Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

'The Joy Of Sex': The Original Hairy, Musky Edition

It came! It came! The original 1972 Joy of Sex. Thank you, Mohammed from Brookline, MA. May your positive Amazon ratings never go down. (Look at all the unintentional sexual innuendo we've already covered!) I especially would like to thank Mohammed for making my back-up plan obsolete: taking my mother up on her offer to "see if she can figure out what she did with her copy."

And now that it's here, and I'm looking at it, it's a little gross. But endearingly gross. For a much better and more exhaustive look at the merits and career of Alex Comfort, M.B., Ph.D., I would refer you to Ariel Levy's delightful New Yorker piece from 2009. For a wry fictional take on what it would be like to be the children of the book's authors, you should pick up Meg Wolitzer's The Position, in which the Comforts become the Mellows, and it does not go well for them.

But you're here now, you just have me, and we're going to talk about The Joy of Sex. Generally, it's well meaning and cute and dated, and Comfort seems to genuinely love having sex with willingly lubricious ladies and is, if anything, almost too positive on the subject of their natural odors and body hair. And the male model used for the pictures is distinctly not anaconda. You go, Alex Comfort! Subvert the dominant paradigm! And let's remember that it's not like our nation's confused, horny couples were standing in Barnes & Noble choosing between The Joy of Sex and The Guide To Getting It On. Oh, no! It was The Joy of Sex or… well, actually, Married Love was pretty good for a 1918 sex manual. But you get what I'm saying. It was a big deal. So, we're generally taking the side of "this was a good thing for society, and especially for bored teenage baby-sitters going through their employers' bookshelves."

Now, the basic conceit of The Joy of Sex (and you thought it was just a flipbook of the GEICO cavemen in a variety of weird positions!) is that it is a "Cordon Bleu Guide to Love Making." What does this mean, exactly? It means that it sounds eerily like a Julia Child cookbook, and if you are not careful, you will picture Julia Child in a variety of compromising scenarios. It also means that the body of the work is divided into "starters," "main courses," "sauces and pickles" and… "problems." I guess he couldn't figure out how to make "desserts" cover "depilation," "obesity," "priapism" and "venereal diseases."

Speaking of problems, it's heteronormativity time! Comfort doesn't mean to be heteronormative, bless him. I mean, partially because he didn't know what the word meant. I'm probably doing something unbelievably terrible right now, and in 40 years, my grandchildren will say, "We love Grandma Nicole, but she is so crialicist." But, no, he is. He wants to do the "all people are bisexual" thing, but he pairs that with "straight man-woman sex is the real thing for most people" and undercuts the niceness of his general "same-sex attraction is no big" stance by claiming that homosexuals are just busted bisexuals who have "some kind of turn-off towards the opposite sex." Well, you know, that's one way to look at it. And, either way, there ain't no hairy dudes touching each other in this book. There's one picture of two women daintily pawing at each others' breasts, but since it's captioned "…women exciting each other are a turn-on for males," we're not going to be sending Alex Comfort a nice scented lavender candle and a Tegan and Sara CD. And, God love him, the cultural assumptions!: "Chinese women had to hide their feet but could show their genitals."

Is it any good? Will it help you have better sex? Perhaps, given a certain context. For a modern audience, that certain context is almost certainly "you are staying with your lovahhh at a weird B&B in the Midwest, run by a weird middle-aged couple, and there's a copy in the bedside drawer next to the Book of Mormon, and you're drunk and kinda bored." Otherwise, the "put this leg here / try taking a bath together / use your big toe to stroke her armpit" stuff is just meh. And sometimes, brother is just OUT THERE. Even on a "private road," do not have sex while riding a motorcycle. Nor can we casually accept that "the best sexual lubricant is saliva." I don't know what the hell kind of lubricant they were rocking in 1972, but, trust, the world has changed. And aren't we all pleased about it?

Context-Free Excerpts That Demonstrate What Is Wrong With The Joy of Sex

• "All of us who are not disabled or dumb are able to dance and sing — after a fashion."

• "A woman who can make love with love and variety needn't fear commercial competition."

• "Don't get yourself raped — i.e. don't deliberately excite a man you don't know well, unless you mean to follow through."

• "In women the mouth of the urethra is nearly as sensitive as the clitoris, but it is a bad idea to put tapers or hairpins into it by way of masturbation — doctors often have to remove these from the bladder."

• "Vibrators are no substitute for a penis."

