[Paleopsych] NYT: More Sex, Less 'Joy'
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Sat May 28 19:34:47 UTC 2005
More Sex, Less 'Joy'
By RUTH LA FERLA
AT the Barnes & Noble on Union Square in Manhattan, just a few steps
across the aisle from Self-Improvement and Relationships, the
bookshelves groan with that venerable publishing genre, the sex
manual. But to pull a recent example from its perch is to enter a
world of steamy provocation that readers of a previous generation
could not have imagined. There is, for instance, "The Lowdown on Going
Down," with a sharp-focus photograph of a naked woman on the cover,
thighs raised suggestively. Between the covers are 144 pages of
explicit instructions for oral gymnastics.
"Lowdown" is a title from Broadway Books, a subsidiary of the
publishing giant Random House. The book, by Marcy Michaels and Marie
DeSalle, is one of dozens of new entries published in the last year in
the growing and increasingly racy genre of how-to sex books, which
employ provocative titles and slang - sometimes vulgar - to capture
new readers. Vying for space on the same shelves are "Hot Monogamy,"
"The Wild Guide to Sex" and "Mind-Blowing Sex."
At least since 1972, when "The Joy of Sex" by Dr. Alex Comfort was
published, with its self-consciously literary tone and section
headings like "Mouth Music" and "Playtime," sex books - or marriage
manuals, as they were once euphemistically called - have spiced up
their contents to keep pace with the times.
Now the old textbookish tomes like "Joy of Sex," which invited readers
to expand their horizons beyond the face-to face missionary position
have been replaced by shiny paperbacks extolling the excitement that
could come from oral sex, anal sex, fetishism and S&M. Couples who
were formerly portrayed in a modest embrace are now shown to reveal
full penetration. Careful, scholarly, sometimes clinical language has
been replaced by chatty girlfriend-speak that might have been
ghostwritten by Samantha Jones, the outspoken and sexually ravenous
publicist of "Sex and the City."
Those in the business of publishing such books say the evolution has
accelerated, fueled by the need to seem relevant in an increasingly
sexualized culture. "The generation we're publishing for today is much
more open about terminology and much more forthright," said Bryce
Willett, the sales marketing manager of Ulysses Press in Berkley,
Calif., which publishes "The Little Bit Naughty Book of Sex Positions"
and the "Wild Guide to Sex and Loving."
"They're used to hearing 'Sex and the City' dialogue and aren't scared
or squeamish about language and topics that in an earlier era would
have caused them to drop their voices or switch to a really careful
tone," Mr. Willett said.
Even "The Joy of Sex," an indisputable franchise, which spent years on
the New York Times best-seller list after it was published and was so
racy for its time that it was banned in libraries in some cities, has
had to adapt. While the current edition, fully revised in 2002 by
Crown Publishers, still retains the allusions to Darwin and Freud
originally written by Dr. Comfort (a trained biologist), some
references to the female anatomy are now rendered as slang. In
addition the charcoal drawings of intertwined couples are more
"People are a lot more accepting of a broader range of sexual
vernacular now," said Steve Ross, the publisher of Crown, about the
updated version, which he said was edited to be more colloquial and
direct than the original.
The revival and boomlet of sex guides owes a debt in part to Judith
Regan of ReganBooks, the publisher of "How to Have a XXX Sex Life,"
"How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" and "She Comes First" (2004), a
sprightly treatise on cunnilingus, which has been successful enough to
spawn a sequel, "He Comes Next," due out in February.
"She's gone out and found edgy people and had them write more
mainstream stuff," said Charlotte Abbott, the book news editor of
Publishers Weekly. "She opened the door to a more explicit kind of sex
book." Ms. Regan, describing an earlier generation of sex manuals as
"tame and antiseptic," decided to do better. The latest books, while
still providing much the same information as their forebears, she
said, are "more outrageous and candid and at the same time more fun
and friendly, like Las Vegas."
Thanks to the anonymous nature of Internet shopping, publishers say,
the latest sex how-to books have found an expanding readership. "Sex
guides are the subject of perennial and reliable interest," Mr. Ross
noted "But now that consumers can buy them without the traditional
embarrassment, their growth has been explosive." He said that "203
Ways to Drive a Man Wild in Bed," for instance, has sold 325,000
Women are the primary consumers of the new manuals, which, like "She
Comes First," emphasize their enjoyment. "A lot of these books are
about evening the score," Ms. Regan said. "They're saying, 'Hey guys,
we need pleasure too.' " Publishers say there is no specific target
demographic for the books, although feedback suggests that readers
range from their 20's to their 60's.
And though the books are written by both men and women, the women who
write them tend to see a cause in what they are doing. Debra McLeod,
co-author with her husband, Don, of "The French Maid: And 21 More
Naughty Sex Fantasies to Surprise and Arouse Your Man" (Broadway), a
collection of erotic fantasies published this year, said she wrote it
mainly for women "because sex is now the domain of women," adding, "It
is a woman's role to ensure a couple's sex life remains satisfying."
Despite contents that seem to be ever pushing taboos - even including
bestiality, in some volumes - publishers maintain that these are
service books at heart, maybe even beneficial. "We're not publishing
to shock," said Kristine Poupolo, a senior editor at Doubleday
Broadway, whose current hits include "The Many Joys of Sex Toys" by
Anne Semans. "I like to think we're improving peoples' lives."
Some experts are skeptical. "You can promise the greatest sex in the
history of the world, but that is not what most people want," said Dr.
Marty Klein, a marriage and family counselor and a sex therapist in
Palo Alto, Calif. Most couples, Dr. Klein continued, would happily
settle for the simpler pleasures of closeness and affection. "A book
called 'How to Get Your Wife to Hug You a Little Bit More' or 'How to
Get Your Husband to Slow Down and Caress Your Hair and Love Doing It,'
now those are books that would change people's lives."
But the new sex manuals give relatively short shrift to intimacy and
lasting connection. While "The Joy of Sex" includes an introduction
asserting that it is above all about love, and also has a section on
tenderness, its descendants stress experimentation and proficiency.
"Try going through each others' wardrobes; why not see what you'd look
like in each other's clothes," suggests Paul Scott, the author of
"Mind-Blowing Sex." Then there are certain calisthenics for the mouth
that seem to require as much practice as learning to play the oboe.
One manual from Ulysses Press, whose title itself is vulgar, inducts
readers into the arcana of sadomasochistic games, complete with props
like paddles, handcuffs and video cameras. "If you want to make a
Victorian porn film, simply turn the dial to sepia," the author, Flic
Little is known about whether the new sex books have altered attitudes
and approaches to human sexuality. "With the earlier manuals there was
some research," said Dr. Julia Heiman, the director of the Kinsey
Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. "We had some
evidence at least that they effected changes in sexual functioning."
Dr. Heiman added that no similar studies have recently appeared. "But
that's what deserves to happen if we are to figure out whether these
things have a positive impact on sexual health." she said.
To some readers sexual health may be beside the point. Mr. Willett of
Ulysses Press said that titles like "The Wild Guide to Sex and Loving"
sold better in the Bible Belt than in markets like New York. The books
are "explicit but not pornographic," he said. "In areas where people
have a limited access to pornography these books satisfy a need."
As the sex books become ever more steamy, some publishers, even the
more venturesome, are already thinking of backing away. "There are
still places you can go with these books," Ms. Regan suggested, "but I
don't want to go there."
"Social regulation, courtship, flowers, romance, those are things that
seem newer right now," she added, "Maybe the only place to go is to
get prudish again."
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