Globe & Mail

The dos and don’ts of getting it on

by LEAH McLAREN

The Globe and Mail, June 26, 2004

Author and sex columnist Josey Vogels is recounting the story of her rudest sexual experience ever. Like most ill-advised encounters, it started in a bar and involved a strange and arrogant man.

“This guy was going on about how talented he was at oral sex,” she says during our phone interview. “He was being really obnoxious about it, so finally I rose to the bait and said, ‘Fine then, prove it.’ I went home with him and as soon as we got there, he busily set about trying to, you know, prove himself. After a few minutes, I got up and said, ‘Eh, I’ve been with better,’ and left. That was pretty rude of me, but, let’s face it, the guy was asking for it.”

Vogels has come a long way since those wayward sexual salad days. The seasoned syndicated columnist is no longer rude in bed, nor does she think anyone else should be. To that end, she recently published a sexual behaviour guide entitled Bedside Manners: Sex Etiquette Made Easy . Designed to look like a high-school textbook from 1978, it’s a funny, uninhibited guide to being a more sociable and considerate lover.

When I heard about the concept for Vogels’ book at a party a few months back, I was confused. The idea of polite sex seemed a serious contradiction in terms. As a Toronto WASP brought up in true neo-Victorian style (my mother made us go to the bathroom to burp), I was alarmed by the thought of a sexual code of conduct. It preyed on all my buried insecurities. (Note to my dad: Please stop reading now. No really, stop. I’m serious.)

What if I had been doing it all wrong? And if I had, did I want to quit? Everyone knows that the best thing about sex is the fantastic rudeness of it. Good sex, after all, is a lot like eating Mississippi mud pie before dinner in front of the television with your hands. Why would Vogels want to ruin something so revoltingly delicious?

But Josey knows all of this. A vehement defender of subjective bodily pleasures, she insists she would be the last person to place unnecessary strictures on behaviour in the bedroom. In the book’s introduction, Vogels argues that people can (and should) adhere to a sexual code of ethics without taking all the fun out of things.

Just because we’re more sexually liberated doesn’t mean we have to be unabashed vulgarians,” she writes. “Displaying good manners is a way of showing mutual respect, and respect is the cornerstone of good sex. (Yes, even when humiliating someone is part of the sex. Even kinky sex requires good manners.) Unlike old-fashioned etiquette, which often consisted of sad, retrograde rules to keep women in line, modern sexual manners are about giving and getting the respect we all deserve.”

Vogels’ sex etiquette tips range from the interesting and arcane (never tie someone up spread-eagle on the bed — it interferes with breathing) to the downright obvious (try to avoid openly masturbating in public places — apparently it’s rude). While the book is aimed at women readers, many of Vogels’ most emphatic sexual no-nos are directed at men. Guys, she says, tend to be more sexually selfish than women.

During our interview, Vogels offers an extensive list of the most common male breaches of sex etiquette, including hair-pulling, head-pushing, hand-directing, bad porn technique and uninvited ejaculation on, in or near any part of a woman’s body. Women, she says, should probably warn men when they have their periods, although, she adds, “men who still have a problem with a bit of menstrual blood really oughta get over it.”

Vogels is clearly a girl’s girl (and I mean that in a non-sexual sense), and her frank take on the subject matter is a refreshing change from all the spitefully deranged Carrie Bradshaw wannabes pouting on the back pages of alternative weeklies these days. Finally, a sexpert whose punditry doesn’t make me feel as though I just crawled out of the back room of some miserable peeler bar somewhere in rural New Brunswick.

When I confess to Vogels that I am thoroughly icked out by S&M people — not because I think they’re particularly twisted, but because they treat sex like any other boring bourgeois hobby, complete with gadgets, gear and annual conventions — I am surprised to find her in agreement.

“I have issues with that too,” she says. “I’m pretty much a vanilla girl when it comes to that kind of stuff.” But Vogels doesn’t let her personal tastes get in the way of her expertise. “The dirtier and nastier you go, the more polite you have to be.” She cites the moment in Thelma and Louise where Brad Pitt’s character describes his gentlemanly technique for robbing a bank. “Guidelines are especially important when you’re breaking taboos and pushing your sexual limits. It’s like doing heavy drugs. You have to know what you’re doing — especially if you’re putting someone in a body bad and submerging them in a pool of water.”

The golden rule of sexual etiquette, according to Vogels, is: “Know your own limits and take responsibility for your own needs.” Apparently, a lot of us women expect our partners to intuit what we need because we’re often too embarrassed to ask for it.

Not that we’re repressed or anything. buurp.

Copyright (c) 2004, Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.