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The Guide to Getting It On:

A New and Mostly Wonderful Book About Sex

The Guide to Getting It On is the literary equivalent of a supernice, smart guy who just isn’t quite cool enough. The kind of guy you want to buy a new wardrobe for before you let him meet your friends. The subtitle is a clue: “A New and Mostly Wonderful Book About Sex.” It is definitely new and it is mostly wonderful, but one can’t help wondering if in the hands of the right, hip editor, Getting It On wouldn’t have been completely wonderful.

It’s wrong to judge a book by its cover, but this miracle of desktop publishing practically begs for a makeover. (In fact, several other people declined the job of writing this review after flipping through the book.) The font, Triplex Roman, gives the book a handwritten feel. The cover features a graphic novel-style representation of two couples. Corny lyrics (the first of many to come), from a song called “The Bug” by Mark Knopfler, reprinted on the title page serve as an epigraph: “Sometimes you’re the windshield/Sometimes you’re the bug/Sometimes it all comes together baby/Sometimes you’re just a fool in love.”

The book’s emphasis on sexuality as an expression of the whole self, not just the genitals, is truly refreshing. The author’s jokes, on the other hand, are pretty stale. (The author, by the way, who is identified only on the copyright page, is Paul Joannides, and he is described in the book’s disclaimer as a “mental health professional.”) In the first chapter, he writes, “Since this is a book about sex, it might be a good idea to include a definition of what sex is.” After discussing several issues, such as intercourse as the ultimate sex act (“ipsum fuctum”) vs. kissing and handholding, and how one’s mental attitude relates to pleasure, the author begs off: “Needless to say, we have given up on trying to pin a tail of definition on the big donkey of sex.”

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Everything in the book is qualified or given some kind of disclaimer. Every idea is credited in a footnote. The author manages to present all his views, without imposing any on the reader. There is something admirable about this, but eventually it becomes unnecessary and annoying.

However, like the act of sex itself, the book does get better as it goes along. By Chapter 5, “The Importance of Getting Naked,” things start to warm up. Subsequent chapters focus on male and female sexual anatomy in a way that’s anything but clinical. Try as you might, it’s hard to flip past “The Goofy Dick Game, Real Penises of Real Guys.” In this match game, the left-hand page features drawings of six flaccid penises, which vary dramatically, and the facing page shows their erect counterparts. There’s an equally enlightening drawing of different women’s vulvas. Even as a woman, I didn’t realize how much they varied in appearance.

Following the crash course in biology, the money chapters, 11 through 21, offer solid sex techniques—the real reason people buy sex books. Chapter 11 alone, “The Zen of Finger Fucking,” justifies the book’s $17.95 price. The advice varies from the practical, (“cut your fingernails”) to the pleasurable (“ease your finger in one joint at a time”). There’s even a well-detailed “clock” technique, whereby you map your female partner’s pleasure zones with Timex precision. The following chapter on handjobs gives invaluable advice on avoiding jerky, awkward servicing and offers a variety of strokes and genital massage techniques. Names like the “Twisting the Cap off a Bottle of Beer stroke” or the “Flat Handed Doggie Dig” sound tricky, but the clearly described techniques will be easy to remember and perform.

Not only does the pace pick up in terms of the writing, but the artwork becomes more satisfying. The drawings feature attractive but not overly idealized couples portrayed in realistic positions and places (the bathroom sink counter, the living-room sofa). They are clearly enjoying themselves, but not in that self-conscious, gratuitous style so common to pornographic art. A voyeuristic cat appears in several of the pictures, which somehow also seems realistic.

Before the book delves into intercourse proper, there are three chapters on oral pleasure and one on body massage, which is a good thing. Chapter 19, “Horizontal Jogging,” offers more psychological advice than practical techniques viz actual fucking. The following chapter, on anal sex, lists the revealing statistic that 30 to 40 percent of all heterosexual couples have tried anal intercourse, with half indulging on a regular basis, while only 50 percent of gay males are into regular anal sex. Chapter 21 covers sex toys, from silicone dicks on harnesses to the battery-operated sort.

The book becomes more theoretical (and problematic) in the remaining chapters, which cover “issues.” That the author is some sort of therapist accounts for a large part of the open-honest-communication tone of the writing, and while it is difficult to pull this off, it’s not impossible. Our Bodies, Ourselves is a good example of riding the line between liberal and laughable.

The author’s tolerant-male-feminist (and oddly Marxist) point of view can sometimes be too preachy, as on the subject of lingerie. In a discussion of marriage, the author slides in a reference to the “market economy,” and he compares faking an orgasm to using a credit card (both are forms of lying, he asserts). There’s a section on traditional societal definitions of feminine and masculine. One of the cartoons shows a “Western woman” dressed in high heels, a garter, and lingerie facing a completely veiled “Moslem woman” and asks the question, “Who Is the ‘Sexual Prisoner’?” If that’s not bad enough, Chapter 32, “Techno’Breasts & Weenie Angst” rails against those capitalists who inspire and then exploit penis/breast-size insecurities. It’s followed by perhaps the worst chapter title ever to be published: “When the Tide Turns Red.”

The brief chapter on gay sexuality includes historical context on society’s changing view of gays and some interesting psychological/scientific trivia (e.g., female lambs given male hormones before birth exhibit lesbian behavior), but if you’re gay, this chapter won’t enhance your sex life; nor will it teach you anything new.

The book races through a number of topics—masturbation, hygiene, birth control, kink, and Christian and Buddhist attitudes toward sex. The most informative chapters in the last portion of the book deal with premature ejaculation and impotence. Joannides details a method for premature ejaculators to “calibrate” the penis, which allows them to be more engaged with their sexuality rather than constantly remaining detached.

Probably the book’s most unusual offering is Chapter 39, “Explaining Sex to Kids.” In a society where preteens are having sex in school, not enough discussion of children’s sexuality is going on. The chapter gives some sense of young children’s sexuality and how to talk about sex with them. It also gives good suggestions for what to do when a child walks in on mom and dad midcoitus.

The book’s final jewel before giving us a fairly useless glossary of sex terms and Cali surfer slang (!?) is an extensive resource list, with reviews of books, videos, and sex toys that can be ordered through the mail.

The conclusion is laughable. The author goes on about the real hippies vs. the hippie wannabes who cut their hair and went back to wearing bras. “Words like ‘marketing’ and ‘standing to sue’ took the place of bitchin’ and groovy, and designer labels became more important than flowers or beads. Things changed.” Yes, things changed. “There are still a few of us from way back when who didn’t abandon our hopes and dreams for a better society….This book is an attempt in that direction.” A big piece of California-style granola. But there are worse things than granola. If you can swallow it, there’s something to be learned from this hippy-dippy guide to the sexual galaxy.CP