• "Serbian intercourse is mock rape — you throw her down, seize one ankle in each hand and raise them over her head, then enter her with your full weight (do this on something soft — the traditional bare earth is beyond a game)."

• "The domestication of this experience, which veterans will recognize as the Japanese-massage-special-treatment routine, may be the one good thing America gets out of the Vietnam war — the only bar to making it at home, like sukiyaki, is if you're a big girl."

Context-Free Excerpts That Demonstrate What Is Righteous About The Joy of Sex

• "Odd that the main moral woe-criers on abortion are also the people who have done most to block proper birth control and starve research and education about it of funds."

• "The marketers of intimate deodorants and flavored vaginal douches show evidence only of sexual inexperience — nobody wants peach sauce on, say, scampi."

• "On no account fool around with home-built electronics or the line supply."

• "People who communicate sexually have to find their own fidelities. All we can suggest is that you discuss them and at least know where each of you stands." (Awww.)

Utterly Random Context-Free Excerpts

• "Long gloves turn some people on — they suggest the old-style great lady."

• "The other two substitute sites are the hair (long hair or plaits can be rolled into a vagina, or the penis lassooed with a loop of it, though some women may object because it's a bore to wash)."

• "Hide-and-seek with the woman's pubic triangle is one of the oldest human games."

Let's Discuss

Our discussion questions for this week! Oh, and did I mention that we're doing Fear of Flying next? Because we are!

• Comfort sayeth: "Never blow into the vagina. This trick can cause air embolism and has caused sudden death." IS THAT TRUE? What about standing over a subway grate without underwear? Is this like waiting 30 minutes after eating to go swimming? Because you really don't have to do that.

• Comfort sayeth: "Women lose their fertility at the menopause." Why does nothing sound more dated than including a "the" for something we no longer use a "the" with? Like "the Facebook." I still say "the Facebook," because I joined in 2004. But it makes me sound old.

• Comfort sayeth: "…the bored, semi-erected participants in blue movies seldom merit the trouble." Oh, honey, you don't know about the vast, beautiful realm of free Internet pornography yet! What kind of pornography do you think Comfort would have enjoyed most?

• Earlier I used the word "crialicist" to talk about the possibility of being intolerant of things we don't know we should be more tolerant of yet. What are your best guesses as to what they might be?

• Can you guess what a "Viennese oyster" is? The author of the BEST AND FUNNIEST GUESS, left in the comments, will receive a used copy of the original 1972 Joy of Sex from yours truly. Because "paying it forward" isn't just a shitty Haley Joel Osment vehicle.

Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews. She is also summering over at The Hairpin through August.

55 Comments / Post A Comment

Rosebud (#4,107)

My parents had this. Yup.

Rosebud (#4,107)

@Rosebud And after thinking about it for 20 minutes, I'm still not sure how reading this at a young age affected me. I do remember the guy grossed me out!

Bittersweet (#765)

I once saw a couple doing it on a motorcycle on a freeway in CT, but in their defense they'd pulled off to the side of the road and their fellow riders were looking the other way.

A Viennese oyster sounds both fattening and unsanitary, so I'm gonna guess that it is eating sacher torte out of your lover's bajingo.

SeanP (#4,058)

"Subvert the dominant paradigm!" So kinky.

Also: what kind of degree is an "MB"?

Hamilton (#122)


brad (#1,678)

@Hamilton – yes. my mom had this book. and my dad had a stack of 70s playboys. i sincerely believe that they are responsible for my distaste of body-hairless women.

SeanP (#4,058)

On the Viennese oyster – spoiler: it's a sex position. But I won't provide the answer because I cheated. I used the Google to find it in the Wikipedia.

DMcK (#5,027)

Illustrations by this guy, believe it or not. A Viennese Oyster is the occasion whereupon the sights, smells, and perhaps even the sounds of your bushy unkempt foliage and bodily secretions so arouse your old lady that her clitoris engorges to the approximate size of a Vienna sausage. This is entirely normal.

Rosebud (#4,107)

@DMcK laughing and grossing out at the same time.

saythatscool (#101)

@DMcK The hell?

DMcK (#5,027)

@saythatscool I'm here to help. What seems to be the matter?

@DMcK Chris Foss? Really? This makes him basically the only non-Herge illustrator to have any effect on my life. Whoa. What you just did there, to my mind, yeah, that's a Viennese Oyster.

