The Joy of Sex

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The Joy of Sex was an illustrated sex manual by Alex Comfort, M.D., Ph.D., first published in 1972. An updated edition was released in September, 2008.


It was the first illustrated, serious such manual to gain wide distribution—at least in modern America. (One might argue, for instance, that the Kama Sutra provided somewhat similar information over 1,000 years before.) Earlier works, such as the 1966 Human Sexual Response by William H. Masters & Virginia E. Johnson, were more circumspect and clinical. Conversely, The Joy of Sex is rather circumspect and clinical in comparison to The Guide to Getting it On, published 20 years later.

The Joy of Sex spent eleven weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list and more than 70 weeks in the top five (1972–1974).

The original intention was to use the same mainstream approach as such books as The Joy of Cooking, hence section titles include "starters" and "main courses". The book features sexual practices such as oral sex and various sex positions as well as bringing "farther out" practices as sexual bondage and swinging to the attention of the general public.

The original version contained numerous illustrations by Chris Foss based on original photographs of the book's art director and his wife. The illustrations have become somewhat dated, mainly because of changes in hairstyles. Both the illustrations and text are titillating as well as illustrative, in contrast to the bland, clinical style of earlier books about sex. More recent editions feature new artwork, and added text emphasizing safer sex.

Although the original took a negative view of practices such as anal sex, newer versions reversed previously-supportive positions on topics such as swinging as extensive textual changes were made at the height of the 1980's AIDS panic.

A pocket book version entitled, The Joy of Sex, the Pocket Edition was also published. The book won the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year in 1997.

The Joy of Sex did not address homosexual sex beyond a definitional level. Though there was a careful (for the day) treatment of bondage, other BDSM activities received definitional coverage at best. The book played a part in what is often called the sexual revolution.

Updated 2008 edition

Publishers Mitchell Beazley have announced the release of an updated edition of the book to be launched in September 2008. The new edition has been rewritten and reinvented by relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam, and approved by Nicholas Comfort, the original author's son.

25% more material has been added to the book, and the remaining text has been radically rewritten from both a factual and psychological viewpoint to take into account social shifts since 1972. The new edition not only presents a more balanced female/male perspective but also boasts 120 completely re-shot photographs and re-drawn illustrations.

The quirky style - and the message of the book, that sex is fun - remain the same. Mitchell Beazley are marketing the "New Joy" with the subtitle "a thinking person's guide to sex".

This page uses content from SM-201; the original article can be viewed here.
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