Taking the Joy Out of "The Joy of Sex"

Chris's picture
I completely missed the news last September that Alex Comfort's groundbreaking sex manual The Joy of Sex has been released in an updated version, as revised by British psychologist Susan Quilliam, who describes herself as an "agony aunt" on her personal webpage. In the Toronto Globe and Mail's interview with Quilliam, their reporter calls the new edition "refreshingly conservative," which sends up all sorts of red flags from the start. Unfortunately, reading what the author herself has to say doesn't set my mind at ease:

Joy of Sex: Take 2
What have you gotten rid of in this version?

We've found that now, in Britain, sex on a moving motorcycle is illegal, so we had to take that out. Ditto sex on a moving horse.


Absolutely. There were a couple things where [Dr. Comfort's] values had been superseded. He had a positive section on prostitution – more positive, shall we say, than nowadays. The suggestion he was making was that prostitutes were by definition very skilled and to be admired, if you like, for their skill in sex. I'm not suggesting that prostitutes aren't good at sex, but I am suggesting that what Alex Comfort was saying – that we should learn from them – completely ignores the horror of most prostitutes' lives. [Italics added. --CH]

You're also cataloguing previously unknown body parts.

Ahead of his time, Comfort mentioned the clitoris, but he only mentioned it half a dozen times.

He acknowledged its importance, but not as we do nowadays. The current figure is that 70 to 80 per cent of women need some sort of clitoral stimulation in order to climax. The G spot, that was around at the time. But we've since discovered the A spot further into the vagina and the U spot, the entrance to the urethra.

What about the Internet's effects on sex?

There are two things to be said about the Internet: The first is how wonderful it is and the second is how terrible it is. I stress both. There's Internet pornography, there's infidelity, but at the same time, the freedom it gives to form relationships is wonderful.

Alex Comfort's original Joy of Sex is dated in many ways now: it took heterosexuality as the norm, and beyond some mention of bondage, it tiptoed around BDSM. But it did bring open discussion of sexual pleasure to the mass market in ways that never had been done before. But since then, we've gone so much farther. If I were Alex Comfort, I would want my legacy to be one of looking forward, helping people learn to transcend the shame and silence that's imposed on us from the beginning. It's disheartening that his heirs are using that legacy to look back. Conservatism about sex stopped being refreshing a long time ago. Share/Save