Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review, The Joy of Sex, by Alex Comfort

The Joy of Sex: The Ultimate Revised EditionThe Joy of Sex: The Ultimate Revised Edition by Alex Comfort
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got around to reading this book, which has been a strange oversight on my part due to my interest and love for the subject. I really enjoyed this book and I must caution that my rating is based more on my enjoyment of it rather than the value of the content. I think some modern readers may find the book a bit too fuddy duddy, too heteronormative, too monogamous, too vanilla, too romantic, too quaint and sentimental, and perhaps even a bit too love oriented, all things that I love because I am a 68 year old heteronormative, monogamous, vanilla, romantic, old fuddy duddy who is too quaint and too sentimental, and very much in love with the woman that I make love to, my wife of 40 years.

This is not a beginner’s guide, it is billed as “gourmet love making.” As such the book assumes the reader or preferably readers are experienced with sex and are in a committed loving relationship:

“ we take some things for granted – having intercourse naked and spending time over it; being able and willing to make it last, up to a whole afternoon on occasion; having privacy; not being scared of things like genital kisses; not being obsessed with one sexual trick to the exclusion of all others; and, of course, loving each other. As the title implies, this book is about love as well as sex: you don’t get high-quality sex on any other basis – either you love each other before you come to want it, or, if you happen to get it, you love each other because of it, or both.”

Comfort, Alex. The Joy of Sex: The Ultimate Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 244-249). Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Kindle Edition.

For those who may be concerned with love or “the feelings” as they seem to be called these days, the book does not dwell excessively on love but it is mentioned in first, and last chapters, and a three page chapter titled Love.  One thing I was pleased with was that the parallels to a cook book were rather minimal.  It didn’t get overly cute with cook book analogies.

The other thing that should be noted is that this edition was revised in 2008 by Susan Quilliam. As such it has been updated so the book recognizes that the Internet exists and has had some of the more recent research applied to the techniques, but the book is not going to give you tips on how to use Tindr or other dating sites nor is it going to explain the latest trends in the statistics on sexual demographics. One is not overwhelmed in modernity. Other than a few technological and cultural mentions, this book would still fly back in 1972.

There are no plumbing diagrams or descriptions on how the plumbing works. You are supposed to know all that and basically have experience with sex. The original drawings of the hirsute 70’s couple (based on a real couple) have been replaced (some, but not I, would say to its detriment) with tasteful color and sepia photos of an average attractive young couple in various states of undress and embrace. The explicit illustrations are water color paintings of what appears to be the same couple. All the illustrations are in good taste and get across the point without wallowing in it. The couple seems to demonstrate intimacy, tenderness, and indeed joy instead of lust.

The ideas presented in this book are for the most part just that, idea suggestions giving a framework for an activity rather than a detailed set of instructions…“put this here for three counts and stroke that for seven seconds” type of thing. The reader uses their own imagination to build an activity on the framework. Entries are relatively short, some only a page long. Cautions are provided where appropriate but for the most part the book relies on the couple having experience and common sense.

The book is not hierarchical. You don’t have to read chapter one before you read chapter two. Actually the chapters are not numbered, and they are really not chapters but rather I suppose the sexual equivalent to recipes. To me they were more like articles or encyclopedia entries…although not to imply they are boring. Again the book relies on the reader’s experience. For the most part you can read any section you wish in any order and have no difficulty understanding the concept. There are some articles that some readers may find kinky or well beyond things that they want to try. No big deal, just don't read those sections. It won't affect the rest of the book. Where appropriate, the book (Kindle edition) has hot links contained in the text that will take one to other articles of similar interest. The book has a hot linked index and a section listing resources.

The book had a section on tenderness. I have never seen that in a sexual book before. I found the section intriguing:

Tenderness is shown fully in the way you touch each other. What it implies at root is a constant awareness of what your partner is feeling, plus the knowledge of how to heighten that feeling, gently, toughly, slowly, or fast, and this can only come from an inner state of mind between the two of you. No really tender person can simply turn over and go to sleep afterwards.

Comfort, Alex. The Joy of Sex: The Ultimate Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 335-338). Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Kindle Edition.

Of course, I have seen this concept before perhaps not stated as succinctly, but I have never seen it labeled tenderness. But I also found the section in want. It sort of teased me with the concept of tenderness but didn’t satisfy me. There is this feeling I get for my wife often during or after love making, but other times too, where I feel this tingling in the center of my chest. It is a craving for union, a desire to engulf her and be engulfed by her, extreme affection for her. It is an overwhelming lust of my heart to become one with her. Tenderness seems like a good word this feeling.

