Journalist for The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Claire Halliday was asked to write a book on Australian’s attitudes to sex. As well as providing a fascinating look inside Australia’s sex industry and the organisations that oppose it, Do You Want Sex With That? discusses the impact of sex in the media on our society. Sex is everywhere you look these days – on billboards, television, radio, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. Sex sells and particularly if you’re a parent, sex in the media terrifies.
The backlash against the old advertising mantra ‘sex sells’ has given rise to a new brand of conservatism in Australia which saw the artist Bill Henson publicly criticised for producing photos of naked juveniles and the Federal Government proposing mandatory filtering of sex and violent content on the Internet.
The book, Do You Want Sex With That? sees Claire Halliday going undercover at a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting; observing a swingers club in action in suburban Melbourne; tailing a stripper on the Gold Coast; chatting with exhibitors at Sexpo in Sydney; and watching the taping of a porn movie in Canberra. Claire balanced these experiences by attending the Hillsong Church in Western Sydney, a meeting of Women’s Forum Australia in Melbourne, and interviewing a Senior Police Officer of the Sex Crimes Squad in Victoria. She also discusses the experiences that have shaped her own attitudes to sex.
Claire told Australian Women Online, “When I was asked to write about Australian’s attitudes to sex, I struggled with it for about a year. I didn’t write a word. I downloaded every available study on sex and interviewed academics. Then my partner pointed out You’re not writing an academic thesis. The publisher contacted you because he wanted your thoughts and your observations, so make it personal. I struggled with how to do that and then I decided I had to put myself in the story.”
Claire Halliday makes a number of frank disclosures in the book, including the story of how she was raped as a teenager. The author’s candour in discussing the details of her own sex life makes me wonder what her partner thinks of all this.
“My partner was really supportive,” said Claire. “I think he’s main complaint was I wish I was the guy when you were twenty when you were into wild, crazy sex. I’m the guy now where you’re married and you got too many children and you’re tired and you don’t want to have sex anymore.”
“It’s been really confronting for him because he’s known details of my past including the rape, but for me to publish it and have other people read it, is really confronting. But he’s just been totally supportive of me. He is a great guy.”
The mother of four also shares with the reader her concerns about her own children growing up in a society where sex is near to saturation point.
“Your conceptions of sex change and what you observe changes when you become a parent. When kids are learning to read and you’re meant to encourage them by reading signs on shop windows, it’s pretty hard to drive around without having them spell out Do want longer lasting sex? You see it through different eyes and have a totally different outlook on it. The way clothes are advertised and the whole debate about the sexualisation of children in advertising is another example,” said Claire.
“But I also think some of that is perhaps over-hyped and some people in those sorts of factions can do their cause a disservice by coming across as too prudish. I think that is sad because then the whole debate is lost. The mainstream just dismisses these people as wowsers and they fail to see that at the core of what they’re arguing about is actually a real problem.”
Of course one of the biggest issues confronting parents of the current generation of children, is the Internet. Parents like Claire Halliday have taken steps to limit the number of opportunities their children have to access images of sex and violence on the web. She monitors her children’s use of the Internet and says she refuses to buy mobile phones for her kids. However, busy lives can make babysitters out of technology for some and kids can access sex images at a friend’s house or on a friend’s mobile if they can’t access it at home.
“The Internet is opening up this whole world of sex that we’ve never had access to before and I think that somewhere in the middle there’s a lot of confusion at the moment,” she said.
“Towards the end of the Howard years there was a bit of a turn towards conservatism and the tide was turning before Bill Henson. I think the Bill Henson thing only highlighted it and made people try to have a clearer view on what they really thought about it all.”
“During the Howard years you also had the rise of churches like Hillsong and some of what they’re saying is true. I’m a staunch atheist but I still believe in teaching kids about right and wrong, and morals, and being kind to other people – not to lie, cheat and steal. I would like to instill the basic message of religion in my own children.”
Unfortunately for them, the Hillsong Church in Western Sydney does have it critics and perhaps for good reason. After attending a meeting of the church, Claire Halliday wrote: “The sermon that follows the singing includes the exhortation that good Christians should be generous, and is quickly followed by the collection buckets (none of the more decorous ‘plates’ from my own Anglican upbringing here) and the excited announcement that cheques can be made out to Hillsong Church – plus we can take credit cards” (page 227).
Do You Want Sex With That? takes the reader to some other interesting places. The book opens with Claire Halliday attending a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting in her home city of Melbourne.
“Just the idea of a sex addicts meeting opened up so many possibilities. The idea of throwing sex addicts together in one room is like having a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous at the pub, you always wonder what’s going to happen after the meeting,” said Claire. “Sex was at saturation point for them and I realised how hard it must be to get away from it if you really do have a compulsion. It’s just everywhere.”
“The only time I felt scared was when I was hanging out with a stripper on the Gold Coast. I was tailing her for the night and watching the way she works. To my mind, anybody to do with the sex industry in Queensland works in a very dangerous way and it’s certainly different to the way other States work. In Victoria strippers have minders with them so a stripper would go out and she would have a guy in the car delivering her to a job and waiting for her. If she doesn’t come out at a certain time, he can go in and see what’s going on.”
“In Queensland they’re not allowed to have a minder go with them, if they do they’re regarded as prostitutes. So strippers in Queensland have to turn up to all their jobs by themselves without an escort. These women are turning up to Bucks parties and twenty-first birthdays and because of the nature of the event, there are a lot of men drinking alcohol and maybe a few of the other drugs as well. Emotions are running high so to speak and it’s a dangerous environment for a woman to walk into and take off her clothes and in some cases, perform very sexual acts. So you’ve got these women driving all over Queensland, turning up to these events which are only booked by a name, a telephone number and a credit card down payment, walking into a mass group of men who are all horny and fuelled by alcohol.”
“I was heavily pregnant at the time, so it was a strange environment for me to walk into. I actually felt a little more embarrassed than scared walking into this environment; what if they think I’m some retired stripper?”
“When the car broke down in the middle of nowhere in between jobs that was a bit confronting. I was texting my partner back in Melbourne and he was saying What are you doing – get out of there. The car’s broken down, you’re with two strippers, you don’t know where you are and you’re pregnant with our baby – come home. But I didn’t actually feel that scared myself.”
Although you won’t find any definitive answers here, Claire Halliday certainly gives the reader plenty of food for thought. How much sex is too much and who decides where to draw the line? Has sex become just another commodity consumed by the masses and if so, how much are we willing to pay for it?