At a recent garage sale, I picked up the book Everything you always wanted to know about sex (but where afraid to ask) by David M. Reuben. While I have since learned that an “updated” edition was published in 1999, this copy bore the original 1969 copyright.
I excitedly showed it to my mother. “Look what I found,” I said, “This is going to be awesome.”
She picked it up, flipped to the front cover, and laughed, “My mom and step-dad had this on the bookshelf. My sisters and I would steal it and look things up.”
I expected some major differences. After all, this book was written in the pre-AIDS era. It was published the year of the Stonewall Riots. Sodomy laws were still on the books in every state except Illinois. It was before Roe v. Wade. The pill had been on the market for less than a decade.
In some ways, I was impressed. Reuben said that sex was three different experiences: a means f procreation, a means of expressing love, and fun. Throughout the text, he encouraged sex for pleasure as a natural part of the human experience. He argued that there was nothing wrong with the elderly having sex, and that it might, indeed, be beneficial. In some ways he was incredibly progressive, for example, suggesting that prostitution be legalized and monitored. He called modern sex education a joke and called for sex ed that included information not only on the physiology of procreation, but the physiology of orgasm. He viewed masturbation as a normal part of life, saying the only problem with masturbation is our shame in it. Furthermore, he adamantly supported the availability of medical abortions and a strong supporter of a variety of birth control methods. Indeed, he even predicted the future, saying:
“What is needed is a retrospective method of conception control. In Japan, where birth control pills are not available, legal abortion fulfills that need. Modern chemistry is struggling to come up with a better way. The ideal drug is a morning-after pill. Taken anytime up to a week or so after intercourse, it would prevent the implantation in the uterus of the fertilized egg. With seven days to think of over, reason might prevail, parents might be a little happier, the children who are born might be loved a little more, and the world might be a little less crowded.”
But that is where my positive review ends. Even for being written forty years ago, some of the information is quite offensive and biased, not to mention downright wrong. I dog-eared the corners of the pages that hit a nerve. Probably half of the book is marked.
The male-bias is un-ending, the anti-women comments are rampant, and all homosexuals are promiscuous, danger-seekers who want to be women.
A few favorite bits:
“If the woman finds that achiving orgasm is only a matter of finding the “right” penis, she may decide to do something about it. The common name for this is nymphomania. The woman, unaware of the real nature of her problem, goes from man to man, cocktail party to cocktail party, looking for “real satisfaction.”
“Homosexuals thrive on danger. It almost seems part of their sexual ritual.”
“There is even a subcategory of homosexual know as the “S and M.” This is the one type of gay guy the others fear. Rarely will any homosexual knowingly pick up an “S and M. (“S and M” ? What does that mean?) Technically, sadist and masochist. Literally, trouble. These who combine homosexuality with sadistic and masochistic aberrations are among the cruelest people who walk this earth.”
I could go on with racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks from the book, but I will stop.
While I have not purchased the updated edition, and likely will not, I did browse through it on Google Books. While there is far more accurate and updated information on some topics, like abortion and STDs, the homophobic and sexist language remains. Clearly free speech is free speech, and a book can be biased against homosexuality. From an academic perspective, the 1969 text and the changes that have and have not been made say a lot about our society.
And so, this brings me to my Sunday Share. This book was a huge hit in its time. According to the all-reliable Wikipedia, it was the most popular non-fiction book of its era. For those of us in our 20s now, our parents would have been older children or teens when this book came out. How do you think the sex education your parents grew up with differed from the sex education that you received? How does this help explain, or complicate, the differences in you and your parents sexual attitudes?
Note: The Sunday Share is a new idea of mine. I want to hear your thoughts, and this is to encourage you to share, whoever and wherever you are. Share publicly, share anonymously, or share under a fake name. I don’t care. Just share.