For Books’ Sake Talks To: Nichi Hodgson
7th Nov 2013
Very seriously. Nichi Hodgson is a writer on gender politics and obscenity legislation for publications including the New Statesman and the Guardian, a sex columnist for Men’s Health magazine, director of The Ethical Porn Partnership.
Nichi Hodgson is also the author of Bound to You, a memoir detailing her time as a professional dominatrix and a personal submissive (“I got involved with a client, which is never good”, she says. “I dominated him, then he dominated me, then he broke my heart.”).
Hodgson clearly despairs of how people in the UK handle sex. In early October, she co-hosted the excellent Salon London does Sex event as part of her drive to ensure everyone has access to good information about sex, so that the UK can become more sexually aware and healthy. It’s an ideal that Hodgson believes won’t be realised until there is more freedom of sexual expression in the media and in society.
Her recent article on why she doesn’t back the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign, in which she talks about the harm of censorship, prompted a few accusations of anti-feminism, though she doesn’t see her stance as contrary to being a feminist.
“I call myself a feminist,” she says. “I’m doing a lot of research on FGM [female genital mutilation] at the moment, and it’s clear a lot of the world still needs feminism. So I use the term, but people might think I’m a bit of a crap feminist. I’m just a supporter of human rights.”
If you look at books like Jane Eyre, that’s full of longing and it’s dark - Brontë knew desire could harm. Now it’s all candy-coated, which isn’t realistic.Her book is pornographic though, however you look at it. How do her principles of freedom of sexual expression sit alongside the laws designed to protect people from content they’re considered too young or too vulnerable to access?
“The obscenity laws are bullshit,” she says. “They’re predicated on Biblical mores. I do think there needs to be mediation for people with disabilities and children, but you don’t want to patronise. With books you have to work with your imagination, so I think you have more control. I’d hope that parents and carers would know what was going on, anyway, and know how to deal with it. I certainly wouldn’t want to see age ratings on books. If people talk well about sex, it’s very healthy.”
She doesn’t think that literature does talk well about female desire, though. “It’s getting worse,” she says. “If you look at books like Jane Eyre, that’s full of longing and it’s dark – Brontë knew desire could harm. Now it’s all candy-coated, which isn’t realistic.”
Bound to You has drawn inevitable comparisons with 50 Shades of Grey (the sticker on the front cover reads: ‘You’ve read about Christian Grey. Now meet the real thing.’), which Nichi Hodgson says is not realistic either; that’s why she refuses to support the various groups who want it banned for its arguably abusive central relationship.
“It’s fantasy,” she says. “[The relationship] is coercive, yes, but it wasn’t written as a manual for relationships or for BDSM. Unfortunately it’s sort of become one for BDSM, because people don’t know any better.”
Despite thinking 50 Shades of Grey is “appalling”, she applauds it for starting a dialogue about BDSM and (she hopes) convincing people that BDSM desires are perfectly normal. Her experience taught her that current societal taboos around BDSM can be harmful – after all, she made her living partly from men ashamed to ask their partners for what they really wanted.
Hodgson considers the dominatrix work she did as sex work and, by that logic, that she was helping men to cheat. Did she feel any moral obligation to protect their relationships?
“I think I actually helped,” she says. “It would have taken years of therapy for some of those men to achieve the catharsis they achieved with me.” She pauses. “I did try to convince some clients to talk to their partners, and,” (she says with a rueful smile) “it was bad for business but I hoped they wouldn’t be back.”
Hodgson has been refused a US visa due to her dominatrix work, which for her is symptomatic of the hypocrisy that surrounds female sex. Ironically, she became a dominatrix because she felt she couldn’t break through the elitist, misogynistic wall that surrounded literary journalism. Is this wall crumbling at all?
“God no,” she says. “Take a look at where the big players in newspapers were educated; it’s one of the narrowest fields.”
Nichi Hodgson has managed to carve her own increasingly successful niche outside of that tiny sphere and, with no immediate change on the horizon, it looks as though she will continue to fly the flag for a more sexually healthy Britain for quite some time.
Bound to You is available now, and you can buy it here.