I saw a documentary about this book, long ago. Fun Fact #1: the dude and lady in the pictures are in fact the artist who did the colour paintings and his wife! They tried using professional models but found they were sort of cold and, well, professional about it, which wasn't what Comfort was after. So instead the artist who did the line drawings took a bunch of photos of the other two doing… various things. The one thing they didn't do was bondage: both of them were anti-bondage, not comfortable with doing it and not really liking the idea of it at all. So the bondage illustrations are speculative.

Fun Fact #2: Alex Comfort was a pacifist and conscientious objector during World War II. If you ever find volume 3 of the collected essays, letters and journalism of George Orwell, you will find a poem Comfort wrote called "Letter to an American Visitor" which is anti-patriotic and anti-the war effort. Orwell wrote a rebuttal, also in verse, and then wrote a letter to Comfort saying essentially "obviously I disagree with you and hate what you stand for, but your poem was way better than mine". Which it was. I read this in my early teens, and it blew my tiny little mind when I later realised that the pacifist Alex Comfort who Orwell was so angry at in the 1940s was the same guy who wrote The Joy of Sex.

C_Webb (#855)

The thing about blowing during oral sex also appears in "What to Expect When You're Expecting," almost verbatim. Which I suppose shouldn't surprise me but somehow does.

Bittersweet (#765)

@C_Webb: It also shows up in The Guide to Getting it On, so all the sex writers must have the same source on the air thing.

@Bittersweet Heard it in health class circa 1989.

hockeymom (#143)

I used to babysit for a couple with this book. I'd put the kids to bed and sneak up into their bedroom to read it.
Totally grossed me out.

Oh, and Mrs. Tansey, sorry about stealing your tube of KY to show my friends at school.

Dave Bry (#422)

@hockeymom That is such a good one!

BadUncle (#153)

A Vietnamese Oyster has something to do with swift boating a vagina.

BadUncle (#153)

@BadUncle Also, just looking at these illustrations is making me pull phantom pubes off my tongue.

Dave Bry (#422)

Same illustration used for "Women Who Hate Women Are The Luckiest Women For Men To get Lucky With In The World" post.

collier (#13,548)

My initial thought was that a "Viennese Oyster" could only mean going down with a mouthful of slobbery partially-masticated General Foods International Coffee's "Cafe Vienna" mix.

Celebrate the moment of our lives, indeed.

Mimi Killjoy (#16,236)

Waiter, there's peach sauce on my scampi!

melis (#1,854)

"You got your peach sauce on my scampi!"

"You got your scampi in my peach sauce!"

Two great tastes that etc.

HiredGoons (#603)

9year old me remembers looking at those pictures and thinking 'I can't wait until I'm old enough for a guy to do those things to me.'

Aatom (#74)

Looking through my parents' copy of this did more to convince me I was gay than anything else. Well, this and the cute fraternal twins up the road.

A Viennese oyster is bukakke with Eva Braun, obvs.

alorsenfants (#139)

A few remarks from the old guy:
Yeah the book was avaiable to me as a 10th grader because my father kept in his dresser drawer. Later I worked for Crown, which published it. Later, while I was there, they did "Joy of Gay Sex" and "Joy of Lesbian Sex." So there's those.
But the "hairy, musky" business? Well that's where my age will always show — we Like that stuff. You guys are nuts — with your mannequin/Barbie and Ken/tatooed nonsense.
Thanks. G'night!

Viennese oyster: When you curl your pubic hair, dye it white, and tie ribbons into it such that it resembles a wig in the style of the 18th century Viennese aristocrats.

bluebears (#5,902)

"Serbian intercourse?"

If only he had saved some space for Danish cunnilingus.

saythatscool (#101)

@Kay Wilds@twitter Katie?

I have a huge vocabulary (seriously ladies, I do) so I went to look 'crialicist' up in the dictionary because I was embarrassed that I did not know its meaning. Lesson learned.

If I had to guess (which I do) I think the word is a contraction of 'craigslistist' : n. The tendency to demonize sexual proclivities typically sourced, shared and occasionally purchased through Craigslist, without knowing the first thing about those proclivities. See also n.judgey douchebag or n. your bitter aunt & uncle who haven't fucked since 1985 (when they 'accidentally' lost their copy of Joy of Sex in the charity shop bag).

Viennese Oysters

The town of Vienna, Virginia: (more info:,_Virginia) was ranked the 4th best place to live in the United States of America. This is primarily due to its highly ranked public schools, proximity to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (that is a whole other story) and the fact that the townsfolk pride themselves on their willingness to perform the Viennese Oyster on all and sundry.

