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The New Good Vibrations Guide To Sex
Third Edition


by Cathy Winks and Anne Semans
2002, Cleis Press
Review by John H. Campbell

I have always been a fan of earlier editions of this tome, and I think that is not only due to the fact that it is so inclusive and honest, the fact that it features commentary by real people who wrote into Good Vibrations with their personal stories about their own sex lives (giving it a feel akin to an officially educational version of Penthouse Letters in between the expert clinical sexual advice), and the wealth of up to date information presented in a very gender neutral way, but because my first impression was "I wish I had had one of these when I was a teenager wanting to know the REAL truth about sexuality and the big question that was on my mind, Am I normal?."

A lot of my sex education actually came from three places: One was conversation among schoolmates, most of which was uninformed and just plain confusing (to the point that I thought a "blow job" was a rather silly idea, because I could not comprehend the thrill of a girl blowing air onto my penis). Now oral sex, on the other hand, sounded more interesting.

I recall vividly, after being caught ringing up substantial charges on "976" lines as a fifteen year old, being asked by my decidedly liberal Mother if I had any questions about sex and upon my skittish, "Yes", her loaning me her and my Father's much read copy one of the best books on the subject at the time, Alex Comfort's original The Joy Of Sex, (the old version, before Comfort decided to be more conservative in his views of sex due to the "AIDS Panic" of the 80s and 90s) in order to "answer questions I might be having". That book was an even greater thrill to me than the pre-recorded voices of the ladies on the phone, and what I think made it even more titillating was the awareness it gave me that, "Wow-people really DO this stuff!" While it did not cover many of the fantasies running amok in my fevered teenage mind and newly budding libido, it did give me a wealth of information that I would say first began my love affair with the topic of sexuality and reading about it.

As we all know, times have changed considerably since that book was published in the early 1970's. Things that were taboo to talk in great detail about even in The Joy Of Sex (which was a very liberal tome for the time in which it was published) such as BDSM, bisexuality and homosexuality, transgender issues, and fisting are common discussion, at least in discussion circles about sexuality, these days. There is a diversity in the realization of human sexual expression today that did not exist fifteen years ago; or, if it did exist, it was never talked about as openly as it is now; I think that is largely due to the advent of the Internet. Or maybe we are actually evolving into healthier sexual beings.

And then finally, there was the aforementioned Penthouse Letters. My friends preferred what I feel the be the relatively tame cheesecake of Playboy or the beaver shots in Hustler, Penthouse, Cheri and High Society (and I too enjoyed those to some extent, though I enjoyed Hustler as it featured both women and men in stages of undress and simulated sexuality and appealed to my then repressed bisexual urges) but my favorite magazines were the "Letters" ones. I would get a new copy, and before the centerfold, would read the letters before anything; those were a thousand times more exciting to me. Here were stories of REAL PEOPLE doing things I thought only I fantasized about; and even if they were made up, that still said to me that I was not alone in my fantasies.

The Good Vibrations guide would have been great for me, as it would have enabled me to take all of the information I was getting from other sources and process it more coherently into a well-rounded understanding of sexuality.

This book is in my opinion, the perfect book for anyone who wants a non-judgmental, totally non biased and educational book about every facet of human sexuality: from vanilla to kinky; hetero, homo, bi and transgendered; married or single; celibate virgin to experienced slut. I would go so far, if I had to describe it in a single sentence, as "A hip, new 'Joy of Sex' for Generation X". Nearly everything is covered, from the best ways to communicate with your partner to negotiating D/S scenes to oral sex to anal fisting, and the information is not only clear and concise but presented with a great sense of humor, candor, and care. The black and white illustrations are tasteful yet erotic, and the comments by those surveyed about certian topics are actually as tilillating as they are telling. PC parents who may want to use this book to introduce sex to their teenagers will appreciate that it is not written with any assumption of the reader's gender or sexual orientation: here is a book where one book can fit a person of any orientation or bent.

I have three very small critiques of this book, that I feel could be expounded upon in future editions:

First off, I did not see what I felt to be quite enough information on the topic of consensual non monogamy/swinging/polyamory. True-it is mentioned, and covered-but I feel that this topic should have had it's own chapter to discuss the complexities of such relationships or arrangements in a little better detail. (Although they do list The Ethical Slut-a great book covering these topics in detail-in the bibliography, which in my opinion is one of the better sexuality bibliographies I have ever seen.)

Two, considering that this book is very user friendly for people of all sexual orientations-hetero, homo, bisexual, transgendered and every possible combination in between-a fact to its credit and what I feel truly sets it apart from all of the other sex manuals out there-I think that more attention could have been given to the topic of sexual orientation itself; little mention is made of the Kinsey Scale, or the various sexual identities people choose. On one hand, I feel this is a good thing, in the sense that their approach discourages the labeling and pigeonholing that can occur when one chooses a particular "generic" label for their sexuality; they go above and beyond mere inclusiveness to total affirmation of whatever sexual identity one chooses or flows with, which is a good thing, and what is not covered within these pages is definitely pointed to via the outstanding resource guide and bibliography. On the converse, I still maintain that with entire chapters devoted to BDSM (although watersports and golden showers are conspicuously absent-what's up with that? That's not everyone's cup of tea, but I felt it should have been mentioned), Vibrators, Dildos and even Butt Toys (all of which are superbly put together and very comprehensive in scope, I might add)-they should have devoted at least a few pages discussing the politics of sexual orientation and the fluidity and rigidity of sexual desire, and cultural movements that have grown around the labels many utilize for self-identifcation, for better or worse. (But they DO mention, in their resource guide, several great books on the topic of sexual identity, Bi Any Other Name and Pomosexuals.)

And last, but not least (though I am certain this was merely an oversight!), I was hoping to see among another of this edition's new features, the "Profiles In Pleasure" featuring such friends of ours as Carol Queen, Annie Sprinkle, Nina Hartley, Betty Dodson and Joani Blank, some representation of Dr. Suzy, Max, and the "Bonobo Gang" at the Dr. Susan Block Institute. Even if it's just listing The Ten Commandments Of Pleasure with the other great books in the "Resource Guide!"

Don't misunderstand me: this is still in my opinion, the absolute best of the "all-inclusive" sexuality guides out there and I feel that this new and expanded edition puts The New Good Vibrations Guide To Sex ahead of all the others as the ultimate sex guide for a new generation. This one tells the facts, without bias towards any particular group and gives an outstanding overall view of the full nature of human sexuality in all of its complexites, and makes the lesson fun, entertaining and most of all "real" at the same time. I wish I had had a book like this when I was first learning about the ins and out and complexities and variations of sex, it would have made things a lot less awkward, or at least a lot more interesting. I highly recommend it, for both the sexually experienced and the nervous beginner. Great for teens who want the real facts instead of whispered rumors and nervous giggles, for adults who want to expand their sexual vocabulary, and I think it would make the perfect gift for your favorite newlyweds.

--John H. Campbell
, 2003


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