Philippa Perry on being unique, being kinky and The Great British Sex Survey

“We are definitely more sexually accepting. Trailblazers like David Bowie gave my generation the permission to be who they were. I don’t think anybody has to feel ashamed now because they like being tied up”

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So, what’s your style? Rubber? Whips? Shoes? Or someone in a uniform, perhaps? Nothing beats a person in uniform; nurses, police-women, firemen. “Some guys love a fireman,” Philippa Perry tells me, her eyes widening behind her blue-framed glasses. “Coffee?”

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I’m sitting in Philippa Perry’s airy basement kitchen in her north London home, which she shares with husband, artist Grayson Perry – and newcomer Kevin the kitten, who’s just arrived from a local rescue centre. After he’s tried to bite my hand, and attacked my sleeve, Kevin allows me to sip coffee and eat a delicious croissant, which Philippa has got from a bakery round the corner. So far, so Islington. Apart from the chat, that is. We are talking sex. Kinky sex, too. Although maybe this is what everyone in N1 talks about, as well as the rest of the country.

“Kinky sex has become mainstream,” says Philippa, a psycho-therapist and the sort of person whom one senses has had quite wide life experiences. She is about to guide the nation into the highways and, er, bi-ways of sexual fetishism in Channel 4’s Kinky Sex Night. “We are definitely more sexually accepting. Trailblazers like David Bowie gave my generation the permission to be who they were. I don’t think anybody has to feel ashamed now because they like being tied up.” She pauses. “Which is a shame, actually, because the shame is part of the sexual thrill.”

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As if on cue, husband Grayson – artist, Turner Prize winner, Reith lecturer and national treasure – flounces into the room. He’s wearing a frilly minidress, all buttons and ribbons, and he can’t quite do the big bow up at the back. He meekly turns round in his patent Mary Jane shoes and waits while his wife of 24 years sorts out the errant haberdashery. His face is made up like a china doll, with bright red circles on his cheeks and blue eye shadow. His hair is smoothed and curled around his ears. He looks like a picture and indeed is off to pose for one. Vogue, of course. “Mind Kevin doesn’t get your stockings,” Philippa calls after him as he sashays away. Great legs. “He’s a pervert,” she says fondly.

But a healthy one. “Being who you are is really healthy as long as you do it in a consensual way. So I think that the fact that my husband wears a dress is incredibly healthy. He’s not doing anyone any harm. He’s not trying to manipulate other people in any way. He’s doing it for his own enjoyment, and I think if he didn’t, he would have a little bit of resentment towards other people because he would imagine that they were stopping him.”

Is it a sexual thing for Grayson? “Oh GOD, yes.” Is it for her? “Well, I am not keen on a bloke in a suit,” says Philippa. “Never does it for me. I find the invisible authority of that a real turn-off.” So does she get turned on by seeing Grayson in frills? “No. Not necessarily. Just not a turn-off.”

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Their daughter, Florence, is in her early 20s and works for a digital news provider in London. How does she deal with the fact that her dad is a transvestite while her mum is about to pop up on TV talking about bondage?

“I think what freaks kids out are secrets,” says Philippa. “If you are… unusual, that will have less of a bad impact than if you’re deceitful. I don’t think it’s ever been very much of a problem. She has her boundaries. If she was having a party and she didn’t want her father to dress up, she’d tell him and he would respect that. If she didn’t mind, she would tell him. And if she actively wanted him to dress up, she would tell him – but he might not oblige!” She smiles and smooths down her gold miniskirt. Philippa Perry is easily as stylish as her husband, only in a less challenging way. In person she is as warmly encouraging as she is online, where she chats and laughs with over 18,000 followers.

Unsurprisingly, for a person who’s practised psychotherapy for years, Philippa suggests that kinkiness, fetishes and indeed sexual motivation are laid down in our psyche from childhood. “How someone’s sexuality gets hot-wired is a manifestation of their past. The thing about sex is that it tells the truth. When you have an orgasm, it is a moment of truth. Just like when someone genuinely wells up with tears, it hits home. You can’t fake it to yourself. You might be with someone and lie that you love them, but you will have your own fantasy going on in your head. We are creatures who live by metaphor, and it’s the metaphors that tell the truth.”

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People who enjoy spanking sessions may well have had a strict parent, she suggests. “The right side of our brain is the brain of images, of metaphor. It’s from there that we have our sexual fantasies, and make relationships. We learn relationship from our earliest care-givers, and this is where I believe the seeds are laid down for what’s going to turn us on later. Suppose you’ve got a really strict mother who even slaps you a bit, but you also associate her with love and safety. So that becomes hard-wired, and maybe you like to be spanked. Or maybe you identify with the aggressor, so you like to spank. Another example is that you might have been very humiliated in your childhood and you associate that emotion of humiliation with safety and love. So that becomes sexualised.”

Kinkiness (which is Channel 4’s term – “I prefer to say unusual practices, although they’re not unusual at all”) is apparently a very male terrain. “We found quite a lot of kinky men, and a lot of women who were accommodating of kinks, or who facilitated kinks, or who were sex workers and enjoyed their work – but still didn’t actually get off on it. We didn’t find many kinky women at all. I think we have different kinks. Maybe the emotion that women get off on is feeling loved and held.”

Perhaps most surprisingly she thinks, as far as kinky stuff is concerned, the UK is anything but repressed. We’re pretty tolerant, all told. “We stop ourselves doing things because of what we imagine other people think, but that is our imagination stopping us, rather than other people. Loads of people say to Grayson, or to me about Grayson, ‘Oh, I wish I could dress up and wear just whatever I fancy,’ and I think: what’s stopping you? You aren’t in your job 24/7! You might be a plastic surgeon or whatever, but at weekends, you can wear your BabyGros and no one would mind. We interviewed one guy who had an incredibly responsible job, dealing with safety on oil rigs, and yet at weekends, he found such freedom in walking around the woods in a rubber suit. It was really quite sweet.”

She tucks her chunkily bobbed hair behind her ears. Does she think she’ll now be hailed as a kinky sex expert? “I bloody well hope not,” says Philippa Perry merrily, although in this hope, she might be thwarted.

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The Great British Sex Survey is on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm