It was just over 40 years ago – at the height of what was then called the Sexual Revolution – that a middle-aged British GP, concerned about the anxieties and ignorance of his patients and inspired by a new and passionate relationship, decided to write a sex manual. The result – formatted to be a tribute to a previous best seller called The Joy of Cooking – has since sold over 6 million copies and is a cult classic. The Joy of Sex, by Dr Alex Comfort
Fast forward. It was just over seven years ago that, Alex having died, his publishers decided that a new revision of the book was necessary. The 1972 edition was written by a man and for men; this time they wanted a book for couples, and written with a female viewpoint. The lucky author was me and re-inventing the book was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a total joy.
One side of the project, however, was less than joyful. I had expected to find that, in the decades since the book was written, society’s appreciation of, and comfort level with, sexuality had increased and that we had moved into a much more rewarding period where sex was concerned. Not so. What I found in the modern world contained a worrying mix of complexity, danger and new puritanism – unclear agendas, sexual pressure, zooming STI rates, gang rape and more.
That said, when rewriting the Joy of Sex, I also found huge amounts to be optimistic about. We no longer live in ignorance, inhibition and guilt as many of our grandparents did. We have more knowledge, more possibility, more personal belief, more ability to make sexual decisions and more possibility to create sexual solutions. Particularly as a woman, I would not for the world live in a former age, an age when joyful sex was shadowed not only by the threat of pregnancy but also by the promise of eternal damnation.
In particular, I am hugely inspired by the amazing work that is going on, worldwide and across all fields – academic, professional, personal , organisational and individual, to make sex an ever more joyful experience. We live in an age of huge potential where sex is concerned – whether you are male, female, young, old, whatever your sexuality and whatever your preferences, there has never been a time when fulfilment and connection were more possible.
In short… when it comes to the Joy of Sex – we’ve only just begun!
Susan Quilliam is speaking on The Joy of Sex – naive dream or attainable reality – at the Love, Sex and Intimacy Fair at Hove Town Hall on October 19th-20th. She is also running a workshop for women on how to connect with joyful sexuality. Full details on both presentation and workshop can be found here.