After 38 years, the hirsute lothario on the cover of “The Joy of Sex” has finally gotten a shave and a haircut, and the woman in his arms has finally gotten equal time. But the underlying message of the new and updated version of America’s venerable boudoir book is the same:
Sex is fun.
Susan Quilliam, the British sexologist and author who rewrote Alex Comfort’s iconic book, stopped by the TODAY show Wednesday to talk first to Meredith Vieira and then with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford about the first major revision to the nation’s unofficial sex manual.
Oldie but goodie
The book was published in 1972 and, Vieira said, it seems every baby boomer has a story about the first time they saw it — often after finding it hidden in their parents’ bedroom. Vieira said she remembers her first encounter with the book at the age of 18.
“I didn’t know whether to look at it or look away from it,” Vieira told Quilliam.
The author said that the changes in the new edition go far beyond the updated man on the cover — a guy with close-cropped, semi-spiked hair that The Washington Post compared to “J. Crew sex.”
“An awful lot has changed,” Quilliam said. “First of all, the science has completely changed. We know so much more about how sex works, how our bodies work. We know about hormones. We know about pheromones.
“But also, the cultural context has changed,” she continued. “We now live in a sexualized society. We are surrounded by images.”
There are 43 major revisions in the new book, according to the publisher, Random House. Sections about sex on horseback and motorcycles have been deleted, as have references to frigidity in women. The latter have been replaced with advice to women on how to empower themselves sexually, Quilliam said.
The female factor
Although the new edition incorporates new knowledge reflecting advances in technology, science and the female perspective, the most basic change is in its approach.
“It was written by a man for men,” Quilliam told Kotb and Gifford.
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Comfort, who died in 2000, “was leading-edge for his time,” Quilliam said. “[But] the book is nearly 40 years old, and lot has changed. Sexuality hasn’t changed, but we have Internet sex, we have phone sex … We also know the dangers.”
In its review of the book, The Washington Post was more blunt: “It really did need an update. Sections of the original read like shag-carpeted relics. The anti-condoms attitude, especially, but also the sex on horseback (we're outraged, too, PETA); the aversion to shaving anything (especially the hairy man); and the assertion that regular orgies were the way of the future (only in some exurbs). Reading him 37 years later, Comfort sounds a lot like your lecherous great-uncle.”
Quilliam spent two years working on the revision, always striving to maintain Comfort’s entertaining tone. She talked with Vieira about the changes in society and attitudes she discovered since the book was originally published.
Video: Sexologist: Regain ‘The Joy of Sex’ “In some ways, we have a new hedonism. We are very liberated,” she said. “[But] there is also a new puritanism. We are aware of the dangers of sex. We know that people can die for it, can kill for it, can live for it, and therefore we take it more seriously — or need to take it more seriously.”
More editions to come
The book is still decidedly heterosexual, but Quilliam said she and Random House are working on separate versions of “Joy” for gays and for the disabled.
Quilliam said that the illustrations and pictures — some of them explicit— were updated for what she calls a “pillow book.”
“This is not only for information, but also for inspiration. These illustrations are meant not only to teach, but also to arouse,” she told Vieira. “We hope people will find the illustrations exciting and appealing, and they will put them in the mood.”
Vieira asked Quilliam what questions she hears most in her sexology practice.
“Particularly in these times of stress and economic climate, I get a lot of questions about loss of desire,” she replied. “That’s where the book comes in. We need to reclaim our joy in sex. Properly contextualized in a loving relationship, it’s a wonderful thing.”
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