Robbie Williams and his wife, Ayda Field, rarely have sex. Rachel Bilson wants to be “f***ing manhandled” by her partners. Ben Affleck is “technically excellent” in the bedroom (according to Gwyneth Paltrow). And Christina Aguilera has called herself “a promoter of the swallow”. These are just a handful of the most outrageous sex-related confessions divulged by celebrities in recent weeks. And it seems they can’t stop oversharing.
The most notable among them has been pop star Meghan Trainor, who remarked on her podcast Workin’ on It that her husband – the Spy Kids actor and former child star Daryl Sabara – is a “big boy”. “[It’s] to the point where I’m like, ‘Is it all in?’ and he’s like, ‘Just the tip,’” she confessed. Fans quickly pleaded with the “All About That Bass” singer to speak no more. “Too much information,” they cried out. Here’s a small sampling from Twitter: “Honestly can Meghan stop revealing things”; “I’m sick of her”; “She needs to stop”. The backlash groaned on from there.
But while it’s easy to wince at coded compliments like “technically excellent” and phrases like “big boy”, these celebrities could be doing us all a favour. When it comes to demystifying taboos around sex and intimacy, perhaps honesty is the best policy? Even when it is a bit cringe.
In Trainor’s case, it quickly transpired that her words had been taken out of context. No, she wasn’t just boasting about the size of her husband’s spy gadget, she was actually talking about her experiences with vaginismus, a relatively taboo psychosexual condition in which the vaginal muscles painfully tense up during penetrative sex. Trainor described feeling a “stingy” and “burning” sensation when having sex, which has always made it difficult for her to relax during the act or even enjoy it. “I thought that every woman walking around was always in pain during and after sex,” she explained. “I was like, ‘Doc, are you telling me that I could have sex and not feel a single bit of pain?’”
A similar kind of point-missing occurred with transgenerational heartthrob Robbie Williams. His claim in a recent interview that he and his wife rarely have sex any more initially sounded like a complaint. But he also quickly clarified what he meant: his desire for sex had plummeted after he started taking testosterone to treat depression. He also insisted both he and Field are “content” with having less sex than they did when they first got together – watching Netflix on the sofa is their preferred pastime these days. Williams was subsequently applauded for challenging the idea that a couple needs to have a specific amount of sex each week to be “normal”.
The American rapper Lil Dicky has also in recent weeks discussed – in graphic detail – the size and appearance of his penis, but only in an effort to raise awareness of hypospadias, a medical condition he’s had since birth. Hypospadias is when the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis rather than the tip, and affects one in every 300 boys. On the Call Her Daddy podcast, the rapper opened up about the insecurity he’s felt as a result of his condition, while adding that he’s learnt to appreciate his penis over time. “I love my penis like you love a flawed Pixar character,” he joked.
While some of this may feel new, historically we’ve always known about famous people’s bedroom antics, from our new King’s desire to metaphorically become Queen Camilla’s tampon, to Jude Law’s fling with his children’s nanny – it’s only now, though, that such chat is coming from the horse’s mouth and not via leaked audio or invasions of privacy. We’ve also seen some stars in almost gynecological detail – but only after they’ve had their sex tapes stolen and put on the internet without their permission. Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton, who both had sex tapes leaked against their will in the earliest years of the internet, have both released memoirs this year detailing the horror of being violated by the world. Anderson has compared her sex tape leak in 1995 to being sexually assaulted when she was a child. She told The Guardian that she had been “raped by a 24-year-old friend of a friend” at the age of 12, and added: “When the tape was stolen, it felt like that.”
Hilton has also said she felt “vilified” when her tape, which she claims she was coerced into filming, was sold online in 2003. She said this year that she’s still haunted by the idea that she’s being “judged” for it. “It’s always in the back of my mind when I walk into a room and I see people,” she told Glamour magazine.
It’s only now that we’re finally getting the truth about those experiences, rather than via the tabloids. The inception of podcasts and talk shows hosted by celebrities has also had a big hand in this new trend. It’s arguably been sparked by Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Red Table Talk, an American talk show she hosts with her daughter Willow and her mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, in which the family and a special guest gather around the red table of the title to discuss a range of often not safe for work (NSFW) topics. In 2020, Pinkett-Smith brought herself to the table to admit she had an extramarital relationship with the musician August Alsina, calling it an “entanglement” – her husband Will, meanwhile, sat opposite her, looking somewhat heartbroken, and openly discussed the state of their marriage.
It ended up serving as a blueprint moving forward. Today, celebrities flock to recording studios to spill the beans, chief among them the notorious Call Her Daddy, a popular podcast hosted by Alex Cooper in which she asks celebrities scandalous questions, and The High Low with EmRata, in which model Emily Ratajkowski invites celebrity guests to spill the beans. Both have become synonymous with X-rated admissions by stars, so much so that baring the nitty-gritty of your sex life is almost an imperative to appear. American DJ Diplo, for instance, recently went viral after telling Ratajkowski on her show that he’d had sexual experiences with other men.
There seems to be something about these environments that brings out the sexual honesty in famous people – be it the feel of a safe space, or the illusion of intimacy. Call Her Daddy, for example, is recorded in a bright and airy room with two sofas on either side of it, giving it the air of a therapist’s office more than a recording studio. This might explain why Gwyneth Paltrow was more than happy to talk about Ben Affleck’s sexual prowess, or call her other ex Brad Pitt the “major love of her life” at the time they dated in the mid-Nineties.
More than anything, though, all of this sex chat goes some way in humanising the kinds of people who feel otherwise unapproachable. If stars continue to talk about sex on their own terms, the idea that celebrities have wild and steamy personal lives might finally be squashed. In fact, some rarely even have sex. For some, it hurts sometimes. And, like the rest of us, they too can get insecure about their bits and bobs.