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Video: ‘The Joy of Sex,’ revised

  1. Transcript of: ‘The Joy of Sex,’ revised

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Back now at 8:20. This morning on TODAY'S RELATIONSHIPS , " The Joy of Sex ." The 1972 how-to manual had an instant impact on how millions viewed the touchy topic of intimacy. But over the past 37 years, attitudes towards sex have shifted. So now that classic is being updated. A word of warning to parents: the following segment is for a mature audience.

    VIEIRA: Sex. It never fails to pique interest. Who's having it?

    VIEIRA: Who's not.

    VIEIRA: And who's got the moves. In 1972 , " The Joy of Sex " by Dr. Alex Comfort hit book shelves and sent shock waves through the American bedroom. It featured illustrations of a hippy-looking couple and offered advice on everything from basic positions to how to have sex on a motorcycle. The sexual revolution was in full swing and an emphasis on pleasure had taken hold.

    VIEIRA: Instantly popular, the book sold over eight million copies in 14 different languages...

    VIEIRA: ...proving that Dr. Comfort might have known a thing or two when it comes to making love .

    VIEIRA: Me, too. So what's new when it comes to " The Joy of Sex "? Sexologist Susan Quillam wrote the revisions to the classic book . Susan , good morning to you.

    Dr. SUSAN QUILLAM ("The Joy of Sex: The Ultimate Revised Edition"): Good morning.

    VIEIRA: We were saying in the break, everybody in a certain age group has a " Joy of Sex " story. I was 18 when this book came out. I remember I didn't know whether to look at it or look away from it. But this was meant to be a manual. It was meant to say sex is good. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It came out around the same time as the birth control pill . The birth control pill had been out a few years, I guess, by then, and people were saying that sex wasn't just for procreation. But what has changed so dramatically since this book came out that you need a revision?

    Dr. QUILLAM: An awful lot has changed . 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 . We now live in a sexualized society. We are surrounded by images. And finally, yes, there are a few new techniques. There is, for example, Internet sex and phone sex and a few other things which it's far too early in the morning to mention.

    VIEIRA: Also, the original book that had -- as you said to me earlier, had an innocence to it. We're not so innocent about sex anymore.

    Dr. QUILLAM: I totally agree. When I was revising the book, which took about two years, I realized slowly that although we, in some ways, say we have a new hedonism, you know, we are very liberated, 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 much more seriously. Or perhaps we need to take it much more seriously.

    VIEIRA: There's also the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

    Dr. QUILLAM: Absolutely.

    VIEIRA: We know much more about that now. And HIV , obviously, wasn't happening in 1972 .

    Dr. QUILLAM: Absolutely.

    VIEIRA: And also, interesting that the revision would be done by a woman, because in this revised book, you take on the woman's perspective on sex, something that was not done in the original.

    Dr. QUILLAM: Dr. Alex Comfort was a man, and it was a book written by a man for men. What the publisher wanted when they interviewed and employed me to do the revisions -- sadly, Dr. Comfort is now dead -- was a woman to give a woman's perspective, a balanced gender perspective, and I think I've done that.

    VIEIRA: You know, we were joking, or teasing each other before about some -- the graphic images in this book, the illustrations. In the original, kind of a scruffy-looking guy with the beard and the hair. This is the revised edition , obviously cleaned up. Almost a J.Crew look, one columnist said about these illustrations. But it -- you kept them in. You revised them, but kept them in. Why was it so important that you have those pictures in this book?

    Dr. QUILLAM: This is a book not only for information, but also for inspiration. The Japanese would call it a pillow book . So these illustrations are meant not only to teach, but also, yes, to arouse. We hope that people will find the illustrations exciting and appealing, and they will put them in the mood.

    VIEIRA: You are a sexologist, right?

    Dr. QUILLAM: Yes.

    VIEIRA: So you get a lot of questions directed your way about sex. Is there a particularly common one, one that you hear over and over?

    Dr. QUILLAM: Nowadays, particularly in these times of stress and the economic climate, I get a lot of questions about loss of desire, and I have to say...

    VIEIRA: Loss of desire?

    Dr. QUILLAM: Desire. That's where the book comes in. We need to reclaim our joy in sex and realize that properly contextualized, with a loving relationship , it's a wonderful thing.

    VIEIRA: You know, homosexuality has become much more widely accepted as a lifestyle, but this book really is a heterosexual look at sex. Why is that?

    Dr. QUILLAM: The book is gay-positive, but what we're doing is we're building the brand and doing a whole new raft of books to follow on from " Joy of Sex ," one of which will be gay-focused, and another one will be disabled-focused. So this is heterosexual, but we plan to do books to cater for all tastes.

    VIEIRA: And what do you hope that people will learn from this new, revised edition ?

    Dr. QUILLAM: Oh, to take sex seriously, to enjoy it, and to reclaim the joy in it.

    VIEIRA: To reclaim the joy in it, which is the whole reason why it was written in the first place . Dr. Quillam , thank you so much .

    Dr. QUILLAM: Thank you.

TODAY contributor
updated 1/14/2009 11:41:12 AM ET 2009-01-14T16:41:12

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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