Another concept I liked in this book was that sex is a form of play:

It is only recently, as ethology has replaced psychoanalytic theory, that counselors have come to realize that sex, besides being a serious interpersonal matter, is a deeply rewarding form of play.... One of the most important uses of play is in expressing a healthy awareness of sexual equality. This involves letting both sexes take turns in controlling the game; sex is no longer what men do to women and women are supposed to enjoy. Sexual interaction is sometimes a loving fusion, sometimes a situation where each is a “sex object” – maturity in sexual relationships involves balancing, rather than denying, the personal and impersonal aspects of arousal. Both are essential and built-in to humans. For anyone who is short on either of these elements, play is the way to learn: men learn to stop domineering and trying to perform; women discover that they can take control in the give-and-take of the game rather than by nay-saying. If they achieve this, Man and Woman are one another’s best friends in the very sparks they strike from one another.

Comfort, Alex. The Joy of Sex: The Ultimate Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 136-145). Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Kindle Edition.

More than anything else though what I liked about this book and especially having it in a Kindle version is that it inspired a lot of fond memories for things that my wife and I have tried and sometimes failed at during our love life of the past 42 years. I highlighted many passages and wrote many steamy and loving recollections and of some of the awkward foibles in the form of Kindle notes that are now embedded in my copy of the book. I could have never done that with a paper copy. All in all I had a wonderful time reading and writing notes in this book. In some ways I have personalized the book in such a way that it is now almost a private journal. I really regret that I had never read it sooner.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Robert M. Pirsig (September 6, 1928 – April 24, 2017)

From Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
What I would like to do is use the time that is coming now to talk about some things that have come to mind. We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. Now that we do have some time, and know it, I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important. 
Robert and Chris Pirsig  

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua— that’s the only name I can think of for it— like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. “What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and “best” was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of its own internal momentum. Some channel deepening seems called for.
Pirsig, Robert M.. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (pp. 7-8). HarperTorch. Kindle Edition. 

In memory of Robert M. Pirsig (September 6, 1928 – April 24, 2017)

I didn't understand most of what Pirsig tried to get across in the story within a story within the story of the motorcycle trip with his son Chris in Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance,  far too lofty for my puny intellect.  But I did understand and love his concept of the Chautauqua...a talk intended to edify and entertain.   Think of it, what are the books, movies, lectures, even chats with friends or lovers that you enjoy the most?  Are they not those that not only entertain but also edify? Indeed, I read the last page in Zen with the very uncomfortable feeling that I just read something profound but most of it slipped past my thick skull.  But, I did grasp the Chautauqua...worth the price of the book and the bigger opportunity cost of reading it alone.  

For an interesting memorial to Pirsig:  

Robert M. Pirsig, Author of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ Dies at 88,  By Paul Vitello,  New York Times, April 24, 2017.

Photo Credit:  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Real Men

In honor of the millions of women and men world wide who marched in the Women's March on Washington and sister marches,  January 21, 2017.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Merry New Year

I have posted this before so this is somewhat of a repeat performance but with my dearth of posts in 2016, perhaps I can be forgiven wasting space on the servers. 

I am a new years Scrooge and I ascribe to the tenet:

If I could work my will every idiot who goes about with "Happy New Year"  on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stem of a martini glass through his heart.

Historically New Years to me was never anything to celebrate.  The end of the holidays, a return to poopy old school,  crappy old work, and at times both...sailing off into January's dreary gloom with nothing but a heavy heart and despair for another period of time off.  Well retirement for most part has abated that bitterness, but like the end of August when I hear the cicadas drone in the trees, I still get a bile of back to school pervading my thoughts.  I am indeed a New Years Scrooge. 

Then there always Guy Lombardo's Auld Lang Syne.  Good grief was there ever a piece of music so hideous?  

Yet as I get older, I must admit a certain weakening of my Scrooginess.   I perceive that beyond the excuse to go get drunk, a habit I gave up when I started going with my wife, and the stupid party hats, kazzoos, and glasses frames depicting the new year, there is a common thread of hope.  Quite possibly vain hope, but hope none the less.  We are pretty much helpless to the winds of fate, so can we be blamed if for one day a year we throw caution to those winds, and say damn the torpedoes full speed ahead?  

If nothing else I have found a better rendition of Auld Lang Syne:

Alas, having not been visited by the ghosts of New Years Past, Present, or Future,  I am still inclined to say New Years, Bah Humbug!   So to avoid my own curse I shall wish you and your's a

Most Merry New Years! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book Review, Sex Without Fear

Gee, I haven't posted anything for a year.  Well this will have to do for 2016.

