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 and tenderness 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 and 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 commons 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.