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Bedside reading for the amorous boudoir
Seattle Times staff critic
Somewhere in the vast and intricate world of book publishing, it has been decided that we don't know how to Do It.
At least, we don't know how to establish intimate romantic relationships with the proper finesse, technique, know-how and understanding.
That is one possible conclusion to draw from the vast avalanche of recent books on the subject. Most, though not all, of the books are explicitly aimed at women, who are, after all, from Venus (and who are perhaps more likely to discuss relationships than their Martian counterparts).
In the interests of advancing public knowledge on this delicate subject, we have amassed a large stack of recent books, and have gone through them carefully for romantic tips on cultivating your own relationship. Sharing these books with one's partner may require a certain amount of tact: you can only imagine the result of announcing, "Honey, I bought this book just for you: 'Intimacy for Dummies.' "
Some of the books are dainty; others are almost scarily graphic. Some urge you toward chastity; others toward sexual voracity. You get to choose.
Women, you must not even kiss the men you are dating, until they promise to marry you. This way, "you won't get bonded to a man before you get the commitment you want from him first." Fléchelle Morin, author of "Kissing or No Kissing: Whom Will You Save Your Kisses For?" (Cheval Publishing, $21.95), says a lip-lock is a no-no because "In kissing and cuddling, most women will start bonding to a man; any man, good or bad. By postponing kissing and cuddling ... it weeds out the non-serious contenders."
Men, your chances of sensual bliss will be enhanced if you praise your partner's body, according to sex expert Barbara Keesling ("Sex So Great She Can't Get Enough," M. Evans and Co., $21.95). Check this out: "If you want to be more graphic to describe what you are seeing, you can always liken her body to flowers or fruit. 'Your legs are like long elegant irises in the spring.' " To be fair, Keesling also includes a lot of specific, helpful points to improve communications in the boudoir.
Regardless of the no-kissing advice (see above), American couples usually hop into bed by that fateful third date, according to author Laurie Seale. But it takes six months to understand a partner's "context and the context of their values," and men who are seeking a full relationship and not just a sex partner will wait that six months to build trust, respect and emotional intimacy. They will also look like Colin Firth. (Just kidding.) The cautionary advice comes from Seale's "The Questions to Ask Before You Jump into Bed" (Perigee Trade Paperback, $14.95), and she also has some good tips for the top 10 questions to ask on a first date. Even though you are likely to feel like the Nazi interrogator in one of those old World War II movies by the time you get to "Do you consider yourself an analytical or creative thinker, or intuitive? Why?"
The Hitachi Magic Wand "wins the Best Vibrator Award." This from the extremely graphic "A Piece of Cake," a primer of female erotica by Melinda Gallagher and Emily Scarlet Kramer (Atria Books, $24).
If a woman wishes to initiate a romantic encounter with her partner, she should "slowly and seductively slide [her] hand up and down [her] wineglass while gazing into his eyes. The key is to make it look as though you are not aware of what you are doing. The message that he receives will be almost subliminal." This is from "Pleasure: The Woman's Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, Need and Deserve," by Hilda Hutcherson, M.D. (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $25.95). Dr. Hutcherson also advises against the consumption of that alleged aphrodisiac, raw goat's testicles ("I'd rather be celibate!").
One thing that probably will not get you in the mood for Valentine's Day, along with those raw goat's testicles: "How Animals Have Sex," a small paperback by David Strorm (Gotham Books, $15). Strorm is a witty guy, and you will assuredly learn something from his book. But the photos and descriptions of various animals in flagrante, including the American Burying Beetle (who gets amorous atop the carcass of a small bird or rodent) and the Argentine Lake Duck (whose sex organ is 41 centimeters long, longer than the duck himself), may make you decide you're never having sex again. Eeeuuuww.
"O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm," by Jonathan Margolis (Grove Press, $13) is one of those definitive-history things that may well have been more fun to research than to read. We hear about the 156 m.p.h. nerve impulses and what is ostensibly the official discovery of the clitoris in 1558 (we bet it was found a whole lot longer ago than that, or Stone Age women would have been uttering "Not tonight, Thog-Or"). We read about the ancient Greeks' appetite for pedophilia, and the fact that "Sex and the City" was only make-believe (you don't say!). The sum of this book is less than the, um, parts.
Our confusion over our own sexual issues is usually surpassed by our terrors about dealing with our children's teen sexuality, which is why Deborah L. Tolman's "Dilemmas of Desire" (Harvard University Press, $15.95) may be particularly useful to parents. The book focuses on what teenage girls think and want, along with some stats that are genuinely worrying: 83 percent of girls have been sexually harassed in school, and one out of five girls has experienced dating or sexual violence during high-school years. Of sexually active girls 15 and under, 40 percent had forced or involuntary sex.
Gail Sheehy's "Sex and the Seasoned Woman" (Random House, $25.95) looks at the other end of the age spectrum, the "second adulthood" — that time when the primary focus no longer is on nurturing children, husbands or careers. Today, healthy women of 50 can expect to live to 92, which gives them a lot of years for "electing to make something magnificent," married or single, out of the rest of life. It may be a bit intimidating to read about some of Sheehy's many case histories (such as the 50-ish dentist who learned to fly and fell passionately in love with her 22-year-old flight instructor, who fell in love right back), but it's also inspiring to think of the possibilities.
"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Intimacy," by Dr. Paul Coleman (Alpha, $18.95), talks about ways to communicate, both verbally and physically, in the many-bold-headlines-and-bullets style that these idiot's guides employ. Some good stuff, along with all the quizzes and "intimacy boosters" and danger signs (in an argument, never, never utter "You're not validating my feelings!" — not that you are likely to, unless you're as fond of jargon as is Dr. Coleman).
Melinda Bargreen: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company