Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of slap and tickle? Of course enjoying all things sex doesn’t necessarily mean knowing that much about the topic. So let Tom Cutler’s funny, well-written book be your guide. As he points out, ‘the chief biological benefit of sexual reproduction is variety of offspring. But more important, to most of us, is that while you’re propagating your genes you can have an enormous amount of fun. And it’s this fun that he explores in his book.
Cutler takes a variety of approaches here. Sometimes he’s historical, as when he writes about the sexual prohibitions in the bible (apparently if a man rapes a betrothed virgin, both the man and the woman should be stoned to death), or when he briefly refers to Geoffrey Chaucer’s rather dirty The Miller’s Tale, from The Canterbury Tales, which talks about a character’s ‘queynte’, or when he writes that the ‘world’s first law criminalizing pornography was the Obscene Publications Act 1857, which made the sale of obscene material an offence in Britain (except in Scotland)…the UK has less of this kind of nonsense now than it used to, although it is running to keep up with other more groovy European nations. Interestingly, the USA has more laws governing sexual behaviour than all the countries of Europe put together.’
In other parts of the book, Cutler gives biographical information about key people, such as the German psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing, who wrote ‘one of the first books to study homosexuality…[and] Krafft-Ebing was obliged to classify homosexuals as perverts, though he opposed criminalizing them. Which was jolly nice of him.’ And many readers may not be aware that ‘Decadent poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 – 1909) was a great churner-out of pornographic verse [on flogging and flagellation]’.
While the historical and biographical details are interesting and are useful for getting background knowledge about the subject, Cutler is probably at his best when offering intriguing information such as that ‘the barnacle holds the world-beating penis-to-body-size record. A barnacle’s willy can grow to up to forty times its body length, and Mr Barnacle can reach females who live around the corner of the rock, without having to get up off the sofa. For a six-foot-tall man this would be the equivalent of a 240-footer, about the length of the perimeter of a basketball court. Imagine that – you’d need a low loader to drive it round on.’ Other lesser-known facts from the history of sex that Cutler writes about include ‘ape-to-man testicle transplantations’. Performed in the early twentieth century, these operations were meant to serve as a sort of early Viagra or even ‘to treat the senile’. They were not successful, however, (and unsurprisingly).
Cutler’s chapter on ‘helping hands’ – dildos and vibrators – is perhaps one to read before watching the film Hysteria. A ‘godemiche’ is ‘a dildo with the bonus of fake testicles’ and the ‘world’s most ancient dildo is a 28,000-year-old eight-inch stone phallus from the Late Stone Age, which was pulled (if you’ll pardon the expression) in fragments from a German cave in 2005 and reassembled – a job for an expert with an eye for detail and a steady hand.’
while you’re propagating your genes you can have an enormous amount of fun
Despite the diverting morsels here, on the downside, Cutler’s book is quite male-oriented and hetero-centric. For example, he offers a ‘quick look at the penis’ and includes lists of slang words for sex, for the penis, and for breasts, but doesn’t have much to say about the female genitalia or about what sex is like for women. And while he does acknowledge the fluidity of sexuality (such as for men during Roman times) and includes a few, brief pages on lesbianism and bisexuality, he generally seems to define sex as ‘the sexual act in which a male animal, including Man, inserts his penis into the female’s vagina’. Cutler also rather zooms through what he appears to think are unusual or uncommon fetishes or orientations. He could have approached the topic of sex from a slightly less conservative and more modern perspective.
Still, on the whole, it’s an entertaining text. It’s the sort of book you can dip in and out of, as each chapter is a titbit, so to speak, of its own. You can learn a few facts with which to impress your friends and lovers and you can refresh your sexual vocabulary (if you’re tired of ‘hand shandy’, you can hire a ‘mackerel’, who may be wearing a ‘merkin’, for a quick ‘roger’ ). In short, it’s a perfect bedtime read to get you in the mood.