by Tristan Taormino
(Regan Books) $25
Like many children of the '70s, one of my first encounters with written information about human sexuality was discovering my parents' copy of Alex Comfort's hedonistic hippie manual The Joy of Sex. Despite my confusion over why any woman would want to have sex with the exceedingly unattractive, hairy man depicted in the book's illustrations, I was fascinated by the apparent depth of detail offered by the author. To my inexperienced eyes, it seemed that Comfort was covering absolutely everything one could accomplish sexually.
It wasn't until 20 years later, while thumbing through a marginally revised '90s edition of The Joy of Sex, that I realized how woefully incomplete and narrow-minded Comfort's book was. The hairy man and his unfortunate companion had been replaced with artsy black-and-white photos, but the text still brimmed with stereotypical views of male and female desire (women always needed lots of loving foreplay and men were easily aroused) and borderline discriminatory takes on what Comfort apparently perceived as sexual deviance (anal sex and BDSM were frowned upon).
Thankfully, just as my disgust was reaching a fevered pitch, the market was flooded with an intelligent and progressive selection of publications that would start the process of burying Comfort's archaic constructs. One of the best was The Guide to Getting It On (Joannides and Gross, Goofy Foot Press), one of the most forthright, easily applied, and genuinely funny sex manuals ever written. There was also a spirited selection of more specialized guides being released, covering everything from the art of vaginal fisting (A Hand in the Bush, Addington, Greenery Press) to BDSM for dummies (The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book, Easton and Liszt, Greenery Press).
One of the most popular topical offerings was The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, by Tristan Taormino. Her femme-friendly manifesto about enthusiastically "unlocking the backdoor" flew off the shelves, as did two well-marketed tie-in products: a silicone butt plug, skillfully designed by Taormino herself, and a delectably dirty three-hour video, also directed by and starring Taormino. The twentysomething Brooklynite quickly parlayed her success into a remarkable career, admirably criss-crossing the country teaching anal-sex workshops, peddling dildos at a woman-owned New York City sex-toy store, and landing herself a column in the Village Voice. She also started to sell herself on some more mainstream, less impressive circuits, including The Howard Stern Show.
I suppose I should have taken Taormino's career trajectory as a sign of worse things to come, but I felt optimistic upon hearing her next book would be a sex manual. Surely a Gen-XXX, lesbian-friendly, anal-sex evangelist would have something new and sassy to contribute to erotic discourse. Unfortunately, Pucker Up: A Hands-On Guide to Ecstatic Sex has virtually nothing new to say; and even worse, its strongest moments are merely reworkings of original works by pro-sex feminists who paved the road for Taormino's success.
The nine shabbily edited chapters certainly cover the basics, and Taormino's hardly guilty of Comfort-caliber Puritanism, but she lifts rather shamelessly from three obvious sources. The text of chapter one, "Redefining Erogenous Zones and Orgasm," is clearly inspired by the groundbreaking book A New View of a Woman's Body (Feminist Women's Health Federation); the hipster political polemics sprinkled throughout are straight from the gospel according to pro-perv pioneer Susie Bright; and nearly all of the remaining advice and instruction can be found in equal and more articulate parts in The New Good Vibrations Guide to Sex (Winks and Semans, Down There Press) or The Guide to Getting It On.
She's definitely pilfering from the best, but aside from a grocery list of ambiguous thank-yous and the index of resources, she does little to acknowledge or expand upon the work that has come before her--and she is either miraculously oblivious to this fact or deceptively obscuring her own artificial zeitgeist. "A revolution is in order, and as The Joy of Sex was part of the sexual revolution of the 1970s, so I offer my new guide: I like to think of it as The Joy of Fucking," she declares smugly in her introduction. Such self-generated accolades may have some validity, if only because Taormino's vision is as disappointingly short-sighted as her baby-boomer predecessor.