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Archive for March 26th, 2012

One can never read all the books in the world, nor travel all its roads.  –  Anonymous

In “Presents, Presents, Presents!” I mentioned a few books readers sent me for my birthday and Christmas, and despite being frightfully busy for the past couple of months I’ve managed to read four of them so far.  Also, Dr. Sadie Allison sent me a copy of her new “how to” on anal sex and asked if I’d let her know what I thought, so I figured now was as good a time as any for a new book review column.

All or Nothing:  A Short History of Abstinence in America by Jessica Warner

Throughout history there have been those who abstained from one vice or another, and religious devotees who abstained from all or most of them.  But Protestant reformers like Martin Luther rejected the concept that anything should be abstained from completely as some Catholic religious orders practiced; instead, they preached the virtue of moderation.  But less than two generations after Luther abstinence was back in fashion among the Puritans, and by the 18th century it became an inextricable part of evangelical Protestantism.  Warner traces the development of the notion that moderation is undesirable, which caught on in America as it never could have in Europe because it was based in the sort of misguided optimism we’ve discussed before, the notion that man is perfectible.  She shows how in the late 19th century abstinence went from a personal choice to a thing to be imposed upon society by force (i.e. prohibitionism), and how it eventually permeated  American culture in general and led to modern excesses such as anti-sex laws, dietary fascism and the “War on Drugs”.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Though I had heard about this book before, I became interested in reading it through Satoshi Kanazawa’s discussion of the epilogue to its sequel; I really wanted to read Superfreakonomics, but it seemed silly not to read the first one first so that’s what I did, and I found it fascinating.  Levitt is an economist who isn’t good at math and isn’t interested in analyzing the things one generally associates with economics, but instead wants to explore “the hidden side of everything”.  What that “everything” entails is most easily demonstrated by telling you the names of the book’s six chapters:  “What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have In Common?”, “How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?”, “Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?”, “Where Have All the Criminals Gone?”, “What Makes a Perfect Parent?” and “Perfect Parenting Part II; or: Would a Roshanda By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?”  Need a bit more enticement?  The star of chapter 3 is Sudhir Venkatesh, the answer to the title of chapter 4 is “Roe vs. Wade”, and chapter 2 (in combination with material from All or Nothing) provided the inspiration for “Circle”.

Harmful To Minors:  The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by Judith Levine

There is almost nothing in this book that will be new to regular readers; Levine’s position is essentially identical to my own.  She points out that only in America is sex in general and sex among legal minors in particular treated as pathological; that sexuality starts at an early age, surges at adolescence and develops throughout the teens rather than springing into existence at midnight on a person’s 18th birthday; that the suppression of teen sexuality is far more harmful than teen sex itself; that keeping kids in ignorance creates a whole host of problems which only barely exist in Europe; that the “predator panic” has caused grievous harm to society in general and kids in particular; that sexuality is natural and involuntary, and that sexual impulses cannot merely be ignored; that normal childhood behaviors, especially in boys, are now pathologized and even criminalized; etc, etc, etc.  What makes the book worth reading is Levine’s backing up her points with exhaustive research, and providing numerous examples which you can be sure I’ll employ in future columns on the subject.  As so often happens with books on sexual topics, the few negative reviews on Amazon actually serve as positive reviews to those who recognize them for what they are.

Tickle My Tush by Sadie Allison

Dr. Sadie has released several previous manuals (covering subjects ranging from sex positions to toys) through her own imprint, Tickle Kitty, and in this new book promises “Mild-to-Wild Analplay Adventures for Everybody.”  I must admit I had a little anxiety about reading it; though I have no hang-ups about my own bottom, “pegging” and prostate massage are just not my cup of tea.  I needn’t have worried; though there’s plenty of information here, Dr. Sadie’s playful, light style presented it in a way calculated to reduce the squick-out factor to approximately nought.  The book is a quick read, divided into chapters and short “subchapters” of two pages or less each, with plenty of illustrations; it’s designed to be perused by couples together, and to be easily consultable later.  After a general overview she moves on to discuss safety, hygiene and anatomy before proceeding to topics arranged in order of increasing “wildness”, starting with massage of the butt cheeks and ending up with positions.  One especially clever feature of the book is two different “FAQ” chapters, one at the beginning (the sort of questions asked by total neophytes) and the other at the end (the sort asked after reading the book or enjoying some experience with analplay).  The only thing I didn’t care for was her use of “cute” words for the body parts and activities, but that’s just me; I totally understand that she was trying to avoid being clinical, and I think most readers will probably be much more comfortable with, for example, “o-ring” rather than “sphincter”.

A Vindication of the Rights of Whores edited by Gail Pheterson

This volume, published in 1989, provides a snapshot of the whores’ rights movement of a quarter-century ago through essays from a number of different writers and almost five dozen contributors, including a number whose names you already know (such as Annie Sprinkle, Margo St. James and Norma Jean Almodovar).  The second part of the book is comprised of a series of transcripts from the first and second World Whores’ Congresses (in 1985 and 1986), including the World Charter for Prostitutes’ Rights.  I found the book especially interesting in two ways:  First, it gives a window onto the very beginnings of “Third Wave” feminism by raising the issue of sexual self-determination and presenting a series of statements from feminists who attended the Second Congress and became convinced that their previous belief in prostitution as “exploitation” or “violence against women” was ignorant and incorrect.  Second, it contains what may be the earliest published statement against “trafficking” mythology, considering that few people outside activism or feminism even knew what the term meant until a decade later: “The ICPR objects to policies which give women the status of children and which assume migration through prostitution among women to be always the result of force or deceit…

One Year Ago Today

A Foregone Conclusion” is the story of the short, failed career of Markus, the “prostidude” of the Shady Lady Ranch in Nevada.

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