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Dirty Diana: female fantasies go beyond Shades of Grey

Podcast of the week: This sex-positive, feminist exploration of erotica featuring Demi Moore is about to cross over into a TV series and a book trilogy

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Demi Moore features as a corporate executive whose personal life is hindered by a sexless relationship in Dirty Diana

Demi Moore features as a corporate executive whose personal life is hindered by a sexless relationship in Dirty Diana

Demi Moore features as a corporate executive whose personal life is hindered by a sexless relationship in Dirty Diana

Audio erotica, anyone? Or how about a podcast that begins with the words “please be advised, this show contains adult language and explicit scenes, and is not advised for persons under the age of 17”?

What we have here depends on the ear of the listener and their definition of expressions of positive sex. What isn’t in doubt is that Dirty Diana — scripted during last year’s Covid-19 restrictions by director/writer Shana Feste, and executive produced by and featuring US actress Demi Moore — has caused something of a stir in the podcast world.

Is it Shades of Grey multiplied by a sensationalised triple-X rating? Or is it, as Moore has explained in exasperation, a “feminist podcast” that explores female sexuality in a way far removed from what is euphemistically termed ‘adult entertainment’? Either way, Dirty Diana — available on Apple Podcasts and other podcast platforms — has paved the way for a raft of similarly themed listening experiences. The differences, however, are striking.

Impeccable presentation

For one, the production values are extraordinarily high. Despite being created entirely over Zoom, and despite Moore recording the 30-plus-minutes episodes from her carpeted bathroom (to which the internet asked, are carpets in bathrooms a thing?), Dirty Diana is impeccably presented. For two, the main voice cast and support list is dripping with talent (alongside Moore, there are appearances from Penelope Ann Miller, Melanie Griffith, Lena Dunham, Andrea Riseborough and Gwendoline Christie). For three, the dialogue is superb.

Inspired by Feste’s marriage, its breakdown and subsequent rebuilding, Moore features as a corporate executive whose personal life is hindered by a sexless relationship with her husband. She negotiates this in a roundabout way via secretly hosting a website that features conversations of women describing their sexual fantasies.

Episode one features 40-something Liz (Andrea Riseborough) visualising playing strip poker on a train with a younger version of her husband. In episode two, we hear 20-something Lux (Lena Dunham) describe not a fantasy but “just something I think about”: her first orgasm in a haunted house. In episode four, perhaps the most explicit, 30-something Evie (Gwendoline Christie) discusses her relationships with famous authors and rock stars (“these tortured men… breeze through women, hoping to find the one woman who will finally understand them”) and her fantasy with Matt Berninger of The National.

The episodes, six in total, continue in a similar fashion, with Moore’s positive feminist sex message underpinned by her character emphasising that it doesn’t matter whether the fantasies turn people on because “it’s about you”.

Whether or not the content is erotic depends on experiences and sensibilities, but to these ears it is at the very least unambiguous. It is also (of course) not just about sex. Diana’s and each character’s tragic or sobering backstories are fulcrums by which to uncover areas that can occasionally be uncomfortable (but necessary, perhaps) to listen to. Another valid point clearly made is that the podcast draws a distinct line between manufactured pornography and authentic erotica.

As it has been such a huge success, Dirty Diana is about to cross over into the mainstream — it has been adapted into a trilogy of books set to be published next year. Amazon, meanwhile, will be filming a television series, which will feature Moore and, no doubt, a glitzy if sweary support cast.

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