At this point I have to confess that I am a self-help erotomaniac with a bit of a taste for a dash of voyeurism and/or exhibitionism. Not only did I get a kick out of inventing, organizing, writing and compiling fab magazine's annual gay sex surveys but I also happily tested Dr Christopher Culligan's invention the Predicktor as well as the Andropenis Enlargement Kit. Obviously I feel/felt little shame in my own sexuality or my interest in that of others. And then the good folks at Raincoast Books sent me two intriguing books that dispelled any qualms I had about any of my prurient interests.
Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering is a fascinating read but not for the lurid reasons one might think. Yes, there is a cataloguing of "deviant" desires and some must-read recounting of unusual sexual practices both present and historical, but Bering is after more than titillation or cataloguing. His central thesis is that everyone has deviant desires and that the concept of perversion is a social construction.
“In the unforgiving lair of another's critical eyes, you have now been transformed irrevocably into a filthy, loathsome pervert. And that's the feeling, this fetid social emotion of shame, that I want you to keep in your mind as you read this book. We're going to get to the bottom of where it comes from, and we're going to do our best to smother it with reason in our efforts to stop it from hurting you and others in the future.”
Bering describes growing into a gay man and how many times that he felt like a pervert. Times change and his "perversion" is, to an extent, now socially acceptable.Perv aims to do the same for other acts or fantasies, while being careful to exclude anything that causes harm to another (doing no harm is Bering's basic criteria for an acceptable sexual fetish or desire). Bering makes important distinctions between fantasy and action while making a valiant attempt to pull together reams of sexual research, both scientific and wacky, all very meticulously footnoted and clearly explained.
Fortunately Bering is also a very entertaining writer and Perv is full of quips and comic bits that keep the material from being dry or academic. However this also creates a slight dissonance when he jokes about some of the more unusual sexual quirks: shouldn't a book advocating acceptance of all desires be respectful of even the most bizarre? It is a tricky balancing act and Bering for the most part manages admirably - no matter how vanilla or gleefully perverse one is, Perv is a book that is compulsive reading.
Why Men Fake It: The Truth About Men and Sex also has a central thesis and it is an intriguing one. Dr Abraham Morgentaler is a urologist specializing in the male equipment. During the course of his career he purports to have discovered "the truth about men and sex." According to Dr Morgentaler men don't want to just get off, there self-image is invested in pleasing their partners and getting them off; hence the titular reference to a man who consistently faked orgasm to please his partner.
The case studies are fascinating. Morgentaler guides the reader through cures for erectile dysfunction, penis reconstruction, the fallacies of phallic envy, the value of testosterone replacement therapy for lagging libido and the creation of functioning penises for FTMs. Any man experiencing any sexual dysfunction or fear would be very lucky to have a consultation with Dr Morgentaler. There is also a bonus in Morgentaler's descriptions of his clients: his observations and word sketches read like an erotic film noir filtered through a very gay sensibility.
Unfortunately Why Men Fake It as a whole has a hetero-centric focus reflecting Morgentaler's patients even though Morgentaler admits that straight men are the least likely to seek help or advice, paradoxically making them the least likely to read this book. However Morgentaler is not judgemental and there is a chapter, towards the end, that chronicles his dealings with gay patients, but there is a real sense that he doesn't really understand the use of a penis for anything other than heterosexual intercourse and enhancing self-esteem (ok the last part is also very gay).
With any luck, Dr Morgentaler will read Perv and if he and Bering were to collaborate, the world's sexual landscape would change and none of us would ever have to fake anything again.
Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us and Why Men Fake It: The Truth About Men and Sex are available at Glad Day Bookshop and other fine book retailers.