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Betony Vernon’s Boudoir Bible


Betony Vernon is a bona fide sexual anthropologist. (How many of those did you meet at your high-school career fair?) With a background in fashion and design, she has translated her more than twenty-five-year embrace of what most would consider S-M, or bondage, into a seductive luxury jewelry line called Sado-Chic, as well as erotic advisement (for everyone from couples to fashion magazines—she’s even appeared in Purple, French Vogue, and The New York Times) and now a new book. Titled The Boudoir Bible: The Uninhibited Sex Guide for Today, the surprisingly upbeat and joyful tome teaches and encourages readers to experiment with untraditional bedroom antics in order to enhance what she calls “the sexual ceremony.” She aims to debunk S-M myths, open our minds, and foster a frank comprehension of new ways to give, receive, and reach the pinnacle of pleasure. Sexual knowledge is sexual power, she asserts, and much of the book is dedicated to understanding one’s own body, as well as learning how to properly use various titillating instruments—from feathers to floggers—which she refers to as “tools.”

This is all mapped out via tasteful drawings by Vernon’s longtime friend, fashion illustrator François Berthoud. (“You know, the illustrations were the only way to go. If I used photography, it would have become pornographic,” she laughs.) Vernon will be hosting a Valentine’s evening book signing tonight at Bookmarc in the West Village. And here, the redheaded expert on all things amour talks to about The Boudoir Bible, sex in fashion, and how to make the most of your V-Day.

I saw that you dedicated The Boudoir Bible to your parents. Considering it’s a sex book, that was a little surprising.
I thought about it a whole lot. My mother is my biggest fan, and my parents made me. They went through a messy divorce, but they loved each other a whole lot, and I was a product of that. So I can only thank them. But I suppose it is something that could be seen as a surprise, because a lot of people don’t talk about sex with their parents. I think that’s a big mistake.

To speak about sex and pleasure as a parent, from a very early time, is really important. There’s a lot of confusion out there. It’s very interesting that we’re living in this sexed-out society, but there’s so little information in terms of real pleasure.

Is that lack of information why you wrote The Boudoir Bible?
I wrote it because I felt like it was missing. I’m now very clear on what I want and what I need to have fun, but in my sexual evolution, I kept running in to people, lovers, who were just not prepared. And everyone’s so serious about having sex. They forget that it’s one of the funniest things we can do.

How did you end up going into sexual anthropology? It seems like your Sado-Chic jewelry line had a lot to do with it.
It does! I came up with Sado-Chic in 1992. That was twenty-two years ago, and the concept of Sado-Chic was so far away from anyone’s mind. People were pigeonholing me and my work, and the association of certain tools and techniques was labeled as explicitly “S-M.” I don’t necessarily consider myself S-M, and I wondered about how to get around these limiting categories. I kept making my jewelry in secret, but in 2001, I realized that I have this huge responsibility toward my clients. So I decided to come out of creative hiding, and I loved it. That’s when I started to do a lot of research into sexual behavior, which led to the book. There is a huge gap in general sexual knowledge, and I decided that I needed to fill that gap, partly because doing so was necessary for me to continue my work as a designer.

What do you mean by that?
The pieces I make for Sado-Chic and the tools I talk about in the book need to be used correctly. You can buy any tool you like online. And things like [bondage] cords, crops, and floggers are objects that could potentially hurt someone if they’re not used with love, skill, and the intent to provide pleasure.

Keeping your background in design in mind, in what way are aesthetic and physical pleasures connected?
When the eye is pleased, we are aroused. Fashion is geared, in many moments, to turn us on and to turn each other on. When he was at Gucci, Tom Ford did a lot to explore sex in fashion. And fashion’s taken very brave steps toward sex ever since. I have never seen so many fetish-inspired shoes on the market in classic fashion houses as I do now. But at this point, I feel like it’s all been done. A lot of [fashion houses] have done cords. They’ve all done whips. So maybe now it would be more interesting to approach sex more subtly, or to go back to overt elegance. What’s more fabulously sexy than the body underneath the garment?

So is bondage, as a practice, “fashionable” at the moment?
Do you think that people are really using the cords in the bedroom to full yet? I think it’s a big fantasy. People are intrigued by it, and I’d like to think that everyone is getting tied up if they like it. In 2006, I allowed myself to be suspended for a shoot in Purple magazine, and it sparked this wave; the fashion world seemed to pull bondage in. I even got a call from Carine Roitfeld. Is this necessarily getting us anywhere or forwarding our sexual vision? I’m not sure. But I think it’s good that it’s on the surface.

Do sexual taboos still exist?
Sex is no longer a taboo. Pleasure is a taboo. And that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. The goal of The Boudoir Bible is to debunk myths, diffuse sexual information, and tap into the art of possibility. I invite people to open their sexual horizons. You’re not obligated to practice all of it. But you know what? If the occasion arises, and you’re in the know, you might actually find yourself saying, “Hey, why not? Why not experience an extra added pleasure?”

Is sex an art form?
Absolutely. I think that Ovid was right. He really got the art of loving. But that art is hinged on the art of knowing. There is so much “mystery” associated with sex, and the fear of killing that with knowledge is so silly, because it’s impossible. We shouldn’t confound sexual ignorance with mystery.

Valentine’s Day is, of course, minutes away. What are your thoughts on the holiday?
It’s an old-fashioned holiday, and it’s one of the best ones we have to celebrate. It’s a celebration of love, and if you’re not in a relationship, I think that you should get together with a lot of friends who are not in relationships and have a fabulous dinner and a fabulous party and a fabulous time. Sometimes we find that the most powerful, loving relationships that we have are with our friend. Your friend is not going to abandon you. Intimate relationships sometimes fall to pieces, whereas friendships can be eternal.

But friends aren’t going to tie you up in the bedroom.
Well, you never know. Friends are actually really good practice companions. It takes a while to get seriously skilled in the art of the cords, but if you’re not in a relationship, take advantage of the moment to get some experience.

Photo: Courtesy of Betony Vernon; Illustrations: François Berthoud