Erotic Art by Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen

I don’t think any artist can satisfactorily explain what compels him to do what he does. My photography has given me an entry into the lives of many people. That entry has allowed me to get an insight into how they conduct themselves on our cosmic journey — to help me make my choices. And then I’ve published work to help others make their choices.

A long time ago I challenged myself to do important, excellent and original work – with no excuses. In 1983, that attitude, a wish for adventure and some lucky circumstances gave me the opportunity to photograph a real S/M sex scene. What I saw opened my eyes to a world I’d not imagined before — a new for me world of pleasure — consensual erotic power play. Sexual magic. Dominance and submission. Sadism and masochism. Giving and receiving erotic intensity. Giving and receiving pleasure. Role playing and role reversal. Fun. Sex.

I became part of the San Francisco Bay Area radical sex community as a photographer and incorporated some of what I learned into my personal life. Later, wanting to put my photographs out into the world, I self published the book Sexual Magic: The S/M Photographs in 1986. With my action photographs, I included interviews with players and attempted to present a reasonable spectrum of points of view on just what S/M is. The book is for people who are not necessarily heavily into S/M, but rather are curious about it. Perhaps they’re doing some things in their private lives and need validation that other people, intelligent and clear thinking people, are doing things, too.

In the late 1980s, as my community discovered erotic body piercing and tattooing I also eagerly explored that world, both personally and photographically. Leaving behind action photographs, I made studio portraits of people in their sexual roles. My topic widened to include erotic piercing and tattooing, gender play and other aspects of radical sex, as well as S/M.

I self published Sexual Portraits: Photographs of Radical Sexuality in 1990. I again interviewed people, this time looking for a definition of radical sex. Some topics were: sexual energy and spiritual energy; ways to play, as fire, ice, electricity, bondage, etc.; orgasm from pain; phone sex; rape fantasies; multiple personas; reasons for erotic and ritual body piercing; and, Wicca, the ancient goddess oriented religion. The interviews center on why these people do these things.

Although Sexual Magic and Sexual Portraits were about sexuality, in fact the books contained little explicit sex. For my next project I tackled the topic of sexual art, a term I believe I invented. Making art from images including explicit sex. I made pictures of sexual behavior, explicit and extreme. The photographs show interesting behavior, behavior perhaps somewhat unusual in ‘Middle America’, and are well crafted and presented. I believe that the function of art is not to merely decorate our nests and make us feel good, but also to challenge our notions of what our world is about.

I self published this work as Sexual Art: Photographs That Test The Limits in 1990. This book has no interviews, but it has an introduction by me elaborating on the above paragraph and an afterward by David Steinberg that explores what, indeed, sexual art might be.

My latest book, published by a San Francisco firm in 1998, is called Lust & Romance: Rated X Fine Art Photographs. Here I explored the gamut of human sexuality, from the vanilla to the outrageous. From hugging and kissing to explicit sex, some ‘normal’ and some not so normal. The book begins with foreplay, continues to images of greater arousal, climaxes with a graphic orgasm and ends with hugs and ‘you were great darling’.

As in all my work, I included people of all genders and persuasions. The message is: it’s all the same, whatever your plumbing and whatever the plumbing of your partner, so long as you’re having safe, sane and consensual fun.

As always, the people I photographed were from my community — real people, not professional models — so there are few phony breasts or washboard abs. I chose people who knew each other well sexually, whether from long term or short term relationships, and photographed them having a good time. I don’t have people act out a script I’ve written; I photograph what they do in their daily lives. I generally traded photographs for a signed release, but I have paid people. Not a lot, certainly not what porn pros would expect, but not a token.

I’m currently continuing with “Vanila Sex”, in the vein of “Lust and Romance”, with plans to produce another book. Surely I haven’t exhausted the topic of human sexual behavior.

Check out my work at

Copyright 2007 Michael Rosen.

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