by LAURA PENNY
The Globe and Mail (Books), July 10, 2004
Cultural conservatives contend that we live in salacious, smut-smeared times. Television, movies and pop music teem with T and A, and B and J, and sometimes S and M. The Web seethes with every possible permutation of porn, and provides a virtual space for freaks to proclaim their erotic attachment to electroshock or oatmeal or ponies. Kink is also becoming more mainstream. Sex-toy stores, once the province of creepy raincoat guys and stag-party planners, now hold workshops where ladies and couples talk about breathing and being empowered. Publishers are printing pretty boudoir etiquette books that feature pointers on polite bondage and one’s duties as an orgy host and the venerable old Globe and Mail is stooping to review them.
Even though I am incorrigibly potty-mouthed, I feel sporadic pangs of sympathy for prudes. There is a lot of degrading, pernicious, sleazy stuff out there. I too deplore the spread of skankinalia like fake boobs, exposed thongs and men who wax. But the free-floating filth does not diminish the importance of the sexual revolution, one of the great changes of the last century.
Gay people no longer live in torturous, closeted shame. Increased access to birth control and abortion means that women need not marry the first lout who knocks them up and spend their adult lives perpetually pregnant, like breeding sows. The proliferation of sexual health information means that people can take precautions against nasty amorous infections, and seek treatment if they are afflicted with the buboes, warts and blisters of careless love.
Sue Johansen is one of the many people you can thank for such improvements. No critical objectivity here, folks: I think Johansen is a hero. She has helped thousands of people. She realized, decades ago, that we cannot afford the luxury of denial when it comes to sex education. She started a clinic for teens in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills in 1970, after one of her kid’s classmates came to her in a missed-period panic. She has been ministering to the confused the freaked-out, the suffering, the bored and the horny on her radio and TV call-in shows since the 1980s, and Sex, Sex, and More Sex is her third book.
In a nice moment of Can-con convergence, Johansen did a cameo on an episode of Degrassi Junior High , assuring Arthur and Yick that their seemingly bestial wet dreams were totally normal. This is one of her recurring themes, that sex is perfectly natural, if not naturally perfect. She consistently tells people that there’s nothing wrong with their feelings and fantasies, their crooked and fallible bodies, their hang-ups and turn-ons. Johansen may be supportive, but she is by no means permissive. A healthy sex life depends on unsexy, stolid things like responsibility and work, and she always insists on condoms, consent and consideration.
Sex, Sex, and More Sex is an omnium gatherum of questions from Sue’s audience. She covers a wide range of topics in handy alphabetical order. For instance, under F we find queries about faking orgasms, fantasies, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, fetishes, fibroids, flirting, forgiveness, frequency, and keeping sex fun. Sue’s advice is sensible and sensitive, and she reads just like she sounds on TV, writing in her trademark mix of clinical terms, jocular slang and Sue-isms such as “Gently, Bentley.”
I can’t imagine anyone reading Sex, Sex, anad More Sex for the purpose of titillation. It is to erotica as Pap smears are to petting. Any warm feelings engendered by sections such a s”fetish” are quickly dispelled by the vivid medical descriptions in entries such as “fibroid.” This book should be on the shelves of your local school library, and it is a helpful resource for parents and teens fretting and fumbling their wary thoughtr the perils pubescence.
If Sue Johansen is your salty grandma, then Josey Vogels is your sassy gal pal. She is one of the girl writers that publicity types refer to as “the Canadian Carrie Bradshaw.” Vogels may write about sex and the city, but she is more industrious than that long-lunching lollygagger. Vogels is a very busy little beaver: Bedside Manners: Sex Etiquette Made Easy is her fifth book, she writes two syndicated columns. She also has a Web site and a TV show, both called My Messy Bedroom , featuring Vogels and her posse gabbing freely and frankly about sex and relationship matters.
Bedside Manners is one of those books that looks and reads like a magazine, full of illustrations, lists, anecdotes, lexicons and sidebars with cutesy titles like “Quickie” and “What the Canuck?” The sidebars are a hodgepodge of stats, historical tidbits, Canadian sex trivia and items like “the slut formula.” Take your age, subtract 15 and multiply by five. If you’ve slept with more people than that, you are officially a slut.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, according to Vogels, as long as you are a polite and thoughtful slut. She does not judge the polygamous, the booty-callers and the promiscuous. She certainly insists, like Sue Johansen, that everyone swath themselves in sheets of latex and play safe. But Vogels’ main argument is that sexual licence is no excuse for being rude and crude. Being liberated does not mean being an unabashed vulagarian, and respect is, for Vogels, the cornerstone of good sex.
There may be no judgment here, but there are plenty of rules. The book is chock-full of dos and don’ts. Some of these are fairly obvious, such as her suggestions that you remain sober for your romantic evening of mutual crotch-shaving. Some are simply common courtesy. When you’re fleeing a one-night stand, the least you can do is leave a note, and you really should wake your buddy up and thank him in person. Beating the tar out of your submissive sweetie? Make sure you have safe words to stop the play, and that you are walloping them as they wish to be walloped. There are also practical tips: When tying your honey up, be sure to use cotton rope, which is easier to undo and chafes less than nylon rope, scarves and el cheapo handcuffs.
If you have an aversion to adjectives like spunky, flirty, naughty or saucy, then Vogels is not the sex guru for you. Some of her suggestions seem kind of silly. For example, she says that orgy participants should write down their desires and drop them in a hat, or sit in a circle and introduce themselves and their preferences, before the debauch begins. This makes group sex sound more like raunchy Girl Guides that a weekend at Caligula’s.
Even though safer sex manuals, like second marriages, represent the triumph of hope over experience, I salute Josey Vogels and Sue Johansen for their valiant attempts. It’s swell that they’re trying to prevent people from impaling themselves on their urges and ignorance. My only objection is that all this talk about politesse and decorum and normalcy makes it seem like kinky sex has become the new going to the gym, merely another vigorous leisure activity, like rock climbing, that requires equipment, practice and skill. And that is so not hot.
Copyright (c) 2004, Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.