Sex Without FearSex Without Fear by John  Gilmore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My rating takes the publication date of 1951 into consideration. It is woefully inadequate for today, and I would rate it only two stars. I would caution readers to read this as a historical artifact of the times rather than an informative manual. The book is brief, 121 pages, but actually fairly informative for the time, something of a very basic instruction manual for the (then) newly married. Naturally in 1951 it is heteronormative and is heavy on the intention that this information is for married couples or those about to get married. Homosexuality is not mentioned at all, ergo there are none of the negative judgements that were often found in other sex manuals of that era.

The book is well illustrated for a description of the plumbing, and a rudimentary discussion of pregnancy. It has some illustrations of which I question the value, dissection slices of testicle tissue, for instance, that seems to give the book a patina of scientific validity but otherwise seems extraneous. Somewhat surprising, it also had an accurate hairless illustration of the external vulva, I believe to emphasize the location of the clitoris. Lacking, however, was the same for the male genitalia, the book relies on the old hacksaw method of cross sections and the penis being flaccid. With the tales of brides fleeing the bridal chamber shrieking at first sight of an erect male member (Love without Fear, pg 166), perhaps a similar external illustration of an erect penis would have been useful. Remember in 1951, one could not do a Google Image search of "erect penis" and get 2.7 bazillion photos in a tenth of a second.

It provides a simple description of coitus, warns the husband of the need for extended foreplay for arousal of the woman, and surprisingly informs the husband that stimulation of the clitoris is required for the wife to have an orgasm, and thus states that the couple should attain a position that allows clitoral stimulation by the thrusting penis or manually stimulate it with his fingers during coitus. It also provides some rudimentary sexual positions...but alas no illustrations of such.

There is a surprisingly good section on the then available contraceptive methods, again with some illustrations, and a frank discussion of the methods that don't work very well.

There is also a discussion on abortion, not the morality, but the need to avoid it because at that time it was illegal, very dangerous, and performed under terrible conditions (with the exception of abortion for health of life of the mother done in hospitals). The conditions described plus the dreadful descriptions of drugs sold to restore "delayed menstruation" should have been an argument for legalization of abortion at that time. This is something that society may want to think about before rushing to overturn Roe vs Wade.

There was a short brief and by today's standards very incomplete discussion on Veneral Disease. V. D. the letters seemed to scream off the page like a WWII poster for the troops. Actually it was very nonjudgmental...."They [the public] have learned that V. D. is not a disgrace but one of the most wide-spread of human ailments." Pg. 115.

There was even a brief discussion on how to tell your children about sexuality which seemed very enlightened for the time. Disappointingly it had little to say about teen sexuality other than some severe warnings about juvenile delinquency...that seemed to be a huge worry back in the early 50s. I think it odd that nothing was mentioned about masturbation.

As I mentioned before, the book was surprising nonjudgmental, it didn't excessively warn of perversions or lose its mind over the proper maintenance of virginity until marriage. Yet it did have an odd (for today) atmosphere of "this is for married people." There were weird little line drawings of wedding rings scattered through the description of intercourse and a bride and groom dancing at a wedding. Also sprinkled here and there were quotes from the Bible which seemed to be thrown in to sanctify a sex manual. This sort of thing I just write off as an artifact of the times and think it wise for modern readers not to get their knickers in a knot. It wasn't long before that sex manuals were considered pornographic and that people disseminating sexual information were jailed. So one can understand a publisher putting in a little window dressing to give the book a patina of wholesomeness required for good strong marriages that would promote truth, justice, the American way, and discourage juvenile delinquency.

All in all, I think this was a pretty good book for the time that it was published.

For my review of a similar title, Love without Fear see:

View all my reviews

Monday, December 21, 2015

Happy Solstice

Imager Credit:
There seems to be some confusion about when the Solstice (winter if you are in the northern hemisphere, summer if you are in the southern hemisphere) is going to take place.  Google says that it will be on December 22nd but quite actually for those of us in North America from the Eastern Time Zone and west to the International Date Line, it will be on December 21st.  So why the difference.  The first thing to realize is that unlike New Years Day celebrations which occur 24 times, one hour apart, the Solstice is a particular astronomical event that takes place at one particular instant in time.  There is only one solstice and it is independent of time zones.  

