Sunday, June 30, 2013

The New Joy of Sex

1991, first American edition, from Crown
Alex Comfort, M.D., D.S.C.
Illustrated by John Raynes
Photographs by Clare Park
The New Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking for the Nineties
Original/purchase price unknown
Good condition hardcover

I ended up with this and 1992's Window on Love in '94 because an 18-year-old friend wanted to hide them from his mother.  So I've had them temporarily for 19 years.  (Currently, he's very happy with his new boyfriend.)  I don't read the two books too often, so it was interesting looking at this one (and thanks to the illustrations and photos, it really is as much looking as reading), especially in the context of its contemporaries.

The pictures are nice, in a softcore sort of way (some of the drawings do show penetration), but I got tired of seeing the same couple over and over.  I can see why it was easier with the photos (since they'd have to hire more models), but if you can draw anyone, why not vary it, show different body types, races, and ages? 

As for the writing, I have a couple overlapping gripes.  One is that Comfort says that he's celebrating many joys of sex, that not everything will work for every couple.  But he often interjects his and "her" (whose? his second wife's?) opinion.  And he makes it clear, particularly as the book goes on, that he's writing for monogamous straight couples without children and with lots of free time.  Well, that's a narrow field that the book's title and subtitle don't suggest.

The other issue is his biphobia, which is I'll argue stronger than his homophobia.  Mostly, he seems to see gays and lesbians as some separate pitiable group.  He does the old Freudian trick of "everyone is naturally bisexual, which means that they're straight unless an unfortunate experience turns them against the opposite sex."  Not only that, but he says that bisexual-identified men (of whatever experience) are an unworthy risk in the age of AIDS.  He doesn't believe in safe sex, although he reluctantly recommends condoms, sort of with "better to marry than to burn" logic.  You should be just having sex with your exclusive partner, but if either of you has a past, then use condoms.  This is in a way sensible, but it's the way he says it, and the accompanying hypocrisies that I have a problem with.  For one thing, he has no hesitations about oral sex but as for anal sex, "In the light of present knowledge, this is best avoided altogether."  But what about a totally exclusive couple?  "It is something many couples try once, and a few stay with it...."  Yes, anal sex is more dangerous than oral, but there's a sense here that he's imposing his own preferences.

I suppose some of this could be blamed on the times, and Comfort's age (he died in 2000, at 80), but after all, he's a doctor, couldn't he be more objective?  I know, doctors are human and often as little objective as anyone else.  Anyway, the couple in the pictures is attractive, and there are some interesting bits of information in this book, but definitely use grains of salt with this gourmet guide.

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