This week I’m reviewing a book by Sexologist and Clinic Psychologist, Dr. Pamela Stephenson-Connolly.
Pamela starts off with a fascinating methodology, and one I think is wholly appropriate to the subject matter. She explains that rather than using dry stats and scientific studies, she’s going to use a more personal approach, bringing in individual interviews, and using storytelling to demystify sex and get a more honest dialogue going (something, she argues, we need more of as a society).
Pamela chooses to focus on the West, a decision I was a tad disappointed with as I have always believed bringing in some of the more ‘radical’ ideas of how the other side lives is useful for showing how ‘our way’ is not the only way, and the East is certainly the best place to look for alternative perspectives on sex and gender.
Interestingly, Pamela explicitly chooses not to break the break the book down based on “sexuality, disability” etc, but isn’t entirely post-structuralist in her approach, instead, she uses the structure of age, to show how our lives move forward. I am sure this is a wise way of formatting it as our path through life as sexual beings based on age is a universal approach, but I do worry that we can over-merge different people, ignoring the unique cultural heritage specific to say, gay men, or trans people, which gives a distinct cultural aspect to sexual expression.
Pamela then launches into a narrative that is highly personal, setting the tone for the book, by revealing that she was just peering across at a male model in his underpants being photographed in the tower block opposite. I like this use of personal talk, as I think sex researchers should be willing to put themselves out there in a vulnerable way if that’s what they expect others to do for them.
Pamela says her aim for this book is to teach us about our ‘sex beast’, a rehash of the old Jungian concept of the shadow. We all have one, and we all must learn it, and manage it, Pamela argues.
Pamela begins the journey at year zero, taking on the controversial position every sexologist must take, by reminding us that even fetuses in the womb have erections, as shown in modern ultrasounds. This dialogue immediately makes the average reader feel uncomfortable, as sex and babies should simply never go together. We are all culturally indoctrinated with the idea that we are all born innocent and sexuality free, and then suddenly it springs up at age 16 when the law says it’s OK – an argument that’s never been based in scientific reality
Tackling this issue in an honest way does not make us suddenly advocates for paedophiles, a point Dr. Stephenson-Connolly is quick to make, as biological realities don’t necessarily advocate a change in our cultural mores and ethical stances.
She continues her fearless approach, discussing teenage boys circle jerking and even delving into incest, bringing in a story of a girl who regularly engaged in sexual intercourse with her father, a story bound to make the average reader cringe. Dr. Stephenson-Connolly reminds us she is exactly that, and must, therefore, maintain objectivity and impartiality, she is not there to take on the role of Judge, she says.
This approach does allow one to feel much more comfortable with the idea that sex – and gender – are as diverse and complex as personality itself, something those of us in the field of sexual research understand all too well, but the everyday approach of the book does a good job here of demystifying some of these aspects, even bringing in the subject of aging and disability, and the impact of kids on couples sex lives (I particularly enjoyed the tip to rub Vaseline on the door knob to stop little hands being able to open them).
All in all, the book does do a good job of explaining the general theme that sexuality is lifelong and complex, and everyone has to understand their self and practice what they wish within the framework of SAFE, SANE AND CONSENSUAL.
Where it perhaps falls short, is through it’s ‘overview’ approach, it lacks the in-depth discussion on the specific areas people may struggle with, and through its conversational tone, Pamela’s medically credible voice risks becoming reduced, to the point it may be too much like reading a magazine of interviews, and not enough a book that was written by an expert in the field with much in the way of practical tips, expert support, research findings and scientific facts on the subject – but that may just be my mind as a researcher.