Joy of Sex

August 10th, 2002

Aug 23rd

What is good sex? If you don’t know, can you find out from a book?

Mrs Winterson, who believed she was a latter-day Virgin Mary, never had sex, which is why she adopted me. Well, she might have had sex once, but if that was the beginning and end of the whole ghastly business, blame it on two books: The first was the Bible, which convinced my mother that intimacy was to be enjoyed with God, not your partner. The second book was a 1950’s sex manual called How To Please Your Husband.

I found this frightening paperback when I was searching for a flannel in the tallboy. Delicacy forbids me to reveal which pages were marked, but I can confirm that they did not refer to the Missionary position

Alex Comfort probably read How to Please Your Husband before he wrote The Joy of Sex. I suppose he did a better job, and no doubt freed many couples from the endless anxieties of the bedroom, but what can we really learn from a sex book, and aren’t women’s problems with our bodies societal rather than sexual?

All the evidence suggests that the clitoris is more sensitive than the penis, and we know for a fact that it is the only organ in either sex that has no other function than pleasure. Clitoridectomy, or female circumcision, as is misleading called, is about stopping pleasure. In the West, women’s pleasure has been effectively stopped, not by cutting away the clitoris, but by ignoring it. Freud did huge damage when he claimed that real orgasm is vaginal. Few women seem to agree, but most women feel guilty about their bodies’ conspiracy to pleasure.

I believe in pleasure, for men and women alike, and I don’t much care how it’s come by, or in what combinations. I hardly recovered from How to Please Your Husband, and The Joy of Sex, until I read The Joy of Lesbian Sex, which if possible is dafter than either of the others, and returns a much needed sense of humour to the sticky business of satisfaction.

It’s not that the girls’ version is meant to be funny – far from it – it has all the earnestness of the women’s movement. Yet, practising to be a butterfly or a flower, especially while wielding a vibrating sex-toy, cannot be done with a straight face, or indeed a straight anything else. The wondrous variety of human nature is a reason to rejoice, and perhaps the best way of relaxing into sex is to play with its silliness as well as its seriousness. This might be easier when you are not worrying about pleasing anyone except yourself. Sex books should be read secretly so that your partner cannot see you laughing.

But are we avoiding intimacy with all this Twister-like, ‘place one hand behind his neck and the other on your big toe?’

Sex is absolute contact – or it can be. It is a private language and more like Braille than print. You read your lover’s body and you write it too. Sex is a fiction as well as a documentary – it invents the lover and it describes the lover. It is imaginative act.

The perfect unity of body and mind in the present tense, is one of the gifts of sex, especially in a fragmented culture like ours, where life happens like a small series of electric shocks followed by bouts of passive feeding and TV. Mental and physical well-being allows for spiritual well-being, and while this is possible alone, the shared world of lovemaking reminds us that our own pleasure, and someone else’s, can be the same thing.

Perhaps men need to be reminded of this more than women. Men are used to looking out for Number One, and the related ness that sex needs, is a corrective to the push and shove of business.

Sadly, too much sex is still push and shove, which is presumably why the Joy of Sex has been updated. It’s a pity that the world’s most famous love book is a mono-culture of heterosexuality. I’m with James Dean – why go through life with one hand tied behind your back? Or is that a new position I’ve missed?