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Canadian Sex Party stands proud at polls

Priapic politics - one in the eye for the New Puritans

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Sex and politics, together at last - this week the Canadian Sex Party became the first of its kind in the English-speaking world to stand registered candidates in British Columbia, in Canada's provincial elections.

One candidate, Sex Party leader John Ince, achieved a reasonably creditable tally of around two per cent of the vote.

The Canadian Sex Party now joins the ranks of the Australian Sex Party and Consenting Adult Action Network as an organisation that is starting to make inroads into an area that has usually been characterised more by media sniggering than any serious debate. Is this just a temporary deviation from the norm before resumption of normal political service, or does it reflect something much more fundamental?

According to Ince, sex is the "900-pound gorilla" of political debate, "usually just out of sight, an intimidating presence, like the propriety of a dead grandmother, or the pious dicta of a longer-dead Christian saint". He goes on: "The current abundance of sex is actually a smoke screen hiding a monster."

The monster in question is 'erotophobia'. "Running amok through the North American psyche - like a deranged yet invisible King Kong - are deeper antisex attitudes that produce stale marriages, anti-prostitution legislation, laws against public nudity, government classification of pornography, cautionary - not positive - sex-education classes, media censorship, homophobia, and the biggest bugaboo of all: guilt."

What is interesting about this diagnosis - and the political platform that follows - is how closely it mirrors that put together by the Australian and UK groups. Both have emerged from a sense of frustration: that sex between consenting adults is a normal, enjoyable activity that should be allowed to take place without state interference or any attempt to dictate boundaries.

The internet has broken down many taboos, allowing individuals access - in many cases for the first time ever - to debate and participation in ever more niche sexual activity. Not just the obvious BDSM spectrum, but also all manner of fetish, from latex to foot worship. Swinging in the UK appears to be on the rise. On the holiday front, you can now opt for the dedicated erotic hotel - or just look for the specialist businesses that will arrange some seriously elaborate sexual adventures - such as kidnap fantasies.

The response from an alliance of the moral majority and some parts of the feminist spectrum has been to legislate and attempt to stop this liberalisation in its tracks. Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, a researcher in psychological, legal, and social policy questions on sexuality, gender, and the law commented at the recent Convention on Liberty: "A large part of this repressive agenda emanated from the Bush administration. For the last eight years, it has been almost impossible to obtain funds to look at any questions in this area that were not focussed on producing answers that conform to this new puritanity."

The response to the response is beginning to look like an outbreak of independent national movements committed not just to the liberalisation of sex, but to a range of issues around that: better sex education; improved health care; rationalisation of the ages of consent; a more rational approach to issues of sex work. Both the Australian and Canadian Sex Parties have put out statements that lean towards the environmental lobbies, with the latter arguing that global warming itself might be the result of too much consumerism brought about by sexual frustration.

More seriously, all three national movements have close links to disability issues. In the UK, charity group the Outsiders, coordinated by Dr Tuppy Owens, exists to campaign for the rights of those with major disabilities to be allowed a sex life. This, in turn, raises awkward questions of whether it is legitimate for the state to condone - or at least turn a blind eye - to sex workers being allowed to interact with those who would otherwise be condemned to a life without any sexual release whatsoever.

This may all be a flash in the pan. The Obama administration and the unpicking of much of the fundamentalism for which George Bush was responsible may remove the pressure to campaign in these areas. Alternatively, it may be that the debate has just begun - and the presence of Sex Parties on the political scene will cease to be a joking matter. ®

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