“The Joy of Sexus” by Vicki León (Walker Books, 2013)

Joy of Sexus
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Vicki León certainly seems to have an ability for discovering and unearthing the bizarre and unusual, no matter what moment in history it seems to be from.  She has written and published books for children, as well as adults, known for her popular anecdotal volumes, Uppity Women and Working IX to V, she now turns to a hotter and more illicit subject in The Joy of Sexus.  Many people have heard certain “things” and “rumors” about what certain Romans, or Greeks, or Egyptians or people of the ancient world were up to during those pre-Christian times.  In this book, León puts this all to rest with supplied evidence and confirmation or denial of what you might’ve heard or thought you knew to be true.

León is methodical in her approach with The Joy of Sexus, categorizing and laying the details out in an organized manner.  She begins with “The Birds, the Bees, & the Body Parts,” covering subjects like aphrodisiacs of the ancient world, circumcision, contraception, pregnancy, and abortion.  On numerous occasions León begins with the history, and then links it with either contemporary times or particular times when some of these strange practices were en vogue.  Each entry is usually only a couple of pages long, giving the reader the salient and lascivious details, but not dawdling on for too long.  Some of the other subjects covered in this book include: masturbation, pornographers, prostitution, Helen of Troy, eunuchs, hermaphrodites, adultery, divorce, gladiator sex lives, menstruation, sexual preference, and so much more.

Perhaps the key to The Joy of Sexus is that it is a short (320 pages) and small book that can easily be concealed in public, and by the same token with the short entries and thorough and exact contents listing, a particular section can easily be turned to and read, and the book quickly secreted away again.  Whether you intend to take snippet reads of this book during your daily agenda, or plan to hide out somewhere and read it from cover to cover, the knowledge you will learn from this book will make you the envy at every gala and ball.  The Joy of Sexus is also a great ice breaker and conversation starter for parties and social events, or perhaps even a first date.

Originally written on February 19, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” by Mary Roach (Norton, 2008)

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We are now eight years into the twenty-first century and the world has made many great strides in areas like medicine, anthropology, sociology, politics, and increasing our knowledge and respect for our planet and the many different peoples who live on it. And yet the United States is still a country that views sex as an act to be hidden behind closed doors, performed infrequently (preferably for the purpose of reproduction), and as quick and easily dispensed with.

In the May issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, “a survey of sex therapists concluded the optimal amount of time for sexual intercourse was 3 to 13 minutes.” Now Mary Roach, author of the bestselling Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, has turned her scientific mind to an act that can only be performed in specific ways according to laws in certain U.S. states.

The empirical study of sexual intercourse has certainly come a long way since humanity began having problems with performing the act, and Roach does a fantastic job of showing just how much work and research has been performed in the name of science on the subject of sex. While the author does go back to the days of ancient Greece, Bonk is not arranged chronologically, but rather by subjects ranging from human sexual response; to how the shape, size and placement of the sexual organs can vary from person to person and how this affects people having sex; to sex toys and devices; to what exactly is going on biologically during an orgasm.

Roach continues as she did with Stiff to “turn off” readers as she goes into detail on what takes place during penis surgery, having seen it performed before her very eyes; as well as revealing the scientific fact that because an orgasm is essentially a reflexive response to specific stimuli over time, a dead body would be able to have one. Roach makes a giant leap for humankind into the world of sexual study in volunteering herself and her husband to be studied scientifically while performing intercourse.

Just as in the author’s other books, Bonk is an eye-opener for readers, no matter their background; after absorbing it cover to cover one feels educated enough to make diagnoses for those experiencing sexual dysfunction. But then this may be one of the reasons Roach wrote this book: for those too ashamed to seek clinical help. She makes her point clear: that sex isn’t something to be hidden especially when problems affect people’s everyday lives. There’s a group to help everyone – even a special one for the disabled who are unable to have sex in ordinary ways – and offer advice and help in maintaining a healthy sexual relationship.

After finishing Bonk, one can see how this subject has been taboo for so long, and this continues to be the case with the current U.S. administration being a major advocate of abstinence over contraceptives. But at the same time it is clear that many people over the years have devoted their lives to the scientific study of sex, and here we see a different world of those who want to help and educate others. Ultimately, whatever goes on between consenting human beings behind closed doors is their business, but is there any reason why it shouldn’t be enjoyable?

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Originally written on April 26th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Private Midnight” by Kris Saknussemm (Overlook, 2009)

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From the author of the quirky and outright bizarre Zanesville comes a new novel that takes the classic noir detective story and boils it down . . . then bakes it . . . then deep fries it; and throws in a bunch of sex and kinky stuff.  The resulting recipe is Saknussemm’s Private Midnight.

Saknussemm harnesses the voice and feel of a classic, noir detective novel from the very first page.  Detective Birch Ritter has everything a detective of his type needs: a crummy, tough job that takes up all his time, he seems to never sleep, and has a sordid and dark past filled with tragedy and bad choices that constantly come back to haunt him and the reader.  Private Midnight has two stories going on: one is the case that Ritter needs to solve, and the horrifically mangled bodies keep turning up; the other is a strange introduction to a type of therapist who uses elaborate mind-games combined with dominatrix-style sex acts, all with the apparent goal of getting Ritter to pour out his heart and his past, and move on with his used up life.

Whether you’re looking for a gritty detective story or something with some sexual spiciness to it  (or perhaps both), you’ll thoroughly enjoy Private Midnight, with its unique voice and complex story that will leave you turning the page just to find out what’s going to happen next.

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Originally written on May 14th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.