odd mother Grundy out there who finds this all utterly distasteful, they should consider the fact that even the Victorians — a prudish bunch by all accounts — had invented a small wealth of mechanically operated sexual devices. Although I’m pretty sure, they didn’t hold any expos to broadcast their wares.

oThe Durban 2008 Sexpo runs until tomorrow night at 9pm.

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