AT MY HIGH SCHOOL, back in the Dark Ages when sex was thought to run itself on instinct and the natural criminal connivings of teen-agers, we had a literary magazine of some pretension. It was published twice a year in a tasteful soft binding, usually with a student woodcut on the cover depicting, abstractly, the winter moon or the perenially dying school elm. The magazine's poems and short stories were usually full of references to the moon, and they were mournful and dripping with the juices of unfulfilled love. Some nasty illiterates once complained to the faculty editor that the magazine was horribly depressing, and they crudely asked for more cheerful stuff. "Happy students," he replied, "do not sit in their rooms writing poetry."
One wonders what will happen to the literary impulses of the young people whose parents give them The Facts of Love for Christmas. The authors, Alex and Jane Comfort, one of whom (Alex) brought us the phenomenally wide-selling The Joy of Sex, have this to say about "the sort of 'love' there has to be between people to make sex something great for both of them:"
"Two people love each other when they like and care for each other just as they find each other. They want to please each other and share with each other. They are comfortable together, and want to be absolutely sure that each gives the other someting good an special, not bad feelings afterward."
Somehow that doesn't get it across.
But perhaps the teen-agers' Christmas gift will instead be Helen Singer Kaplan's Making Sense of Sex. For Kaplan: "Love is an intense and profound experience which can become the center of one's life. When you are in love, your perceptions change. You tend to undervalue yourself and to over value your lover. You see your lover as the most wonderful, marvelous, beautiful, attractiv, special, etc., etc., etc., person in the world. When in his presence you feel strong emotion -- you are high. Your heart beats faster, you feel elated, you feel stronger, quicker, and infinitely more sensuous and sexual. You are at peace when you are togethere, and restless or in agony when you are apart . . ." Etc. Etc.
She is getter warmer, and if she had made the experience sound a little more unhappy, it might have qualified for the high school literary magazine.
Both of these books are perfectly adequate for what their authors have set out to do, which seems to be to cash in on the sexual anxieties of Americans presumably younger than those who a decade ago were reading Masters and Johnson and David Rubin and who more recently consumer The Joy of Sex. But if exploitation in publishing also serves a need, then these books deserve praise. They will smooth some anxious young brows.
Kaplan's book written in quite clinical terms, using the tone of a confident scientist. It gives detailed, illustrated explanations of sexual responses, sexual development, male and female orgasm and the range of available contraceptive devices. The illustrations are tastefully done, with a clear effort to avoid prurience. Even though the book includes one drawing of an ejaculating penis, there is no illustration of sexual intercourse -- though, with the captioned comment, this "puts together all the pieces," there are two drawings of an erect penis inside a vagina, but shown isolated, as if sliced out of living bodies, so that the effect is as sexless as that of any old-fashioned biology textbook illustration of the internal sex organs.
Kaplan takes such pains to explain that the varieties of sexual response are "normal" -- in fact "normal" is probably the most oft-used work in her book -- that the word begins to lose its meaning. This seems more a failure of vocabulary than of expertise. She does say that confusion about one's "gender" is considered abnormal by most psychiatrists.
Her book appears to be written for sexually active teen-agers, for it is quite explicit and long-winded on the subject of sexual malfunction, offering reassurance at such length that one could malfunction just reading so much about how not to do so.
The Comforts' book state that it is written for an audience aged 11 and up, and its language is simplier, much more readable than the language of Kaplan's book. Its message is more strongly for restraint. The Comforts take also a different view of homosexuality; they do not call it abnormal, and they preach tolerance toward homosexuals. They too, give clear, illustrated explantations of birth control devices. They call creation of an unwanted pregnacy an irresponsible act. Kaplan calls it a tragedy.
The illustrations in the Comfort's book, done in the soft penciled style of the drawings in The Joy of sex, also show a careful effort to avoid prurience, though the book does include attractive drawings of naked boys and girls at various stages of growth, as well as one drawing of a naked couple, laughing together, breasts exposed, beneath bedclothes.
In each book, too, the authors are at pains to caution the young aginst engaging in sex when they do not really wish to, and each book includes a brief socialolgically informed summary of the different value systems in American society.
The young teen-agers I know are all reading Judy Blume and, when they are not, like to talk about what non-sex-related objects they are going to buy next. They seem to think that adults should be respectful of their privacy an probably also of their superior knowledge about most matters of importance, and they resent adults' interrupting their acquisition fantasies with questions like, "Do you have a girlfriend (boyfriend)?"
Instead of giving my teenager acquaintances one of these books, I think I woudl give them both books -- just to confuse them about homosexuality, normalcy and the nature of love. After all, those of use who suffered through the Dark Ages have to have some way of vising our miseries on the generation to come, or they won't every write poetry. And what better way than to give them sex books that tell them not do it until they really want to?