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50 years later, The Joy of Sex is partly obsolete but remains a fun adventure “without worry”

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First published in 1972, The Joy of Sex bills itself as a sexual cookbook, with positions and predilections presented as loose recipes.

However, as any good cookbook author knows, sometimes people really need a picture to get a feel for the finished dish. The success of the book owes a lot to its many graphic sketches, as well as its playful and carefree approach to sex (“unanimxious” is a word the author of the book uses a lot).

For many of us born in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, The Joy of Sex changed everything. Not in the way it was intended, of course (as a gastronomic guide to love), but rather as the transmitter of the terrible realization that our parents not only had sex, but that they wanted to have it. with joy. So enthusiastic, in fact, that they had bought, and presumably read, a 250-page erotic guide.

The popularity of the book was such (it has sold over 12 million copies worldwide and has been translated into over a dozen languages) that it became relatively common for people to have it. on their shelves or even on their coffee tables.

The joy of sex 1972 first edition.
Wikimedia Commons

The cover of the book mentions Alex Comfort, physician, novelist and poet, as editor. But rather than gently editing the sex tips and escapades of a happily married couple, Comfort later revealed that he wrote the book himself, with the help of his longtime mistress (also the best friend of his wife and his future wife). His private Polaroids and descriptions of sexual positions served as the basis for many sketches in the book, as well as photographs taken of color illustrator Charles Raymond and his wife Edeltraud which Chris Foss used as references for his line drawings.

Today, that subterfuge and Polaroid backstory adds to what is already a rather unusual read. There are liberal talks about groping suits, buttered bun, goldfish, and railroads (not what you think). At the time of its publication, the book was revolutionary – perhaps not in its content, but in its popularity. It followed Alfred Kinsey’s books on sexual behavior in men and women in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

By the early 1970s, the sexual revolution was underway, and it is possible that the joy of sex both reflected society’s increased focus on sexual pleasure and worked to enhance it.

Black and white photo of man with glasses and long gray hair
Author Alex Comfort, pictured in 1975, was also a poet and activist for nuclear disarmament.
PA


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Making sex right (original title)

Basically, the advice in the book is pretty straightforward. Comfort urges the reader to be open-minded about sex, to explore and experience, and to communicate without judgment. Fifty years later, this is all still good advice.

Man and woman kiss on the cover of a sex book
The 1988 cover.
Good reading

Qualitative research (focused on themes rather than data) shows that many people view sexual satisfaction as a reflection of sexual openness and a willingness to express their desires, as well as more obvious cues like l orgasm and sexual frequency. People who really communicate with their partner about what turns them on (and what doesn’t), and who are willing to talk about the often embarrassing substance of sex, tend to report having better sex. They also report better relationships overall (maybe in large part because of better sex).

And it’s not just that people who communicate better in general are also better at communicating about sex – it rather seems that there is something special about talking openly about sexual wants and needs that improves both. sexual and overall relationship satisfaction.

It’s not just hair that’s old-fashioned

Today there is a lot in the book that is dated, old fashioned, or incorrect. Comfort seems obsessed with sexual perfectionism. Although he dismisses some sexual myths (such as the inherent superiority of a “vaginal” orgasm over a “clitoral” orgasm), he seems to believe that most sexual relations can (and perhaps should) be characterized. by simultaneous orgasms. Further research shows that when we demand sexual perfectionism (in ourselves or in our partners), we tend to enjoy sex much less.

book: more joy of sex

Good reading

The book has a very strong focus on heterosexual cisgender sex – a modern reimagining of the book would require increased attention to gender diversity and gender identity, and the many ways we have sex. (Note that there have been revised editions and spin-offs, including The Joy of Gay Sex and The Joy of Lesbian Sex.)

The original advice, however, regarding open, non-judgmental communication about sex and sexual needs seems relevant to everyone. And Comfort recognizes that there are groups of people who need more books. While his language around these matters is awkward in today’s eyes, there is wide acceptance of homosexual attractions (without citing any evidence, Comfort cheerfully claims that everyone is bisexual) and aspects of fluidity. genres.



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There are still other aspects of the book that need revision or updating, but also delicious inclusions in the 1972 edition.

There are many unusual assumptions. When talking about male arousals (called “releasers”), for example, Comfort says confidently:

A horse, seen from the back, is a male “let go” – he has long hair, a big butt, and a staggering step. A cow is not.

In fact, there is a lot of talk about horses, horse symbolism, and riding games throughout the book.

Comfort opposes deodorant and warns lovers to never wear it.

Elsewhere, he usefully warns:

[…] the alone The really disturbing manifestation of love music is when the woman laughs uncontrollably – some do. Don’t be tensed about it.

Today’s scientific support for The Joy of Sex as a whole is mixed, and the book is dated, cis-heterosexual, and male-centric. But is it still happy? Yes it is.

The central message – that sex can be a source of pleasure, love, fellowship and play – remains as true today as it was in 1972. There is some great advice in there too, if you can separate the horses from the cows. So excuse me, while I read about the buttered bun.



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