Toronto Star Books

Stroke, stroke
A no-nonsense veteran and a smooth hipster show us the way. Sex guides as different as their authors.

by KIM HUGES

Toronto Star (Books), July 11, 2004

Even by the rubbery literary standards of summer reading, sex books are the ultimate indulgence. We can rationalize all we want about how they can be vital windows into our primal urges — or better, tantalizing glimpses into other people’s urges — but at the end of the day, Jackie Collins titles probably have more gravitas than anything focused exclusively on the well-worn topic of folks bumping uglies.

This is both good news and bad news for Sue Johanson’s Sex, Sex, And More Sex and Josey Vogels’ Bedside Manners , two new titles with sex as their subject and each woman’s particular expertise as their chief selling points. For potential readers, forewarned is forearmed.

In this corner, much-loved sexpert and registered nurse Johanson: longtime radio and TV host; unflappable, non-judgmental dispeller of urban myths; sex toy advocate; foil for those who still think you can’t get pregnant the first time out.

And in this corner, hipster lifestyle columnist Vogels: Canada’s Carrie Bradshaw, according to her publisher; bon vivant with a fistful of invitations to the coolest parties in town; firm believer that good graces abandon us the moment we’re naked.

Johanson’s book is nobody’s idea of frivolous. Nor is it likely to be titillating to anyone over age 12, which means it resolutely does not fit the breezy summer mold despite the timing of its publication. This one is a keeper.

Like the woman herself, Johanson’s Sex, Sex, And More Sex is blunt and larded with facts, though admittedly not quite as entertaining as watching her demonstrate a dildo by strapping it over her chin, as she famously did on David Letterman’s show, rendering him speechless.

As Johanson says in the introduction, her book is “as simple as using a phone book.” That’s precisely how it’s laid out, with topics gathered alphabetically.

Advice letters serve as a springboard for Johanson’s succinct, straightforward responses. Curious about bladder infection, celibacy, circumcision, anal sex or anorexia’s affect on one’s reproductive capabilities? This one’s for you.

It’s hard to imagine a progressive parent who wouldn’t be keen to equip their pubescent-age kids with a copy of Sex, Sex, And More Sex . Those who would insist such sensitive information should come from a relative, not a relative stranger, have clearly never been hit, while shopping in the canned goods aisle at Wal-Mart, with the question: What, exactly, is this oral sex thing everyone keeps accusing President Clinton of?

Johanson does bring depth when it’s needed. Her counsel on aging and sex, for example, is reassuring and thoughtful and while it’s not nearly as sexy as discourse on the wisdom of threesomes, it’s no less welcome.

Moreover, Johanson touches such ancillary stuff as trust, guilt, jealousy and boredom — the stuff that inevitably trips up even those of us who already know which parts fit where.

Vogels assumes we know the basics and that we’re frenetically putting this knowledge to use. But she reckons we’re forgetting our manners in the heat of the moment, blurting out wicked comments and forgetting to thank our one-night stands for their labours as we dart out the door.

Hence, an etiquette book for the aspiring perfect lover, albeit one that reads more like a long magazine article complete with pithy sidebars and saucy illustrations.

Counsel such as “Don’t point and laugh” when confronted with a new partner’s manhood might reasonably fall under the banner of common sense. But putting one’s left turn signal on before entering an intersection is common sense too, and people don’t do that.

Even so, many passages in Bedside Manners are simply beyond the pale. How to untangle genital piercings or artfully choreograph an orgy? Sorry, but the world was not waiting for that information. And Vogels’ delivery isn’t amusing enough to pass as satire.

To the book’s credit are those before-mentioned sidebars. Vogels’ publisher has stacked Bedside Manners with kooky Canadiana, weirdness from the sexual archives and largely redundant but ridiculously digestible trivia that has doubtless been test-driven at discriminating cocktail parties. Really, who doesn’t want to know the mathematical equation for calculating whether or not you’re a slut?

Bedside Manners beats an afternoon of doing laundry, and it takes about as long to finish. But it’s light as a feather; that may make it suitable summer reading after all.

Copyright (c) 2004, Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.