Chances are you’ve heard about The Joy of Sex but have you actually read it?
Other than the Kama Sutra there is no other instructional guide to lovemaking that is more famous than The Joy of Sex. As well known for its hand-drawn depictions of a bearded man and his naturally hirsute partner engaging in various sexual positions, the book is a comprehensive guide to achieving a fulfilling sex life. Still an international bestseller and revised in 2008, this ‘retro’ manual for lovemaking may still have plenty of important things we can learn about relationships.
In this feature, we take a look at what The Joy of Sex actually includes, the man behind the book and its success as well as looking at the relevance of this infamous manual in the modern world.
What is The Joy of Sex?
The Joy of Sex is an illustrated, instructional guide to sex, written by Alex Comfort M.B. Ph.D. and published in 1972. It is a well-known book that has been (somewhat awkwardly) discovered by many teenagers on their parent’s bookshelves and is infamous for its depictions of the ‘bearded man’ and his partner (with hairy armpits) in the original illustrations.
The ‘bearded man’ drawings are based on photographs taken by Chris Foss of one of the other illustrators (Charles Raymond) and his German wife, Edeltraud.
The drawings clearly depict a whole series of sexual positions and these are accompanied by frank advice on how to experience intimacy and pleasure during sex.
The Joy of Sex was written in the style of a cookery book and is subtitled ‘A Gourmet Guide to Love Making’. The author intended to use this approach to make the book more easily accessible and is even sectioned with references to foreplay as a ‘Starter’ and penetrative sex as the ‘Mains’.
The book was widely recognized as a ground-breaking piece of work when it was first written in the early 1970s and has been updated in the 1980s, 1990s and, most recently, in 2008.
Like the Kama Sutra, it is a manual that not only covers the physical ‘logistics’ of lovemaking and sexual intimacy but one that champions the building of a loving and respectful relationship.
Empowering, entertaining and hugely informative, The Joy of Sex is a classic book on the nature of sex and is a clear and concise guide to achieving fulfillment.
Who was ‘Dr Sex’?
After the success of his lovemaking manual, Alex Comfort became known in the media as ‘Dr Sex’; a title he was not happy about. Though the book earned him an estimated $3 million in royalties as well as international fame, Comfort felt that the manual overshadowed much of his other work of which he was very proud.
Comfort was a British physician and psychiatry professor who was also a well-known anarchist, pacifist and writer. A conscientious objector, he wrote a series of anti-war pamphlets as well as novels and non-fiction on this subject as well as studying sexual behavior in society. He was also very interested in the science of biogerontology (the biology of ageing) which he wrote about extensively.
How Popular is The Joy of Sex?
When it was first published in 1972, The Joy of Sex was met with a mixture of both high-praise as well as controversy. It is important to note that the timings of its publications followed a period of intense sexual revolution in Western countries like the USA and the UK so audiences were far more receptive to this ‘softcore’ and educational guide. The publisher’s decision to illustrate the book rather than to use photographs was also a well-judged one in securing the title a wider-audience.
Had it been released a decade previously or used photos then there is some doubt as to whether it would have achieved the same kind of sales. Remember that in the early 1960s, obscenity trials for novels like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Tropic of Cancer were still cropping up in the USA and UK.
Of course, this doesn’t mean to say that there wasn’t significant objection to the book’s wide-spread availability. Far from it. Religious groups in America continue to campaign for the title’s removal from public libraries and, as recently as 2008 in Idaho, they have been successful at having it taken off the shelves.
Despite the controversy, or perhaps because of it, The Joy of Sex has reportedly sold over 12 million copies worldwide and has been republished several times with updated illustrations and photographs as well as new sections added for a modern generation. This included an edition in 1986 which focused more on safe sex and was partially revised due to the AIDS epidemic. A further edition was then released just six years later in 1992 which included more up to date scientific information as well as being adapted to reflect changes in society.
The most recent edition is the 2008 version in which Comfort’s son, Nicholas, himself was involved with. On this version the credits are shared with the celebrated relationship psychologist and sex expert Susan Quilliam. Together, Comfort and Quillam updated and fully revised the book and wrote 40 new entries of a more factual and scientific nature. The release was also accompanied by 120 new photographs and some updated hand-drawn illustrations. The result is a fresh look to this popular title that is more appealing to a modern audience but retains its quirky charm and fun approach to sex.
