Book Review: Cultural Studies

Gifting books without boundaries

Cultural Studies

Sex Ed

The Best of Sexology, The Illustrated Magazine of Sex Science: Kinky and Kooky Excerpts From America's First Sex Magazine

edited by Craig Yoe

Running Press, 480 pp., $14.95

The first time I heard the term "rainbow party" – not that long ago – I imagined a group of boisterous teens cavorting after a high school GLBT-club meeting. It figures, I suppose, because the first time I heard the term "oral sex" – considerably longer ago – I thought it meant "talking dirty." These days, you'd be hard-pressed to find a ninth-grader ignorant of now-common sexual terminology, from the most vanilla to the most vile, but it wasn't always this way.

In the summer of 1933, Luxembourger Hugo Gernsback opened America's doors to a wealth of carnal knowledge with the nation's first sex magazine, Sexology, the Illustrated Magazine of Sex Science. Back then, America's white-gloved were unprepared for what Gernsback and his team of scientists, doctors, and science-fiction artists had to say about sex, or the fact that they were talking about it in the first place. From that first scandalizing issue through the Seventies, Sexology's licensed professionals educated the public on the possibilities of animals crossbreeding with humans (quite scientifically impossible), pregnant men (men with dermoid cysts; for instance, an unborn twin located in a man's buttocks), unsanitary "self-relief" (how did that pencil find its way into that woman's bladder?), Adolf Hitler's secret sex life (he was impotent and loved King Kong), why wives should make sex advances (women like sex, too?), and multiple breasts (the extra tit most commonly found in the armpit), to name a few conversational icebreakers. Gernsback – an inventor, avid fan of science and electrical engineering, father of modern science fiction, and namesake of the prestigious Hugo Award – published more than 50 magazines in his lifetime, but it was Sexology that was arguably the most ahead of its time, not simply because of its taboo nature but because it actually educated the public about sex, with facts and honest writing.

By today's standards, the recently published The Best of Sexology, a collection of various articles spanning the magazine's four decades, is a throwback to earlier, sweeter times, before "sex magazine" meant "porn." (And a time before "fashion magazine" or "sports magazine" meant "softcore porn.") The vintage presentation, complete with enlightening black-and-white photos and illustrations, will make a great holiday gift for the sexually curious who might know a thing or two about rainbow parties but nothing about breast-feeding fathers. However, if you're shopping for a pervert, you'd better go with The Best of Maxim.

Additional Reading: Best Sex Writing 2008 by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Cleis Press, 224 pp., $14.95, paper); More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics by Steven E. Landsburg (Free Press, 288 pp., $14, paper); America's War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust, and Liberty by Marty Klein (Praeger Paperback, 232 pp., $19.95, paper)

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