PHOTOS: 20 Years On, Madonna’s “Sex” Book Still Pushes Boundaries


It’s hard to believe, but once upon a time celebrities didn’t get famous by having their sex tapes stolen. But it was twenty years ago today that Madonna released her explicit photo book, Sex, and sparked a controversy the likes of which we just don’t see anymore.

The book, a companion piece to the album Erotica (which was released the day before), featured the Material Girl performing (or simulating) R- and X-rated sex acts—watersports, rimming, cunnilingus, etc.—with models, porn stars and celebrities including Isabella Rossellini, Naomi Campbell, Big Daddy Kane and Udo Kier.

While pop stars have ramped up the sex and kink factor since 1992, it’s been in a carefully packaged, corporate-approved way. (Think Rihanna’s bubble-gum hit “S&M”)  Any one of them might flash a tit, but RiRi, Nicki Britney—and, yes, even Gaga—haven’t claimed ownership of their sexuality the way Madonna did with this controversial tome. Shot by Steven Meisel, Sex made Madge Public Enemy Number One among Christian conservatives and even more of a rebel icon among her gay fans.

Do you think it still hold up as boundary-pushing twenty years on?


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  • Spike

    Pushes boundaries or just confirms how her entire career, then to now, has been desperately seeking attention. I’d say the latter.

  • Niall

    I don’t think any of today’s popstar could do anything with the same effect, not because Madonna was such a revolutionary with it, but because with today’s culture of the internet and celeb sex tapes/nude pics leaking like a faucet, I don’t think there’ll be as much “OMG” effect that made the book so big.

  • jwrappaport

    She continues to breathe new life into the expression, “Every generation thinks it’s the one that discovered sex.”

  • Cam

    It still pushes boundaries because we seem to have actually gone backwards. Movies used to show nudity pretty regularly and now a channel like LOGO even bleeps out the word “Bottom”.


    i do think it was important at the time, being a sort of corrective to the post-aids sex-negative zeitgeist. she opened up the discussion as well as her legs.

    however, i also think there was a more than your standard grade of madonna narcissism involved in this enterprise. she judged — correctly — her body would never look that good again. those tits and that ass were like sculpted works of arts — she was at her physical apex. so why not kill several birds with one stone. something for the art lovers, the cultural theorists, the dirty mac brigade, and most imortantly her amore propre.

    lol, vanilla fuckin ice!!!?

  • Lefty

    @Cam: Absolutely. It still surprises me how conservative and sexually timid culture is now and yet so many seem to think the opposite is true.

  • CAxlRose

    Still pushing boundaries? Doubtful. Nudie books haven’t been cutting-edge since Bettie Page. Just because the book showed Madge shaving a dude’s pubes doesn’t mean she was breaking any molds or pushing the envelope. “Shocking” isn’t necessarily synonymous with cutting-edge.

    But it did reinforce the notion in our puritanical culture that “adult” automatically equals “pornography”, hence the controversy practically wrote itself. That book, like “50 Shades” today, wasn’t even remotely shocking to any of us who’ve actually seen real porn or read real erotica. But I could see where some Midwestern housewife’s giney would start to tickle at the sight of Madge taking it up the ass from Vanilla Ice.

    Twenty years later, the “Erotica” album has held up a lot better than that silly “Sex” book, which was forgotten about years ago, and is of interest only to completists and us irony-loving gays. :-p

  • MarionPaige

    Madonna is to Grace Jones what Pat Boone was to Little Richard. Although, it can probably be said that Madonna is 1,000 times more determined than Grace Jones.

    The ultimate / perfect example of this is Madonna’s Sex Book. The photo of a naked Grace Jones facing a Naked Black Man still pushes boundaries. And, the photo of Grace Jones naked with Dolph Lundgren still pushes boundaries.

    BTW, I was in The Gaiety Theater when Madonna and her gang scoped out the place to take the photos for her book.

  • dvlaries

    >>She continues to breathe new life into the expression, “Every generation thinks it’s the one that discovered sex.”<<
    And every generation needs at least one full decade into adulthood to understand the reality that just because something is explicit does not mean that it’s erotic.

  • chanmu1

    It may not have changed the world, but when the planet’s most famous woman showed her tits it was a very big deal.

  • niles

    Isn’t it telling that 20 years later a gay site is censoring the images, even though they are considered art?

  • Red Meat

    Posing does not mean art. This is just porno pics with a famous person.

  • Acnyc11

    I see Elton John posted a few comments up in here. Sad fat cow.

    She is a M*^#r F*cking Force to be rekon with which obviously continues to push boundaries

    No one comes close to having the balls that this woman has. Love her or hate here. There is still only one Queen and thats MADONNA!! Bitches.

  • LadyLady

    Once upon a time, after walking the pop star gauntlet, the stars were in alignment and she released “Justify My Love” (written and produced in conjunction with Lenny Kravitz), came out with the book and it seemed that she was really pushing the envelope and defining herself as a creative force. This lasted through “Music” and then after that she became predictable and trivial.

    Once upon a time…

  • balehead

    “Sex” is still a great artistic statement that pushes boundaries….

  • GeriHew

    @niles: Sure is telling. And where’s the pics of Madge making out with women?

  • jim2008

    The book was brilliant. Madge appeared to be saying, “Here. Take a good look, and pay me for it.”

    Before her sex book, magazines were publishing nude photos of her from her days an art model. After the sex book, the other photos stopped being published.

    Her body, her photos, her check. Madge won again.

  • papakitty

    SEX the book has such a big impact on our culture now more than ever. Yes she did come at everyone w all the sex,her c.d.,movie and image but we r still talking about it and she is still relevant. No female artist has come close to expressing themselves the way Madonna has.

  • John Kuehnle

    I tried unsuccessfully to get a copy when it was released, have yet to see it.

  • Will Glitzern

    “Erotica” will always be a classic album.

  • Carlos Rafael

    My copy is still brand new unopened. ???? #queen

  • Jordan Lee

    Why does she still own gyms in Russia?? She ain’t no ally.

  • Patrick Cremeans

    Still the highest selling coffee table book of all time and year after year it is officially the most requested out of print book in the world.

  • Gerardo Lescano

    Divina transgresora…las demas copias mal vestidas….

  • Robert Robinson

    I still have my copy unwrapped in storage.

  • David Wolf

    Marcus Nolan

  • Ted LeBlond

    Erotic put your hands all over my body

  • Roy Younger

    I still have my book.

  • Stephen Morris

    20 years on and it is still amazing!!! #genius
    Aaron Blazic you should see these

  • David Montgomery

    The book was provocative and there are some amazing and iconic photos within. But to be quite honest there’s also a lot in it that is just pedestrian (no pun intended, fans of the book will understand). And quite honestly it didn’t have much anything insightful or lasting to say about the subject of sex.

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