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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask - Elf M. Sternberg
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask
"Dr. David Reuben, the new apostle of sanity in sex." That's how the back cover of the 1969 Best Seller, "Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)," depicted its author. At the time, the book was not very suprising; lurid books about the sex lives of just about every sector of society had been available for several years; as a collector of bad sex manuals from the past, I have a 1958 printing of "The Teenager and Sex," a book that is as shrill as any "abstinence only" website fifty years later. Perhaps what makes Reuben's book noteworthy is it's publisher-- Bantam Press-- and its very widespread distribution in mainstream bookstores. It was followed closely by the 1970 release of his "More Things You Wanted To Know (But Still Didn't Know To Ask)."

Reuben's book is atrocious.

I can't begin to describe how awful this forty year old tome is or estimate how much damage it did to the American sexual psyche. Premature ejaculation is identified as "impotence," cunnilingus gets all of one paragraph in the entire book, and any sexual writing is condemned to the flat word, "boring." Masturbation is consigned to worthlessness, a comfort to the imprisoned, the aged, and the infirm. Oddly enough, he spends an awful lot of time describing how women masturbate, going into excrutiating detail the various kinds of exotic toys women could use. Reuben has a fetish for the foreign, consistently praising the 'inventiveness' of the Japanese or the 'freedom' of Europeans.

It is in the realm of the sexual underground the Reuben is so bad that one can't help but laugh. He proposes that gay men want to be female, that it's impossible for gay men to be monogamous because they're looking for the "man who'll make them whole when wholeness is impossible, because being whole means a man and a woman; homosexuals are on an impossible quest." He descibes anal sex in only the most painful terms as something only gay men do. Although gay men get their own chapter, Lesbians are an afterthought tacked onto the end of the chapter on prostitution. Lesbians, we are told, "are looking for love where no love is possible."

When Reuben wanders into the classifieds in his second book, he just gets even funnier. In his section on "terms," he hopelessly confuses the various nationality codes in use at the time (he has no idea what 'English' meant-- it means flagellation) and when deciphering one example ad describes "watersports" as "being sprayed from a hose." (One could take that an accurate if one is inclined to use the term 'hose' as a slang for penis-- watersports is peeing on your partner.) He describes S/M with the term "sadismasochism" (yes, all one word) and states that "nobody ever really inflicts pain on one another during these games."

Since he is a doctor, he does get things right more often than not, but when you're out to advise a country, you'd better get everything right every time. He fails. He tells us that laws outlawing homosexuality and swinging and so on should be abolished. "Leave those people alone!" he says out of one side of his mouth while telling "those people," "You're sad, you're sick, you need professional, medical help," out the other.

So, why am I dissing a "sex manual" that was out of date when it was printed forty years ago? Because, like it or not, David Reuben has published again.

The title is the same; even the cover is the same ugly color. It looks like a sixties reject. I admit to having given the book only a brief skim but I can tell you that already I hate it. While the CDC and all other sex advisors in the country tell us that used correctly and consistently a condom will prevent the spread of disease and pregnancy, Reuben tells us to forget it-- condoms, he claims, fail 1/3rd of the time. "Find someone you would trust to have sex without a condom," he writes, "and then use one anyway." This is advice?

In any event, fool me once... I've read David Reuben, and I'd rather take sex advice from Paul Reubens instead. I'd rather watch a certain Woody Allen film. And I'd rather read Susie Bright than another book as bad as his first two. On the back of the book it reads, "Avoiding any moral judgement..." I doubt he managed to pull it off this time, too.

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From: amberleewriter Date: May 26th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
TMI but, if you can imagine, when I asked my mother about sex at age seven she gave me a copy of this book. She told me to read it and if I had questions after I was done that she would answer.

Is it any wonder I spent years unscrewing up my brain, didn't know that fellatio and blow-job meant the same thing until I was in my twenties, and never bothered to ask my mother about sex again?


I can't believe this guy is putting out a new version of this thing. I feel sorry for anyone that reads it.
elfs From: elfs Date: May 28th, 2007 06:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow. My deepest sympathies. I could have done worse than gotten my pubertal advice from Philip Nobile, I suppose. It's sad to see that he's become a mainstream journalistic pundit on the right. At the time, as editor of Penthouse Forum, he was trying to put out a magazine that was more educational than titillating, and at the time he succeeded.
From: amberleewriter Date: May 28th, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
In mom's corner, I'm sure she thought she was being highly progressive. However, turning over a book like that without a dictionary to a seven year old girl was a little, shall we say, ill advised. And it was far more timely than my father's offer when I was twenty three to take me to pornographic movies and "explain anything you don't understand."


Thank heavens I had a grandmother to talk to or I might still be wondering what the heck all the shouting is about!
sianmink From: sianmink Date: May 26th, 2007 11:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
On a tangent, I work with a guy who hung out with Paul Reubens some, and says that Paul is pretty awesome.
jenk From: jenk Date: May 27th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Who's he getting his updated info from, Paul Cameron?
gromm From: gromm Date: May 27th, 2007 04:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh. Part of what made Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex so bad isn't that its author was a moron, but that it basically reflected the Schadenfreude of the time. Most doctors and psychologists still thought that homosexuality was a disease. While the sexual revolution was well underway by that time, the press was still heavily censored, inasmuch as you couldn't publish pictures of naked people without good educational reasons. Many books in this vein at the time used this as an excuse to publish porn though, although it was generally softcore to the extreme.

This was in contrast to what was being published in Europe at the time, which is where the attitude that "Europeans are so much less inhibited than we are!" came from. Most real porn was smuggled in from Europe, which was where the stereotype that Scandinavians are all tall, busty, blonde sexpots came from, although this is an attitude that isn't around much anymore.

What really astonishes me though, is Reuben's ignorance in his newest book. As you say, he claims condoms fail 1/3 of the time, yet the CDC itself says that real-world effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy is something like 88% - a figure more indicative of how people "forget" to use them than anything else. That's a long way from 66% in any case. Unless Reuben is one of those people who forgets to use them 33% of the time...
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 27th, 2007 09:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was confused for a minute because I was conflating this book (which I don't think I've actually seen, now) with another book of the era -- The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort. It's been a long time since I read it, but I recall that it was pretty good.
elfs From: elfs Date: May 28th, 2007 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I like the original, but the "updated for the 90's!" version of that is disappointing as well. The old version recommend threesomes; the new version recommends monogamy and porn. The new version claims to tackle bisexuality mostly by dissing it: "Being actively bisexual problems in our society not least with the other-sex partner on whom most of most people's most worthwhile sex-life depends. It is difficult enough to try to make out with the half the human race without trying to make out with the whole of it!"

Alex then went on to say that medicine was mostly concerned with bisexuality because a bisexual man "poses an active threat to future partners because he may be an AIDS carrier." Notice that Alex isn't concerned about gay men. They can go kill themselves all they want. It's when they starting infecting teh wimmin with teh AIDS that "the medical community" gets involved.

There's so much other crud: the section on anal sex is gone, the section on bondage is pared back to a bare minimum and Alex is still recommending scarves and neckties despite all the problems they present.
memegarden From: memegarden Date: May 29th, 2007 04:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read his 1969 book as a kid, as I read most of the stuff on my parents' bookshelves. When my mom noticed, she warned me it was sensationalistic, so then she had to explain what that word meant. I remember noticing that he listed a bunch of food terms for sex as evidence of something or other about homosexual men, but most of them weren't gay terms, they were in general use. I had already read dozens of underground comics, Man's Body, and a biography of Freud by the time I got to this book, so it didn't do me any harm, but I sure wouldn't recommend it.
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