The December solstice is the globe on the far right.  Note
that the axis (purple lines) points in the same direction (toward
the North Star, Polaris) all through out the orbit around the sun.
Image Credit Wikipedia

Due to the inclination of the Earth's axis, and the fact that the axis of the Earth points at the same direction in the sky, as the Earth orbits the sun through out the year, the apparent motion of the sun follows a path in the sky called the ecliptic.  On a star chart the ecliptic forms a sine wave.  The December Solstice occurs when the apparent motion of the sun reaches the most southern point on that sine wave. At that point the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.  

As such the solstice doesn't happen on a date per se like new year's day, it happens at a specific moment in time.   That moment of time usually happens on the 21st or 22nd of December, but it can vary out to the 20th to the 23rd although rarely. 

So the question comes to mind, how long does the solstice last?  The ancients would have declared hours if not days.  The apparent motion of the sun as it reaches it most southern point becomes difficult to discern and it appears to stop moving...always a source of concern.  However everything is moving and if you consider the solstice to be defined as when the precise center of the disk of the sun is over the precise line of the Tropic of Capricorn then the theoretical time of transit is an infinitely short instant.  The center of the sun has no dimension nor does imaginary line of the Tropic of Capricorn.  They are mathematical entities of points and lines with no physical dimensions and as such there is no transit time.   

Max Planck 1858 - 1947
The Father of Quantum Mechanics
Image Credit:  Wikipedia

Ahhh but in our universe, there is no infinitely short instant.  If you had a fine enough stopwatch, it would register the Solstice lasting one Jiffy...a slang physics term for Planck's time.  Now if the Tropic of Capricorn was a painted line exactly 6 inches wide, the there would be a transit time.  The exacter center of the sun would pass over the 6 inch line, well actually 3 inch line because we would have to assume that the painted line was centered over the theoretical line which has no dimension. So three inches of the painted line would be south of the actual Tropic.   So in a theoretical sense the moment is infinitely short.  In a real sense it lasts a Jiffy a discreet chunk of time.   

Planck's time which is the amount of time it takes a photon traveling at the speed of light to travel the length of Planck's length.  Plank's length is the shortest possible distance in our Universe.  We would like to think that we could take a ruler and start cutting it in half.  Twelve inches cut into 6, then cut 6 into 3,  1 1/2,  3/4, 3/8, 3/16.........3/\infty   ...that is keep cutting in half forever.  But you can't.  When you get down to Planck's length, a further cut smaller and you are out of the Universe and into the quantum foam. 

So this moment, the Jiffy, is the shortest measurable time in our universe, any shorter and you are again out of the universe and into the quantum foam.  I have no idea how Planck figured this out, or even if he did.  But anyhow the fabric of the universe has discreet chunks, it is not a uniform fabric that gets progressively smaller the finer you look and like wise the clock has specific tics that you can't get any shorter.  So the solstice lasts exactly one Planck's width.  How long is that?   From Wikipedia

t_{\mathrm {P} }\equiv {\sqrt {\frac {\hbar G}{c^{5}}}}\approx 5.39106(32)\times 10^{-44}\ \mathrm {s}

Just round that off to 5.4 times ten to the minus forty-fourth power of a second.  No use getting lost in the details. 

So anyhow the Solstice is going to happen at a moment and that moment is tonight on the 21st somewhere around 11:49 PM in EST.  The reason Google says it is on the 22 is that they are using universal coordinated time, which when you are asked what time is it on the planet Earth, this is the time you use.  It is virtually the same thing as the old Greenwich Mean Time except it has atomic clocks applying leap second corrections every now and again.  The term Greenwich Mean Time now only applies to the time zone that surrounds the Prime Meridian going through Greenwich England.  It is no longer the label for the universal standard. 

I don't know if anyone actually knows the precise moment...measured out to some fraction of a second, but according the website TIME AND DATE:

December Solstice in Universal Coordinated Time is on
Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 04:49 UTC

Yet I have also seen some predictions for 04:48 UTC.  Why the difference,  I have no idea.  In any event I suppose that we could say it lasts 1 minute long.  would also think from a practical sense that you could say the the solstice lasts as long as a typical sunset into the ocean.  That is allowing for the radius of the sun to pass over the tropic line stop and then reverse direction and pass back.  It should be roughly the amount of time for the diameter of the sun to slip past a horizon. 

Regardless of how long the it takes, it is happening tonight at either 11:48 or 11:49 PM Eastern Standard Time in the US.  So go out and build a bon fire dance and howl at the moon and welcome the first day of winter and the return of Sol. 

For an excellent article see:  The Telegraph, When is the 2015 winter solstice? Everything you need to know about the shortest day of the year