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Doing It
"The Joy of Sex" for Today's Reader
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Doing It

"The Joy of Sex" for Today's Reader

In 1961, the British scientist and physician Alex Comfort wrote a novel (his fifth) called “Come Out to Play,” in which his alter ego, Dr. George Goggins, opens a clinic with his girlfriend to teach patients advanced sexual techniques. There he develops a compound called 3-blindmycin, which has the power to turn people on: “not raise the libido,” Comfort later told a journalist, “but thaw the superego, the part of the mind that says ‘mustn’t.’ ” In a climactic scene, an explosion releases a cloud of 3-blindmycin over Buckingham Palace, leaving throngs of uninhibited Englishmen in its wake. Years afterward, Comfort said he’d always hoped that Peter Sellers would play him if the book were made into a film; for his leading lady, he pictured Sophia Loren.
Hollywood seems not to have been interested in the story. But if someone were to make a bio-pic of Comfort’s own life it might well feature a scene intercutting that aphrodisiacal cloud with images from Comfort’s most famous book, the 1972 best-seller “The Joy of Sex.” That, too, was a kind of explosion, intended to unleash its readers’ sexual potential by counteracting their ignorance and shame. “The Joy of Sex,” which has sold more than twelve million copies worldwide, was an “unanxious account of the full repertoire of human heterosexuality,” according to its author. It was the English answer to Japanese pillow books, illustrated texts designed to show couples where to put what, and was further enhanced by helpful advice: for instance, “Never, never refer to pillow-talk in anger later on (‘I always knew you were a lesbian,’ etc.).”