Thursday, January 10, 2013

How to Regain Your Virginity

1983, undated later edition, from Workman Publishing
Patricia Marx and Charlotte Stuart
How to Regain Your Virginity..and 99 Other Recent Discoveries About Sex
Original price unknown, bought used for $3.95
Slightly worn paperback

While blunter than Thurber and White's coy Is Sex Necessary?: Why You Feel the Way You Do (1929), this isn't as funny, although it has its moments.  The difference of over half a century and two female coauthors means that we get jokes about feminism and abortion, as well as a lot of pseudo-1950sness, especially in the illustrations.  I had a copy of this book at 15 (my father misread "Regain" as "Reagan," which made it even stranger), but, yes, lost it long ago and, yes, regained it, used but in good condition, years later.  I was a bit savvier about sex jokes at 15 than the year or so before when reading the Anti-Prep and Valley Girl handbooks, but there were still a few jokes I didn't get.  (I can recall them on rereading.) 

Like the '20s book, this is a parody of sexology, but I've decided not to use the nonfiction tag as I did then.  (And all things considered, I'll probably rescind that one once I get around to using a "humor" tag.)  Unlike the Thurber & White book, there are lots of graphs and charts.  There are a few predictions for the then-future, and "Foreplay will be computerized" for 2000 and "Nude sunbathing will be a form of capital punishment" for 2010 are actually more accurate than the serious predictions in the Wallace-Wallechinsky book.  Similarly, the discovery "More People Have Had Sex Problems Than Have Had Sex" is I suspect actually true.  My favorite page is on variations of polygamy, including "Amyamy: marrying Amy while you are still married," and ending "Origami: the Japanese art of folding paper into birds and flowers."

In 1980, a book called The New Celibacy was published, and within the next couple years it would become a subject for humor on sitcoms.  According to Wikipedia, "Much of the hysteria and stigma surrounding herpes stems from a media campaign beginning in the late 1970s and peaking in the early 1980s."  This book needs to be seen as against that background, as opposed to the sexual experimentation of 1929.  While we did not in fact go back to the 1950s as some hoped and others feared, there was a complex ambivalence about sex at that time.  As a teen growing up in suburban Southern California, I sometimes felt that the 1950s trap of girls as either virgins (good, as long as they weren't stuck-up about it), teases (bad), or sluts (worse) had been changed so that all three categories were bad, although not as bad as lesbians.  Furthermore, I was a bisexual virgin who'd never had a boyfriend or a girlfriend, so I felt incredibly guilty and inadequate.  Laughing at this book probably helped me get through that time, and rereading it helps me relive that time painlessly.

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