To give someone the Viennese Oyster is to gently nibble the soft skin on the rim of their anus. It's a bit like analingus, but less invasive, yet more transformative and moving then your basic rim job. In short it is the perfect form of anal play for all genders, persuasions and types.

It's the ritz cracker of sex.

Thank you VIenna, for your oysters.

Megano! (#16,245)

I'm gonna say a Viennese Oyster is performing fellatio while doing the Viennese Waltz.
Also this article was hilarious, THE QUOTES OH GOD THE QUOTES ARE KILLING ME.

"Viennese Oyster" is a slang term for a sandy oral encounter on a beach. It was coined by Beethoven in a famous love letter to his Immortal Beloved, in which he wrote "Your Viennese Oyster is my world."

In unrelated but relevant news, there's a popular genre of songs about Vienna called "Wienerlied." One. Track. Minds.

Halloween Jack (#16,824)

The thing about blowing air into the vagina is more about doing it sort of forcefully, hard enough to get air past the cervix and into the uterus where it might be absorbed into the bloodstream rather than being queefed back out. Highly unlikely.

Also, the thing that always impressed me about the original JoS was the ordinariness of the models; later editions have more "porny" illustrations that are still good, but less like real, average people doing it, which I think was part of the whole point of the original.

Halloween Jack (#16,824)

@Halloween Jack I should follow up this comment, after reading the New Yorker article, that I'm talking about the illustrations only; the text is the same sort of bullshit that David Reuben spouted in this book.

saythatscool (#101)

As a Serb, I can confirm that's exactly the way we all make love. Even our chickens do it that way.

Claire Zulkey (#7,101)

Yes! I haven't seen this book since I discovered it in my mom's room as a child and then it mysteriously disappeared.

icicle@twitter (#32,197)

One of my favorite things to give out as a wedding present is a 1972 copy of The Joy of Sex paired with a first edition The Joy of Cooking. I believe young married people should lead lives rich in pubic hair and aspic, I guess.

icicle@twitter (#32,197)

@icicle@twitter Oh and since my friend J just got engaged and I need another copy of this book I am going to say a Viennese oyster refers to the practice of covering your partner's bits with a lukewarm mixture of meat stock and gelatin, and then orally pleasuring them, after the stock congeals.

lisas (#32,241)

The Viennese Oyster is when you have sex in 3/4 time (umf UMF UMF umf UMF UMF) until you're both singing opera. Technical stuff.

Lariope (#32,366)

I have been freaked out by that air-blowing ever since I stole this book off my parent's shelf and read it when I was ten or so. Honestly, so freaked out that I've never really gotten over it, and I actively avoid oral sex. The Joy of Sex was directly detrimental to my sex life!

lovelettersinhell (#13,711)

"• "In women the mouth of the urethra is nearly as sensitive as the clitoris, but it is a bad idea to put tapers or hairpins into it by way of masturbation — doctors often have to remove these from the bladder.""

I am now whimpering. I mean, I know sounding exists and all, but I didn't know people did it to ladies, and just, it makes me nauseous with GAH.

lovelettersinhell (#13,711)

"Viennese oyster"
A mixture of semen and a ladie's natural lubricants (or, if it's that time, her period blood) that falls out of her vag onto his stomach or thigh, a glinting cohesive mass that has the same texture as an oyster, should you wish to slurp it.


@lovelettersinhell the horror.

@lovelettersinhell Gack!!!!

aubra4pink (#31,391)


mark4angel (#31,616)


wirewitch (#35,250)

I am old enough to own my own hardcover copy from the early 80's…my biggest problem, then and now, is that (aside from it being pretty heterocentric) the male and female, and their respective genitalia are consistently referred to as "man" and "girl", and "penis" and "pussy". Why are the male descriptors adult, and anatomically correct, yet the female is described as juvenile, with a slang term?

AnotherJenn (#36,032)

The air embolism thing only has a few documented cases and they all happened with women who were pregnant or had given birth within a few weeks of the incident.

This link has a little more information:

wedphotbr (#39,469)

Nice art…

Pandemic Endemic (#3,825)

A friend in high school had the original Joy of Sex on her family's bookcase. We found the line, "Hide-and-seek with the woman's pubic triangle is one of the oldest human games," to be most titillating. So glad to see The Awl call it out in all its random glory.

kreed (#42,391)

I was so sure a Viennese Oyster was the female blueballs? No? Maybe that was crab.

kreed (#42,391)

Gang, is there nothing we can do for Lariope here? Embolism fear is really holding her back.

Also: the illustrator also works in science fiction covers? SO NOT SURPRISED.

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