Sexual repression is vastly underrated, in art at least. What's ultimately sexier, Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love, or Basic Instinct 2? Rita Hayworth removing her gloves in Gilda, or Paris Hilton stripping down to lingerie in House Of Wax? Repression lends sex an exotic, forbidden quality that's infinitely preferable to the graphic explicitness of the anything-goes contingent. Accordingly, one of the unexpected virtues of Geoff Nicholson's Sex Collectors is its surprising level of repression. As he leads readers through an international tour of sex collectors big and small, famous and anonymous, Nicholson proves shockable, freely admitting that he's seen things in his travels that he wishes he could erase from his memory.
A book of modest ambition and minor pleasures, Sex Collectors lets readers enjoy tourism-by-proxy as Nicholson hits many of the usual suspects among collectors of erotica and pornography, from Cynthia Plaster Caster—who's attained a sad sort of countercultural fame by making plaster casts of famous people's genitals—to porn superstar Linda Lovelace to the Kinsey Institute. But he also finds time to visit less-expected characters, like Third Eye Blind's manager, an obsessive seemingly intent on collecting not just complete sets of erotic magazines, but rather everything under the sun.
Nicholson proves an ideal guide to the strange and fascinating subculture of porn collectors. He's intelligent without being pretentious, flappable without being prudish, and affectionate without being overly reverent. More a meditation on collecting than a treatise on sex, his book eventually coalesces into a lightly philosophical exploration of why people amass erotica. And it's equally interested in ascertaining whether sexual adventuring represents a form of collecting, a way of piling up ephemeral experiences rather than keepsakes and curios. Ultimately, Sex Collectors settles on collecting—experiences and objects alike—as a way of refuting the harsh finality of death. The book itself is little more than an amusing trifle, but the breezy pleasure it affords is substantial.