Have you ever seen the movie Kinsey?
A scientist and professor who studies wasps develops an overwhelming interest in sex and is immortalized by his writings on the subject. His good-natured wife is brought along for the ride as Our Hero’s interest grows less academic and more practical. Nice movie. Strong plot, full-frontal male nudity, the works (and I hereby disavow whatever link the editors attached to “full-frontal nudity”).
OK. Now take that same basic plot, replace wasps with snails, and you’ll be reminded of the story of Alex Comfort, author of The Joy of Sex. Sure, there’s some significant differences (Comfort actually went from personal interest into writing, rather than the other way around, and neither of his wives rolled with it as well as Kinsey’s wife is portrayed as doing). But there are echoes, as well.
Comfort’s story is told in The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories, a collection by Pagan Kennedy, who has an awesome pen name (according to Wikipedia, her given first name is Pamela, and Wikipedia is always right!1). In it, we start with a 14-year-old boy blowing his hand off with homemade fireworks, and ends with an 80-year-old stroke victim mourning that his greatest work has become his albatross2. In between, Comfort evolves from awkward, brainy virgin, to married professor with a fetish for watching his wife do manual labor in a bikini, to de facto bigamist, to chronicler of the kinky and crusader against monogamy, using his methodical sexperiments as the basis for his best-know book and living in an orgiastic commune. Later in life, he crusades against ageism, insistent that the human brain is impervious to aging — and then is hit by a series of strokes3.
Kennedy’s other stories revolve around interesting, if less notorious, figures. Scientists figure out how to feed the poor or rewire the brain; a teenage girl becomes a champion weightlifter; a performance artist makes a nuisance of himself; an indie rocker comes into his own. Finally, the book is summed up with a few stories from Kennedy’s own life. She installs a wood stove into her home in order to utilize all the firewood the locals give away on Craigslist; she waxes lovingly on her relationship with her roommate 4; she goes camping; she reflects on her family.
Good move for Kennedy to start with the strongest story and work her way down to the personal fluff. If I wasn’t sucked into the book by her compelling profiles, I’d never give enough of a shit to read the essays at the back of the book.
Overall, I did enjoy it. As with any collection, some works are going to be stronger than others, and some are going to resonate with the reader more than others. That’s to be expected.
I recommend this book — if only because the title will freak out your fellow travelers on the bus. Heh.
1. Obviously not true. Still about as good as Encyclopedia Britannica, though.
2. That’s right, bitches. I’m making you read poetry. You’re gonna get cultured and you’re gonna like it!
3. I’m going to keep on using big words. Dictionary.com works. Look them the fuck up.
4. And now you’re going to waste half your day getting sucked into that site. MuahahahahahaHAHAHAHA!!!! Ahem. Sorry.