The book was also followed up by a sequel in 1973 which was unimaginatively entitled More Joy of Sex: A Lovemaking Companion to The Joy of Sex. This title was also revised and updated in 1987 to promote safe sex and including sections on AIDS.
The Joy of Sex: What’s on the Menu?
So, what can you find inside this cook book of lovemaking?
Just like any gourmet guide, The Joy of Sex starts with a section entitled ‘Ingredients’. Here you can find Comfort’s advice on the recipe for success when it comes to achieving a fulfilling sex life with your partner. Topics covered include tenderness, nakedness, confidence and compatibility as well as some highly informative technical aspects of the major erogenous zones as well as those that are often overlooked (earlobes, buttocks, mons pubis, navel and the big toe). Issues such as aging, health and fidelity are all dealt with in the same candid way as the penis, clitoris and nipples.
Moving on to the ‘Appetizers’, The Joy of Sex continues with some alternative approaches to foreplay and some sexual practices that don’t include penetration. With the modern edition including phone sex and the use of technology, the guide is just as relevant today as it was in the 1970s. Here you will find some information on aphrodisiacs, seduction and fighting as well as clothed sex, fantasy and role-play plus femoral intercourse.
Now, we come to the ‘Main Courses’ in which you will find the most dog-eared of pages on any second-hand copy you can lay your hands on. A guide to the choreography of sex and including full details on the benefits of, and how to achieve, these positions you will be familiar with many but in awe of some. Also covered in this section is the art of the ‘quickie’, simultaneous orgasms and delayed gratification. Oral, manual, anal and vaginal methods are all covered in detail as is the often-awkward matter of ‘afterwards’.
To finish, the book includes a section called ‘Sauces and Pickles’; a reasonably comprehensive guide to kinks and fetishes, alternative sexual techniques as well as the use of clothes, accessories, toys and furniture. There is also some information on the importance of location (planes, trains and automobiles), masturbation and foursomes/moresomes.
The original book includes the infamous drawings to illustrate many of these techniques and positions but the later editions include full color photographs.
The Joy of Sex: How Relevant is the Book in 2019
Despite having been originally written almost fifty years ago, The Joy of Sex still contains a lot of highly relevant advice on lovemaking and relationships. This is not surprising when you consider the Kama Sutra, written more than two millennia ago is still just as informative and educational. The reason for this? Well, apart from the obvious evolution of technology and some big changes in society, the truth remains that human relationships, specifically sexual ones, still have the same roots; intimacy, respect and an open mind.
The Joy of Sex is known for its candid tone and, despite Comfort’s advice being delivered with authority, it has a warmth to it which makes it an easy read. If you compare it to some of the more modern titles which purport to offered instructional guides to lovemaking, The Joy of Sex is assuredly written by someone who has plenty ofexperience in the area and not by someone who has limited knowledge of the subject or who speaks only in scientific lingo.
It is an extensive (but not exhaustive) exploration of sexual relationships and, fundamentally, how to achieve good sex with a partner. It does this, not only in an instructional way in terms of achieving the correct postures but, by addressing the basics of a healthy and loving relationship.
There is no doubt that the updated editions were needed, mainly to address changes in society and scientific knowledge (safe sex being the most important of these) but also to refresh the imagery.
If you think The Joy of Sex should be consigned to history and that it holds no relevance in the modern world, then think again. As well as covering modern issues such as the internet, Viagra, amyl nitrate, the Mile High Club, dogging and vacuum cleaner injuries, the book is also an essential guide to more universal topics such as:
- Premature ejaculation
- Inability to climax
Original copies of The Joy of Sex will always hold a special place in the hearts of many for its retro-appeal and for the trip down memory lane which it prompts with a glimpse of that iconic front cover. However, it rightly deserves its reputation for being an empowering, educational and entertaining read. We just hope that the publishers continue to revisit the text (and images) to ensure that future generations can benefit from the excellent advice contained within.