April 12th, 2009


Joys of spring

It is now undoubtedly spring where I am, and possibly where you are too. Spring is, of course, the season of birds, bees and blossom. So I thought I'd make a little round-up of erotic themes today, starting with some arbitrary awards for some shunga I like. These are the ancient, venerable, venereal images the Japanese call "pictures of spring".

Award for the prettiest people in a shunga
Goes to this Utamaro image. Cool hat, nice yukata, sir!

Best supporting octopus award
He looks a bit like ET, says Hisae! I like his headband, and the fact that he can use his limbs as anything he wants them to be, and the fact that his head-veins look so phallic.

Special "Never mind the length, feel the width" award
The shamisen player has hidden talents in this picture by Eizan.

Best incidental detailing
I like the shelf of ornaments and the angles and perspective in this Koryusai image. A glimpse of domestic life in Japan circa 1780.

Gritty realistic details award
Goes to this image of the rapid expulsion of vaginal air known by some as a "queef".

The closest the West has come to the unabashed joy of the shunga tradition is in a didactic textbook called The Joy of Sex, "edited" in 1972 (my favourite year for just about everything, you may have noticed) by Dr Alex Comfort. He was abashed enough to pretend just to be the editor when in fact he wrote the whole damned manual, and even posed for the Polaroids that formed the basis for its funky drawings.

As we learn from Ariel Levy's recent New Yorker article about The Joy of Sex, Dr Comfort was actually fucking his wife's best friend in the pictures. (Artist Charles Raymond has clearly been instructed to make Comfort look a bit younger in the drawings, possibly to disguise his identity.)

Ariel Levy isn't too impressed, even with Dr Comfort's rejuvenated self: "The woman depicted in these drawings is lovely, and, even nearly forty years later, quite chic. Her gentleman friend, however, looks like a werewolf with a hangover. He is heavily bearded; his hair is long, and, it always seemed, a little greasy. His eyelids are usually at half-mast, adding to his feral appearance. In some of the pictures, you can practically smell him. (The smell is unpleasant.) It isn’t easy watching beauty get pawed by the beast..."

In other sex news, I note with pleasure the emergence of Bookkake, an erotic publisher and reading group in London. If The Joy of Sex was billed as a "cordon bleu guide to lovemaking", the Bookkake blog brings things full circle, recommending "the physical pleasures of breadmaking".

"The French word “baguette” literally means stick or rod," the blog tells us, "baguette magique is the Magician’s wand, itself a stand-in for the phallus". This food-as-sex logic explains almost the entire output of contemporary Japanese television.

Finally, I recommend heartily the sex lectures of Professor Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University -- a sexy bearded feral man of the kind Ariel Levy abominates. Lots of interesting things come up, so to speak, in Lecture 1 and Lecture 2 of his Neurobiology of Primate Sexuality, but I'm just going to recount one small detail.

Let's say you're researching the incidence in human sexuality of a taboo sexdeed, one that's even possibly against the sexlaws. How to make your experimental subjects confess, when they fear persecution and even imprisonment by authorities who see the deed differently than they do?

Easy, says Sapolsky. Let's say 10% have done this taboo sexdeed, 90% haven't. Tell your subjects that those who have done the taboo sexdeed should answer the question honestly, ie confess to it. Add that those who haven't done the taboo sexdeed should toss a coin. If it comes up heads, they should say they have done the sexdeed, whether they really have or not. If it comes up tails, they should say they haven't, again regardless of what they've actually done.

This randomizing process will allow the people who have done the taboo sexdeed to confess it, knowing that they have an alibi, should they be challenged, in the shape of the coin. As long as they understand the rules, everyone who did the taboo sexdeed should confess. The researcher then just needs to double the number of people who say they haven't done the non-taboo deed -- everyone else has done the taboo deed.

Neat, huh? These beardy men are clever with their digits!