Uncovered: the joy of sexperts

It's a hard job, but somebody's got to do it. Testing hundreds of sex toys, hosting naughty lunches in Soho and dealing with readers' most intimate problems is all in a day's work for the sex columnist. Six leading sexperts explain the ins and outs of writing about the subject.

Emily Dubberley
Founder of the Cliterati erotic fiction site and saucy women's glossy Scarlet, "the magazine that turns women on"

"I thought women needed more filth to read"

It's a very, very interesting job, and I've seen things many people don't get the chance to see — like a man with a 10-inch penis that was eight inches in girth, and more people having sex than you can imagine.

I was working as a journalist when I decided to set up cliterati.co.uk because I thought women needed more filth to read. It was through that I met Gavin Griffiths (former publisher of The Erotic Review), who gave me carte blanche to create Scarlet. It was just the perfect job.

The main thing was that we were trying to write about sex in a way that had a sense of humour, making the inevitable gags about sex that are there, because actually it's a rather ridiculous activity.

I once had a porn-star mate of mine arrive at my house just as my boiler broke. And I had to answer the door and ask if he knew anything about fixing boilers. No, he didn't get any big tools out and he didn't fuck me either.

Scarlet now has really good contacts like professional dominatrices and porn stars, which means we can write on any topic and get someone who knows to do it.

Other women's glossies do seem to be getting edgier since we launched. I've seen pieces in women's magazines and thought "that would fit perfectly in Scarlet" and I was incredibly pleased. The problem is, though, that if you're going to write about any particular fetish you have to be able to do it without the ick factor.

Anyway, it keeps the magazine on its toes. Its always got to be looking that bit edgier and feistier, finding the new trends before anybody else does.

Rowan Pelling
Former editor of The Erotic Review, now writing a book about her time at the magazine, due to be turned into a film starring Rachel Weisz

I originally went to The Erotic Review to help out when their PA left, and I just fell in love with the whole scenario. I think the founder correctly sensed that I am very at home in that milieu, I didn't feel any sense of prudery, I wasn't shocked by anything, I didn't mind if they had very explicit pictures out.

Our famous lunches [in which a secretary was once handcuffed to a chair and lashed with a cat o' nine tails, according to myth] were always understood as a forum for people to let off steam — although of course over the years there were lots of lunches where people just ate lunch. But I do think it encouraged people to let their inner animals out.

Going through all the archive material we found all these really complex seating plans for having lunches with names written in and crossed out.

It was always arranged with huge thought. The magazine wouldn't have worked if we hadn't done that, because that's what people wanted to write for, they wanted to write for a magazine where they could come to lunch and flirt with people.

The film is quite a jolly idea, although I know that many film options never make it to screen. But there seems to be a lot of momentum behind it. In Britain we do like that idea of naughty-but-nice sex stories, like Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots. Rachel Weisz bought the project — it was very much her decision, so she's obviously very British and Hollywood hasn't much affected her.

People often say to me: you must stop doing this erotic stuff, you'll get typecast, and I think: "Well, I can't pretend that these years didn't happen, or that it's some kind of folie de jeunesse that I should now be ashamed of." Does it get less interesting?

Is there a time limit on this? I don't think people believe that's the only thing I write about and if they do, hey ho, who cares?

Flic Everett
Sex writer and agony aunt for magazines such as Company, New Woman, Cosmopolitan and She, agony aunt in C4's Sex Tips For Girls

When I first met my husband, he was a photographer and I'd been commissioned to write a piece for She magazine on whether sex tips work.

The idea was that I'd try them all out with my boyfriend. So we went through a variety of sex tips: go out with no knickers on, eat chocolate buttons off each other, all that.

I wrote a very honest piece, detailing how it all felt, then Simon photographed me in bed next to a male model who was naked, but for a Groucho Marx-style penis nose and glasses mask.

Anyway, the feature ran, and Simon got a call from his mum: "Is that your new girlfriend?" she said.

"I was just in the dentist's and I picked up this magazine…"

We didn't mention the fact that she'd just read every detail of her son's sex life while waiting to have her tooth fixed, ever again.

I started out as a freelance journalist, working for women's mags like Company, when I got commissioned by FHM to write "50 things you do wrong in bed". I wrote a funny piece, and it got discussed quite a bit — probably because it was so mean to men!

A few of the women's mag editors saw it and liked the style, as most sex writing was pretty po-faced then. Company asked me to do more sex features, as did a couple of others, and then Company offered me the Dear Flic sex advice page.

