THE JOY OF SEX by Alex Comfort . The “ultimate Revised Edition” by Susan Quillliam (Crown, 2008).
By THE WRITING DOCTOR: NY Hoffman, email@example.com,
16 San Rafael Drive, Rochester, New York 14618. Tel: 585-385-1515.
“Telling children about sex,” said my mother, her lips pursed, her nostrils quivering, “leads straight to juvenile delinquency.” Practicing what she preached—or didn’t preach, she never told me anything. Not that as a fifth daughter from Maine in the era of enforced blue laws, she knew so much.
Juvenile delinquency never really tempted me. I was the good only child from Newton. How could I veer from the straight and narrow? Or so I thought. Still, the Harvard Medical Students I dated tried their best to show me what I was missing.
At 18, I broke the code. Sort of. When I got myself engaged to a medical resident, he was appalled at how much I didn’t know.
“How can your mother let you out like that?” he demanded. I didn’t have a clue what I knew or ought to know. So on Valentine’s Day, he gave me a copy of Van de Velde’s best seller. Published in the 20’s, before I was born, and replete with insider-gynecological terms, it taught me something.
Thus began my sex education. From Havelock Ellis and Margaret Sanger to Theodoor Van de Velde, sexologists’s books paved the way for darkened rooms and back seats of cars.
Some sex books were successful – not just for me. Alec Comfort’s THE JOY OF SEX sold eight million copies in 22 languages. Other sex books languished in the Never-Never Land of outsiders to NY Times Best Seller lists. As though it were an emergency, we bought three shelves full. We even read a few.
Comfort’s JOY OF SEX was a winner. Not just for us. Recognizing that its popularity remained stalwart even though the times have changed, Crown publishers attempted to resurrect the original JOY. They commissioned psychologist-sexologist Susan Quilliam to update Comfort’s 1972 original for those of us who still look for joy in sex—and who long for clearer instruction and innovative ideas, even some technical recommendations..
Quilliam’s version contains new illustrations. The illustration of how to put on a condom is helpful—if you don’t have a diaphragm. The greasy, bearded man of the original is no more. The hero is clean-shaven, handsome, and 30-ish. The couple in the frontispiece is kissing primly. Everybody is relatively young, slender, good-looking, and not in the least passionate.
Although the world of books rich in sexual explanation is pretty crowded, Quilliam believes, “There’s still a huge need for a straight-talking, informed, inspirational guide to sex.” True. But Quilliam’s modern JOY regrettably doesn’t fill the bill. The section on contraception is only fair. Neither teenagers nor elderly dim Quilliam’s pages.
Who would buy this book—or to whom would I give it? It’s not for the young. Not for beginners. Nor is it for older people. “Led” by its disorganized layout, the index is useless. Although “little blue pills” are listed in the index, Viagra, Levitra, Cialis are not! For readers who yearn for more information, there’s little detail on technique. The links to other resources are inadequate (does Macy’s tell Gimbels?).
Because Comfort addresses the joys, not the dangers, diseases, and disappointments of human sexual congress, so, too, does Quilliam. As befits a specialist in sexual relationships, Quilliam focuses on relationships to the exclusion of issues facing outsiders. The single, divorced, widowed, obese, and gray-haired apparently stay home, stuck with ESPN and no partners. Desire, the sine qua non of good sexuality, gets undeserved short shrift in Quilliam’s hands.
Comfort’s book was essentially from a male perspective. Quilliam’s rewrite is essentially from a female perspective. In today’s world, ostensibly we feel freer to talk about sex, even to relegating “orgasm” to the status of a verb (a Freudian error on p.75?).
What Quilliam includes and excludes raises questions. She dropped the section on prostitution, --but adds one on sex shops and another on striptease. She mentions the crucial spots—A, G, and U, if a woman and her partner can find them without resorting to Map Quest. Oral intercourse, in Quilliam’s hands, becomes “mouth work.” But somehow, sex as “work,” one of Quilliam’s favorite words for sexual action, loses all its joy.
Alex Comfort’s original JOY was a groundbreaker in an age when the joys of sex were relegated to whispers. Sad to say, Susan Quilliam’s update adds little to what we already know and makes us yearn for more details, more of a how-to in sexual technique.