WHEN MADONNA PUBLISHED her controversial Sex book in 1992, I was 11 years old. Until then, my experience with eroticism was limited to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, my mother's lingerie catalogs, and trying to decipher the scrambled shows on Cinemax.
I wasn't exactly a Madonna fan back then. She, like most women at that point in my life (okay, like every point in my life), confused me. And I thought her music, frankly, was corny. But word got out that Madonna was naked in the book! And doing sex! That was all I needed to know. I was far too young to purchase the book myself, so I got help from my nefarious older friends and, with pooled resources and furtive glances, we managed to procure the coveted contraband.
Sex came wrapped in a protective foil wrapper, like a pack of baseball cards (or, fine, like a condom). The book itself was large and spiral bound, with a heavy aluminum metal cover and capital letters engraved on the front: SEX. It felt dangerous even before opening it up. My friends and I hid the book away until we were alone, then we pulled back the cover. We expected boobs, butts, glimpses of Madonna's hallowed nether regions. We were shocked at what we discovered instead.
Inside were candid black-and-white photographs of Madonna engaged in various carnal exploits: tied up and bound in leather, naked with women (including Isabella Rossellini and Naomi Campbell), naked with men (Vanilla Ice? Big Daddy Kane??), and standing alone on a sunny Miami street—naked but for a pair of pumps, a clutch, a precariously dangling cigarette, and a look in her eyes that said exactly how many fucks she could give.
This was not "sexy," at least not in my narrow understanding at the time. This was shocking, provocative, seductive. Twenty years before Miley Cyrus caused a bullshit non-scandal by wearing a flesh-colored bodysuit and twerking against what's-his-name, Madonna instigated a genuine act of sexual confrontation. To many—especially an inexperienced 11-year-old boy from the Midwest—Sex was our first experience of a woman in control of her sexuality and not making any excuses or apologies for it.
Thank you, Madonna, for challenging and enlightening my young mind, and for making me come... of age.
The Madonna Issue