Sex is a universal theme, and instantly engages most people: I'm never stuck for something to talk about at parties. And of course, I hope I've helped a few people and made them feel that sex isn't a scary thing, it's something that can be funny and enjoyable.

But it can embarrass my 13-year-old son, if his friends hear me on the radio. And as my husband says: "Cobblers' children go barefoot". When I've been writing any of my five books on sex, I really haven't felt like it at night.

Tracey Cox
World-famous former editor of Australian Cosmopolitan, now writes sex advice for a swathe of magazines, as well as publishing bestselling sex guides

I don't think anyone plans to become a sexpert.

For me, I think it was having a big sister who ran a family planning centre, so that sex was always a topic of conversation in our house, and the fact that my dad had an affair and left my mum. I can remember looking at that situation and thinking: Jesus Christ, sex must be an amazingly powerful thing. I know he loved her, but he couldn't help himself.

I majored in psychology then landed a job in journalism and ended up editing Cosmo Australia.

But if you work in mag-land, editing isn't much fun.  wanted to concentrate fully on writing.

I started getting commissions from all over the world to write about sex, and within a year everything I was doing was about sex — I got 50 requests a week from around the world. For 10 years I probably wrote nine or 10 features a week, and spoke to three or four sex therapists. Then I thought I might as well write a book, and wrote Hot Sex in 1998, which got picked up by a publisher for a lot of money. After that I was travelling round the world appearing on TV shows and that's when I got called a sexpert. You just have to embrace it. I love it — the more I find out about sex the more there is to know about it.

It's quite amusing though, because some men are terrified of me. If they know what I do they take an awfully long time to ask me out and I end up having to do it. And then they have to sleep with me, which is even more terrifying. My boyfriend actually said to me once: "Sleeping with you is the most nervewracking thing I've ever done."

Louise Prior (pictured)
PA to Nuts editor Phil Hilton — until she came up with the idea for the magazine's "Ask The Secretary" sex column and was thrust into the lads' mag limelight

I was obsessed from a young age with the sexual whys and hows, and it hasn't changed after 28 years.

Joining Nuts, most of the lads in the office came to me with their relationships and sex worries.

I realised that most guys just need an honest, straight answer and preferably not from their girlfriend or mother, so I came up with the idea and went to Phil to sow the "Ask The Secretary" seed. The rest is history.

I absolutely love my job, it gives me a warm flush all over! I receive lots of emails and letters every day from guys all over the country looking for help or even just someone to listen. I do a weekly radio show to troops in Iraq and when they call in and say thanks, it's nice to know that you can help in some small way.

I also get sent lots of weird and wonderful sex products, which makes my journey home on the tube an amusing one. As for cons, there aren't any, I'm pretty unshockable!

I seem to get sent lots of pictures of genitals accompanied by a request for a date — which is not the best way to approach a woman. The strangest letter was from a young guy who had drawn around his erect member on a piece of paper, asking me if I thought it was bent.

But I must stress the column is all my own work — I wouldn't dare let the Nuts lads near my computer with their advice.

Sebastian Horsley
Artist, writer and sex columnist at The Observer until last month — when he was sacked for writing about anal sex

Being fired was quite a unique experience for me, not because I'm unsackable but because I've never had a job before.

The Observer suggested the column and my agent said I should do it because I've got a book coming out next year, but when the first one came out they had more complaints from people inside the paper than outside. They hired me because they wanted Johnny Rotten and then they fired me because I wasn't Val Doonican.

The piece they fired me for was actually toned down from the original. It began: "First, my dear, I wish to make clear that I am an expert on anal sex by virtue of my inexperience. While I have buggered women and been buggered by them; been buggered by men and buggered them, I haven't really experimented."

I think the column was ahead of its time, although me giving advice is like being measured by an undertaker.

When the column started, I didn't think it was very good, but I was just hitting my stride. I was just getting good and they fired me.

But the whole idea of giving sex advice is ridiculous — you're looking for approval for a course that you've already decided on. We simply must stop taking advice from people.

I just saw it as showbiz, but I was actually starting to care about these people, and they were all real questions. One lady wrote to me and said she had lost confidence in herself after having a baby, and I invited her out on a date. After the column came out she sent me her phone number.

We set out to shock the shires, but I just think there were politics going on at the paper, people who were repulsed by me and everything I stand for.

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