Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TheJoyOfSex 2.0

... The book is still emphatically straight, but Quilliam has given it a gay-positive tone, in sharp contrast to Comfort’s advice that if you might be that way inclined it was better not to experiment too much with a partner of the same sex, lest you let the gay genie out of the bottle. The original drawings have been replaced, with a mixture of modest photographs and impressionistic sketches. The hairiness has been eliminated, and the attractiveness gap between the man and the woman has been bridged. But the people in these pictures do not look as if they were in any kind of sexual ecstasy. Rather, they have the smug smiles of a couple whose 401(k)s have just appreciated. They look as if they were in a Viagra commercial, which is to say that they look like two people who have never, ever had sex.

Once you remove those memorable drawings and Comfort’s batty, phallocentric prose, what you are left with is something that bears little resemblance to the subversive, explosive original. “The Joy of Sex” redux becomes generic—Cook’s Illustrated with boobies. What was revolutionary in 1972 seems obvious now, and to present the material otherwise feels silly and square. ...

From Ariel Levy's great review of the latest edition of Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex [the NYTimes review is too pale in comparison]. Levy's essay has all kinds of interesting material:

... [Alex Comfort] offered readers a creation myth for “The Joy of Sex” on the first page, claiming that the book was based on a manuscript that an anonymous and particularly sexually advanced couple had presented to him in his capacity as a biologist. “I have done little to the original draft apart from expansion to cover more topics,” Comfort wrote. “The authors’ choice of emphases and their light-hearted style have been left alone.” In fact, both the choice of emphases and the lighthearted style were Comfort’s; he wrote every word of “The Joy of Sex,” though his credit on the book says “edited by.” Comfort later claimed that he had made up this randy authorial couple because in England at the time it was frowned upon for physicians to write mass-market books, “an implementation of the principle that doctors don’t advertise—of which I thoroughly approve, by the way,” he remarked to a journalist in 1974. But it was also probably a subterfuge, to protect the feelings of his wife of thirty years, Ruth Harris. For more than a decade, Comfort had been sleeping with Ruth’s best friend, Jane Henderson. (Comfort met both women at Cambridge.) Comfort and Henderson took dozens of Polaroids of their erotic experiments, which they gave to the publisher Mitchell Beazley along with Comfort’s manuscript—originally titled “Doing Sex Properly.” The artists Charles Raymond and Christopher Foss were charged with transforming those photographs into pencil drawings, although the couple they depicted looked nothing like Comfort and Henderson.

And Levy ends his review with this:

“He was good about talking about sex in the abstract, but when he had to tell me about the facts of life he was embarrassed,” Nicholas Comfort [Alex Comfort's son] told a reporter on the occasion of the book’s thirtieth anniversary. “He got it all over with quite quickly and hoped I wouldn’t ask any questions.”


  1. Dipankar Sarkar said...

    hahaha .... the last part of the review was ironic :P ...

    “He was good about talking about sex in the abstract, but when he had to tell me about the facts of life he was embarrassed,”

    All theory and no practice ... seems he was caught a bit off guard on that one

  2. Yayaver said...