Somehow I acquired a copy of Dutch physician T. H. van de Velde‘s Ideal Marriage, published in the United States in 1926, the most popular marriage manual in American until The Joy of Sex came along. Ideal Marriage was wise and tender about love abut euphemistically vague and sometimes criminally misinformed about sex. Van de Velde promulgated the sexist conviction that both partners in an act of intercourse should come to orgasm at the same time. “In normal and perfect coitus,” I read in his book and believed for years afterward, “mutual orgasm must be almost simultaneous; the usual procedure is that the mans’ ejaculation begins and sets the acme of sensation in train at once.” Impossible to measure how much pain that single ignorant sentence caused. It must have baffled hundreds and thousands of men and agonized hundreds of thousands, at least, of women. I took it for God’s truth when I read it–wasn’t it printed in a book? How did Van de Velde arrive at such a bizarre conclusion? From his own experience? From unsupported theory?
Color me baffled too, even if I cannot, like Rhodes, blame Van de Velde for this state of affairs. I did lay my hands on de Velde’s book as a pre-teen boy–a furtive glance or two at a copy that my parents owned, tucked away in some secret hiding place, which I had miraculously uncovered. My heart racing as I realized I was dealing with an illicit text that purported to reveal the secrets and mysteries of an increasingly intriguing and alluring zone of human interaction, I quickly leafed through its pages before hastily replacing it in its sanctum sanctorum and backing away. I promised to return when I had more time, when I was less worried about being caught, but that moment never came again.
But the myth that de Velde sought to perpetuate made the rounds anyway; perhaps in the softcore pulp fiction that I read like a maniac in my pre-teen and teen years, or perhaps in the way that sex was depicted on screen where matters proceeded smoothly between two equally competent partners with nary a touch of awkwardness, anxiety, insecurity, clumsiness, or dissatisfaction. An education–in many dimensions–awaited me in my sexually mature years. Euphemisms and bravado would count for little; only the right kind of hand waving would do.
Note: I own a copy of Alex Comfort‘s The Joy of Sex; a girlfriend and I bought it as a giggle many years ago, and we took turns snickering at its artful pencil drawings and sometimes purple prose. It had dated a little too quickly and now seemed corny (and sexist in all too many of its recommendations and observations.) As I browsed its pages, I was reminded of the computer nerd’s response to Comfort’s catchy title: a guidebook to the X-Windows System titled The Joy of X. I don’t own a copy of that but I wish I did.