Scotland’s first Festival of the Erotic Arts is set to take place at five venues across the city centre in June with a range of activities including a sado- masochists’ dungeon and a workshop on bondage for beginners. Organisers have stoutly defended the three-day festival, which is expected to attract hundreds of fetish fans to the Capital, as a way of promoting a “positive sex environment”.
Festival director Donna McGrory said it was not an undercover swingers club and explained some of the more extreme events by saying “some people get off on being degraded”.
But critics raised fears that the festival will attract a seedy element to the city, put off families from visiting areas where workshops and exhibitions are taking place and drive down trade in neighbourhoods surrounding host venues.
Shopkeeper Aslam Mohamed, 70, manager at the Cowgate Newsagent close to two of the planned venues, said: “I don’t think a bondage event is suitable and it will drag the area down.”
The city’s Tory leader, Councillor Jeremy Balfour said: “These things can sound innocent but you have to be careful about the people it attracts and the consequences, particularly with regard to how women are treated at these events.
“Bondage workshops do cause me concern because that can be humiliating to women and I think it can pick on the vulnerable as well. I think it is degrading and not the kind of thing we should be encouraging in our city in the 21st century.”
The Church of Scotland has raised concerns about how the event will be advertised and if it will tackle the issue of sex “in a respectful manner, remembering the need to maintain human dignity and not encouraging denigration or abuse”.
A Kirk spokesman added: “We hope the organisers take suitable steps to avoid unsuitable and salacious advertising that may be seen by children or vulnerable adults.”
The Festival of Erotic Arts will feature a range of events, from readings of erotic poetry to film screenings and parties, the largest of which will include a sado-masochist dungeon and require revellers to wear “latex, leather or rubber” or “all-out burlesque glamour”. Ms McGrory said: “We unapologetically wear our sexualities on our sleeve with the erotic arts festival, which is an event to promote sex positivity and the work of erotic artists.”
“Fetish should not be hidden behind closed doors. The more we can talk about something like fetish, which is not niche any more, the less seedy it becomes.
“Some people get off on being degraded, it’s not something for everyone but who are we to stop people’s sexual desires?”
End-of-night parties will be hosted at the Voodoo Rooms on West Register Street and The Caves and Banshee Labyrinth in Niddry Street, while White Space in Gayfield Square and the Pleasance Cabaret Bar will also house erotic art exhibitions and revues.
Ms McGrory rejected accusations that elements of the festival would degrade women, branding it a “nonsense”.
“The art of Japanese fusion bondage is not a class for men to be tying up women and as a feminist I wouldn’t put on an event of that nature,” she said.
She added that a “Torture Garden” club night featured DJs and live music but with a fetish dungeon run by “bondage and sado-masochism professionals”.
“There are people who will be offended just at the existence of an event like this. It’s a niche event and not for everyone. We are not going to promote it in such a way that the wrong person comes,” she said.