Among the winners of the Erotic Awards 2013 were a burlesque drag act called Mr Mistress, a self-styled “English courtesan” named Charlotte Rose – and Meg Barker, senior lecturer in psychology at The Open University.
Alongside the categories you might expect to see at such an event – including accolades for the best striptease act and sex worker – was an academic award. It was this prize that Dr Barker took home.
“I was surprised to hear that the Erotic Awards even had an academic category, let alone that I had been nominated,” she told Times Higher Education. “I still don’t know who put my name forward.”
The awards have been held 13 times since 1994 and recognise global achievements in the world of erotica. The ceremony forms part of the Night of the Senses event, which raises money for Outsiders, a charity that aims to increase awareness about sex and disability.
Dr Barker received the award for Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships, her 2012 book examining the misleading and often contradictory advice given out on those subjects.
“I was disappointed with the range of self-help and popular psychology books that are already available,” she said, citing Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr Right as two “pseudoscientific, counterproductive and quite problematic” books.
“There really wasn’t anything very intelligent available,” Dr Barker said. “Take the Mars and Venus idea – that men and women are different and they don’t speak the same language. If this is the case then all people in same-sex relationships would have a perfect relationship. Given that I’m a therapist in that area, I know full well that is not the case.”
The idea of her book was to question perceived norms, she said. “A lot of self-help authors think they know everything and will put their own ideas out there in a book – I didn’t want to do that. People need to find their own place in relationships and their own rules.”
In keeping with this approach, the chapter in Dr Barker’s book on monogamy explores relationships that involve multiple sexual partners, while the section on sexuality covers alternative, or “kink”, communities as well as the mainstream.
“I’m interested in what people outside the mainstream rules might have to offer to everyone in terms of seeing their own relationships, or sex, differently,” she explained. “Unlike a lot of psychologists, I’m not trying to explain away why people deviate from the norm. That might explain why I got the award.”
In the academic category, Dr Barker fought off competition from Brooke Magnanti, otherwise known as Belle de Jour, author of The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl; and Sue Newsome, a sexual therapist. However, both her rivals were honoured elsewhere, winning the best writer and best sex therapist awards, respectively.
All the winners receive a trophy in the shape of a golden penis with wings. “It’s not something I’m going to put out on display when my parents come around,” Dr Barker said.