The History of the Awards

Dr Tuppy Owens – Founder of the Sexual Freedom Awards

Dr Tuppy Owens – Founder of the Sexual Freedom Awards

One of the ways in which sex differs from other topics is that, although there is some progress and evolution, it nevertheless remains subject to the vicissitudes of social trends and attitudes. In general, social attitudes towards sex within a given country seem to swing on a pendulum between increasing liberalisation on the one hand, and increasing censorship on the other. Hard-won sexual freedoms are rarely won forever: spells in which it is necessary to fight for these freedoms seem to be inevitable. Nevertheless, the UK remains one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to sexuality and it is no accident that it is home to the one-and-only Sexual Freedom Awards

Originally entitled the Erotic Oscars then the Erotic Awards, the Sexual Freedom Awards were first established in 1994 by Dr Tuppy Owens. Tuppy set up the Awards to counter negative messages in the media about people working in sex and eroticism. She invited nominations for the Awards from the public, and, to judge the nominees, appointed a Grand Jury of Conspicuous Sensuality – an evolving and diverse panel of sexuality experts and enthusiasts that have included an art historian, a fan of striptease, a fetish club owner, a sex worker, and a writer. 

Over the years, the categories have changed slightly to reflect the areas where most progress has been made in sexuality and eroticism. As well as regular awards for performers, striptease artists and sex workers, the categories have variously included Politician of the Year, Academic of the Year, Blogger of the Year and Activist of the Year. Throughout the history of the Awards, there has been a rule that all categories must be available to people from the UK. Increasingly, however, thanks to the internet, the Awards have gained international recognition and in recent years nominations have come from all around the globe.  

In the past, all those nominated in the performance and striptease categories were invited to perform in a show-case, hosted at an elegant theatre, and on the basis of these performances the finalists were then selected. The proceeds from this event were used to support the Outsiders Trust. In addition, all the finalists were invited to exhibit in a London gallery, where they could meet with the press and network with one another to encourage cross-pollination of ideas and inspiration. All of the finalists across all categories were then invited to the Awards Ceremony – entitled the 'Night of the Senses' (the Outsiders' other fund-raising event) – for an evening of performance and the announcement of the winners. The trophy awarded to the winner in each category was the famous golden flying penis, hand-carved for the event in Bali.

In 2014, the format of the Awards was changed to streamline the judging process. Now the judges select the finalists in each category based on the evidence of public submissions and their own research. The finalists are then invited to attend the Awards Ceremony. The Ceremony comprises performances from those finalists in the performance and striptease categories and the night concludes with the announcement of the winners in each category.