Montreal Gazette

‘Sex etiquette?’ No teacups or thank-you notes here


The Montreal Gazette, June 28, 2004

Take sex, for example. Most of us may whisper and titter about it, but God forbid we should ever tell our partners exactly what we want and how we want it.
There are some things people still feel uncomfortable talking about.

Then there’s Josey Vogels. The sex columnist and author, whose mug appears each Monday in this section, usually across from mine, has written a book that deals with subjects generally considered off-limits in genteel conversation. Called Bedside Manners, its subtitle is Sex Etiquette Made Easy (HarperCollins).

Now, the very word “etiquette” makes me think of fusty advice on how to properly hold teacups, compose thank-you notes and prepare party sandwiches, but this slim volume quickly turned the “fusty” into lusty. Think ofSex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, but with the sexual curiosity and abandon of her friend Samantha Jones; of one-night stands, the art of fellatio, threesomes and how to conduct yourself in a lesbian bar when you don’t sleep with women. Think of everything you never knew you should know about sex, and probably would never ask.

For example, who knew you should avoid asparagus, red meat, coffee and alcohol if you’re planning to engage in oral sex because they tend to make you smell bad?

Vogels, who has been writing about sex-sex-sex for a decade, doesn’t even pretend to help us find long-lasting love. Crude and lewd, her chapter titles include Flings and Things, Think Kink, and The More, The Merrier, while common-sense tips include advice Mom never thought to give us, like avoiding slobbering and burping when kissing or telling a new partner that really, you don’t mind small penises.

Over coffee in a local restaurant, Vogels tells me she is constantly amazed by the things people don’t know, and how insensitive and impolitic they can be about sex; for example, one man bluntly told a friend of hers that things were going to be just fine, if only she could work on her technique.

No matter our vaunted sexual liberation, we are still conflicted and uncommunicative and, if what the women’s magazines reveal is true, crave easy prescriptions of things such as making our men beg for more and hosting the perfect dinner party.

For Vogels, this need provides the opportunity to produce an etiquette guide with an earthy twist, formed after years of writing, listening and attending sex conferences, sex toy parties and porn movie shoots in order to stay fresh. (Well, someone has to do it.) She considers sex her beat, and her métier. It is what she knows.

“There are merits in talking about sex openly and making it OK to ask questions,” she says. “Sex is thought of as embarrassing. You know, most of us grew up in families where you never talked about it until one parent had The Talk with you.”

Vogels says her own parents, Dutch immigrants who had a farm east of Toronto, never spoke of sex, but were accepting of new ideas. When she sent her first sex column to them, it came back annotated by her father, Marinus, complete with grammatical corrections. Her 80-year-old mother, Ann, whooped it up at Vogels’s recent book launch in Toronto, which featured striptease lessons and something sexual with ropes.

And while I find Vogels rather one-note, I can relate. Reading the book, I thought of the time my late, beloved grandmother called me many years ago when I was a cub reporter at the Vancouver Sun.

“Fitterman,” I said gruffly into the receiver.

“I’m wondering if you can help me,” Grandma said. “I’m reading a Harold Robbins novel and I don’t know what ‘fellatio’ is.” She pronounced it with a hard “t.”

As the three reporters whose desks were close to mine listened, I explained. When I finished, there was a pause, then a businesslike “Oh. Thank you, dear.”

The reporters were still staring, open-mouthed, as I hung up. “My grandmother,” I said with a smile, and went back to work. It was just one of those things — as it should be.

Copyright (c) 2004, Southam/Fin. Post Pub