In their manifesto, the editors of London-based Ladybeard write: ‘mainstream media has created a culture of self-hate We platform the voices that you won’t hear in women’s magazines.’ They’re tagline is similarly simple and resolute: ‘Ladybeard takes the form and format of the glossy magazine but revolutionises the content.’ When subverting the glossy, sex is a good theme to start with, and the content of Ladybeard issue 1 deliberately deviates from and plays with the kind of ‘Top 10 Ways To Please Your Man’ lists you might find in traditional women’s titles. Their approach is full-on and confrontational in nature, with in-depth, serious journalism sitting alongside bold and graphic sexual imagery. It’s a thought-provoking and intriguing combination, an effect that might be tricky to replicate with a different theme.
‘We chose “Sex” for the first issue because it’s such a bastion of mainstream magazines,” says editors Kitty Drake, Madeleine Dunnigan and Sadhbh O’Sullivan, ‘it's only very recently that Cosmo has broken the habit of having “SEX” in the top left corner of every single issue – the spot that the eye is first drawn to. “Sex” as a journalistic topic and sex in reality are still very different things, and the way sex is talked about is so BORING so much of the time.”
Peter Stemmler’s lead illustration sets Ladybeard’s aesthetic tone (above). The rest of the illustrations are similarly explicit, bright and leave nothing to the imagination; the style reminds me of another London-based, sex-themed magazine, namely Anonymous Sex Journal. It’s interesting that both publications turn to and rely so heavily on illustration when dealing with the theme of sex, it’s a distinctly different approach from erotic publications like Tissue or Odiseo, where photography features predominately.
For Ladybeard, illustration is a way to provoke the status quo and to vibrantly question what we think of as ‘conventional’ sexual imagery. As the editors say, ‘the very fact that they might shock the reader is a critique: it shows how conditioned we are to accepting certain forms of ‘sex’, while others are made alien, ‘other’. It is a comment on the fact that we let far more problematic depictions of sex slip by.’
Their next theme is going to be ‘The Mind’, so it’ll be interesting to see what shape that will take and how the imagery might differ.
Stemmler’s work (taken from 'The Sex Book' by Suzi Godson) bookmarks each of Ladybeard’s sections, which range from things like ‘Thoughts’ and ‘Questions’ to ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Explorations’ – this gives the magazine a clear sense of structure, and his bright use of colours shout loudly from the page (above). As well as Stemmler’s fluorescent scenes, there’s similarly stark, multi-coloured works by Andre da Loba (below) and playful, bold doodles by Andrea de la Concha (also below).
Alongside the bright artworks are thoughtful, long-form interviews with a range of thinkers, writers, makers and performers, from a group of ecosexuals to a London drag troupe to feminist porn director Petra Joy to Elana Schlenker, who speaks candidly about her ‘journal of typographic smut’, Gratuitous Type (above). Like you might find in a mainstream glossy, there’s also ‘recommendations’ and snappy, shorter features – Ky Hoyle, the owner of the UK’s first women’s sex shop, recommends her favourite sex toys, and there’s also a brief history of the vibrator (below). The coverage is wide in scope and there’s a lot of different voices featured in the 200 pages (Ladybeard spoke with over 70 contributors while putting it together): a piece on an initiative that helps survivors of sexual violence reclaim their sexuality, and another on the endemic asexualisation of disabled people, are just two more examples of the inclusive nature of Ladybeard.
A spotlight on four different contemporary artists for whom sex and sexuality are an important part of their work changes the pace once more (see above, an interview with Linder), and ten testimonials at the start of the magazine recount various sex stories (below).
With articles on art, graphic design, sex workers and activists, snippets from D. H Lawrence and pages from young artists notebooks, short stories, photography projects, confessions and still-life shoots, Ladybeard is a huge undertaking, but it in no ways feels dense or over-crowded. It explores how ‘sex’ feeds into a huge variety of areas and topics. ‘The magazine has a personal significance for all of us, too’ says Kitty, Madeleine and Sadhbh, ‘We grew up loving and devouring women's magazines but, at the same time, hating the way they made us feel. We wanted to create the kind of magazine that directly countered the destructive messages we consumed during those formative years.’
Editors: Kitty Drake, Madeleine Dunnigan, Sadhbh O’Sullivan
Art directors: Bronya Meredith, Tyro Heath and Scarlet Evans
The Launch Party for The Sex Issue is on 14 November at Hackney Showroom, 13-15 Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT