Rob Hardy on books


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Encouraging Sexual Fun



Rob Hardy


The famous Good Vibrations store was founded in San Francisco in 1977, selling sex toys and vibrators. About ten years later, it went into the mail order business because visitors from out of town made the shop a stopping point and wanted to continue ordering after they left. Good Vibrations was more than just an adult store; it was run mostly by women and promoted the philosophy that pleasure is good, and can be intelligently encouraged. Good Vibrations has put out its own sexual hardware, and films, and educational materials. It published an initial sex guide in 1994, The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex. Now it has published The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone (Barnaby LTD) by Carol Queen and Shar Rednour. Queen is the academically-credentialed Staff Sexologist at Good Vibrations, an erotic fiction writer, and the curator of the store's Antique Vibrator Museum. Rednour is a performer and author of such books as How Great Sex Made Me a Good Mom. Their book is big, a comprehensive guide to sexual pleasures, written with enthusiasm and a love of the subject, and any reader will find lots of cheerleading to go out (or stay in) and have some good clean fun.



Those who run the Good Vibrations store have learned plenty. "Some people come into our stores so burdened by fear and/or shame that they can't even talk to us about what they need, want to buy, or ask questions - some can barely even say hello. Others cannot bring themselves to cross the threshold of the store. We wrote this book for them, and for you, and for every person who has ever needed support and information about sexuality, sexual health, and erotic pleasure." They have drawn upon such customers to learn how to serve better; the questions and problems that customers bring in result in answers and solutions that might become standard instruction for the store's Sex Educator Sales Associates. There is plenty of cheerful encouragement on every page of this manual. There is reiteration of important basics: everyone is different, everyone's desires are different, orgasms solo or with others are terrific, fear and shame are overcome by good information, and so on. This is a superbly encouraging manual, positively overflowing with a sex-positive attitude, motivating education and experimentation. Do not try to tackle the question, "Am I normal?" comes the advice, as if in these times there was a good definition of normal. The questions to ask are, "Do I desire it?" "Do I enjoy it?" and even "Do I have enough information about it to try it in real life?" An example of activities suggested within the book is "The Three Lists," wherein you make a Yes List, composed of sexual things you do or would do if you had the chance, a Maybe List of things you might want to do if conditions and personnel were just right, and a No List of things you just aren't going to think about trying. Making such lists is part of a Know Thyself tool, but they can be shared as a way of talking about sexual matters with someone else, someone who has maybe written up the three lists, too. The nice thing is that everyone's list will be different, and no one's list is wrong in any way; we are different, and we should celebrate it. (Note: there are important pages here about consent.)




The acceptance here of anyone's sexuality includes even those who would seem to be most at odds with the views of the authors. "If no sex before marriage is your cup of tea, find a partner who wants the same, and hopefully enjoy your wedding night!" This is followed, however, by a plea: "But please do not manipulate others with your sexuality; our rules say 'Be clear about your desires, expectations, and boundaries, and look for someone who says, "Oh, just what I always wanted!"'" It would be nice if such a request would be honored, but perhaps those to whom it is addressed are unlikely to be picking up such a book as this.



I thought, given the source, that the book would have lots to say about sex toys. It does; perhaps 150 of its almost five hundred pages are devoted to the use not only of groin gadgets, but such hardware as blindfolds and paddles, plus other things to play with like erotic books and movies. I was amused by the authors' words about calling such things toys. They used to be called "marital aids" (or, as Woody Allen wrote, "Hong Kong honeymoon accessories" a pamphlet of which was once sent to him, he says, by mistake). "Vibrators and other erotic products," say the authors, "were hardly just for the married, and the word 'aid' evokes the idea of a dysfunctional person or relationship. As we now know, enjoyment of a sexual product doesn't mean you need help!" "Sex toy" is really much better as an object of play; ideally, sexual expression is a form of play between people. The authors rely on the wonderful history of the vibrator by Rachel Maines, The Technology of Orgasm, and on the store's Antique Vibrator Museum, to give a backstory on the gadgets. Silicone has become a standard material for sexual toys, but it is interesting to read how slow a process it was before it became so. Rubber and plastic were easier to work with and cheaper. Silicone, if there is a defect in the product, cannot be melted down and reused, and each silicone toy had to be handcrafted rather than mass produced. It took a while to have vibrators made of it. "We were constantly asked why no vibrators were made of silicone. We were eager to see such a product, but without the ability to make our own toys, we didn't have much to tell the inquisitive customers other than, 'If someone makes it, we will carry it.' If they built it, that is, many more of us would come!" The market has solved the problem. (Though there are general descriptions of vibrators, dildos, plugs, and such here, this is not a Good Vibrations catalogue, a fun publication for browsing, perhaps with a partner, and one I recommend.)



There are so many useful sections with surprises here. One answers the vexed question, "What do I wear to the orgy?" The answer includes various subtleties such as, "Unless your sex party friends are vegans, a leather look is generally considered erotic." There are wonderful pages on how to talk about sex with your kids. A section gives warnings about sexual safety within the shower. Handcuffs might seem perfect for BDSM play, but the authors don't recommend the real or the toy ones, which can tighten too hard around the wrists; Velcro restraints are safer. The book has lots and lots to say about safe sex and barrier methods, and not a whole lot about contraception. (For basics on this and other general sexual matters, please consult the splendid The Guide to Getting It On! by Paul Joannides, a book that this one includes as recommended reading.) Also, the book needs more illustrations; describing the "Gates of Hell," for instance, just won't do; I'd like to see the rings, leathers, and snaps of such a gadget which "looks fantastic, and is sort of a penile bondage," even though I figure that would be on my personal No List; repressed me. Overall, this is a funny, informative, and joyful book that will embolden, enlighten, and empower readers, and has potential for increasing the world's happiness.




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