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Book Review: The Guide to Getting It On

This story was published November 30, 2006 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

“Kissing can be awkward at times, especially at the start. But even if your lips are so experienced they could dock space shuttles for NASA, you might find some helpful reminders in the pages that follow.”

And so begins the third chapter of the fifth edition of The Guide to Getting It On! Printed by Goofy Foot Press and written by Paul Joannides, this book is a cross between a biology textbook, a romance novel and a dirty magazine. It’s not for the faint of heart. Or the faint of stomach. Or the faint of libido, for that matter.

For starters, it’s 854 pages long. (Perhaps if your partners are unwilling to thumb through the pages, you can just throw the thing at them.) The Guide tackles typical topics like how to increase your physical pleasure during sex, but there’s also a fair amount of history and attention to medical issues — chapter titles range from “Fun With Your Foreskin” to “Sex in the 1800s” to, my personal favorite, “Gnarly Sex Germs.”

Not only is it informative and practically a reference guide, but The Guide to Getting It On! is hysterical. (Bet you didn’t know the term “hysterical” stems from “hystera,” the ancient Greek word for “uterus.”) The pages are peppered with punch lines like, “For some people, you play with their breasts, and BOOM! their genitals are on fire. For others, you are better off reading them their constitutional rights than tweaking their titties.”

It’s funny but not in a bathroom-humor way. Many jokes center around embarrassing bedroom mishaps: “Trying to define sex is a lot like trying to insert a diaphragm: just when you think you’ve got it in, the thing turns ninja on you.” The one-liners are mitigated by the book’s heavy emphasis on health, which is highlighted by a chapter entitled “Sex When You Are Horny & Disabled.” ‘Nuff. Said.

This is not a book you should read in public. The diaphragms, er, diagrams range from medical to Mesozoical. The picture bisecting the penis is absolutely revolting, while the depiction of tyrannosaurus rex sex is just plain weird. Although it changes the notion of getting tail.

Sure, there’s lots of talk about how to get the most pleasure from sex. That’s one purpose of the Guide. On the other hand, a lot of attention is paid to issues like body image and sex in the view of society. Sex is treated both tenderly and brutally. There’s talk of romance, but there are also abrupt statements like, “If all you plan on doing is making out, be sure to put your gum in a safe place where you can find it later. It will help take the edge off until you can go home and masturbate.”

Mince words they do not. But neither do they mince facts. One chapter discusses whether swallowing semen affects blood sugar levels — a concern for diabetics. The longest chapter is about sex in the 1800s, and it is here that the book stretches towards its highest goal: an anthropology-like study of sex in American society. This chapter discusses the role of prostitutes in shaping the American nation, the historical prevalence of pornography and soldier-to-soldier oral sex during the Civil War.

There’s even a list of gritty romance novels of the day: “Scenes in a Nunnery,” “The Lady in Flesh Coloured Tights” and “The Wanton Widow.” The Guide further links sex and books (cliterature, anyone?) by analyzing a passage in Oliver Twist. Apparently little Oliver spent the majority of the book talking about masturbation, and all those 10th grade English classes just didn’t realize it. What were we thinking?

The Guide’s biggest flaw is that Joannides recites percentages and facts but fails to cite his sources. Some of his sociological conclusions are a bit of a stretch, especially when he relies heavily on personal anecdotes to discuss nationwide issues. If Joannides were to make this book a TV series, it would be called “Sex and the Psyche,” and that wouldn’t be a good thing.

Some advice is useful: Antihistamines will not only dry up your nose but also your … fluids. (Cold medicine equals cold bed.) Unfortunately, some advice is little more than a self-serving joke, like, “Unicorns need to be extra-careful when it comes to oral sex.” That’s just corny.

The Guide to Getting It On! is a layman’s guide to becoming a, well, laid-man. But, it’s also a compilation; it has instructions and techniques for increasing physical pleasure, and it’s a useful amalgam for anyone who wants to increase their general awareness of sexual topics. Everyone should read it. Just not in public.

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