The Eternal Garden. By Sally Wendkos. Olds Times Books. $17.95.

Even in this high-tech age, the human rites of passage -- particularly sexual ones -- remain a source of constant interest, if not obsession.

In "The Eternal Garden," author Sally Wendkos Olds crafts a graceful and sensitive survey on the eight major stages in human sexual and emotional growth -- from infancy through old age. Her conclusions, based on interviews with more than 100 volunteers, are credible and suggest that although we are living in a fiercely demanding time, romance seems to be back in style.

Olds' dialogue with her subjects reflects several important themes. First, of course, she finds that marriage is no longer a sexual milestone but rather a romantic one. And while young people are arriving at sexual maturation earlier than in past decades, these sexual experiences are more and more meaningful.

Olds has discovered that the effects of these early sexual experiences remain thoughout life -- and that our viewpoint on sex is in many ways a determining factor in other aspects of our emotional lives.

For example, one middle-aged woman explained her first sexual encounter as very meaningful, and, although she did not marry this person, she remained close to him for a long time. Even though she was not explicitly aware of it during her first sexual encounter, it was clear that sex was not casual for her then, nor did it ever become casual.

In addition to interviews with volunteers, Olds interviewed psychologic and psychiatric experts on sexuality and has painstakingly researched social science literature.

"The Eternal Garden" is written in 12 chapters which identify sexual goals in differing periods of human growth. From the "Sensual Seedling" passage of infancy to the "Stands of Evergreens" of the later years, the author presents a complete review of our sexual yearnings and transitions as we move through the different stages of our life and become more sophisticated.

With equal throughness, Olds poses some critical and less well understood questions -- how casual sex affects marriage, for instance, and how parenthood affects sexuality. Although there are no pat answers to these complex questions, the subjects interviewed in "The Eternal Garden" reveal some touching insights. -- Marina Newmyer How to Cut Down on Your Social Drinking. By Richard A. Basini. G.P. Putnam's Sons. $13.95.

It's anybody's guess about which will be remaindered first, this little Handbook on Denial, its author or the editors at Putnam's who let this grim prank get into print in the first place.

The author, Richard A. Basini, who is billed as a public relations practitioner and writer, has produced a classic study of the denial part of the disease of alcoholism: the belief that everything will be all right if only one can find the right number of drinks, the right combination, the right time of day, the right ambience, the right sequence; that life will be sweet if only one can maintain that three-martini high throughout the moment, the day, the week, the month, the year. Better living through chemistry, and bookkeeping.

In the beginning Basini writes: "This book will offer you specific tips from successful people to help you keep your drinking at a level you feel good about. You'll learn how to plan your drinking in advance, how to drink less so that every drink is a treat. You'll learn to take control over just how many drinks you have on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. You'll learn that you can plan your social drinking in the same way you plan your vacation, your diet, or your monthly budget."

And, so saying, Basini presents a series of numbered tips and charts and lists and little tricks to get more bang for the booze buck, little tips like having sex instead of having a drink before heading out to a cocktail party, thus having fun and coincidentally saving drinking capacity for when it really counts.

Basini would have you making lists and counting and spending all your non-drinking time either planning for when you are going to be drinking or remembering when it was you had a good time drinking. Get this little piece of wisdom about giving a party: "There's no reason to feel that you have to get all your guests pie-eyed in order to earn yourself a reputation as a good host, even though people do have a tendency to remember a party fondly when it has been the kind of party they have trouble remembering at all" italics added .

The fierce irony of all this is that no social drinker will look at this book on the counter or shelf, and none will be able to make any use of it. Social drinkers do not count the number of drinks they are going to have this coming weekend, and do not need to punish themselves (a tip in this little book) by jogging a mile every morning for every drink they had the night before. Social drinkers do not count their drinks, nor do they count yours. And social drinkers do not find times when they have to join a luncheon or dinner companion in a drink because it is expected of them. As a matter of fact, the only person who is expected to have a drink in every social situation is a problem drinker.

After William Holden's alcoholic death a few years ago another celebrity recalled an instance when he and Holden and then-actor Ronald Reagan stopped for a drink at a lounge. They had one, and the waitress came back and asked if they would like another. "Sure," Holden said. "Sure," said the storyteller, who now calls himself a recovered alcoholic.

"Why do you need another one?" asked Ronald Reagan, a social drinker. "We just had one." -- Robert H. Williams