Reviewed: Joannides, P. Guide to Getting It On Oregon: Goofyfoot Press, 2012.
Despite its ubiquity in popular media, sexuality remains a contentious subject to write about honestly. It’s also a subject so vast and interconnected with all aspects of human experience that a definitive treatment is simply not possible. Faced with these challenges, the authors of the great sex manuals of the past forty years have risen to the task and in so doing, they have each chosen to stake their claim, marking a territory and approach to a topic that is both intensely sought after and hotly contested.
Older manuals opted for a medical approach, writing about sex as if it’s a science and about us as if we are numbers waiting to be slotted into the appropriate survey demographic. More contemporary sex manuals have taken up social and political concerns, tying our sexual enlightenment with social emancipation.
The Guide to Getting It On, which in 2012 celebrated its 16th year in print and 7th edition, stands apart from all previous sex manuals both in its approach and content. Neither medical nor political (though with generous references to both throughout) the Guide to Getting It On may be the great personal sex manual of our time, and it is inarguably the most comprehensive sex guide in print.
As a sex manual that first and foremost celebrates individual differences in the expression of sexuality, it’s fitting that the book reflects something of its author. Both are unpretentious, direct, and in awe of the wonders of sex. And both Paul Joannides and his 1,184-page book seem to be in a constant state of development and self-education. The sheer heft of the Guide offers readers something no other book can: an appreciation of the healthy variety of sexual expression and an understanding that our differences may not be nearly as great as our similarities when it comes to sex.
About the Book:
Joannides’ tone is both personal and professional. He doesn’t sound like your best friend, your older sister, or your doctor. In his writing he comes across as a nice guy, a good listener, and someone who understands the system enough to let you know when you’re being lied to and who has a subtle enough understanding to remind you that any sexual subject can be approached in a multitude of ways.
The information presented in the Guide to Getting It On is a similar blend of professionalism and personality. Joannides clearly relishes research and critical thinking, and readers benefit from his tireless efforts to keep the text updated (the current edition is the seventh revision, and speaking with Joannides, one gets the impression that he begins work on the next revision the minute a new one is released).
Despite its comprehensive use of research, the Guide to Getting It On is far from clinical or dry, and each chapter includes personal stories from readers and occasionally the author himself. The anecdotal approach doesn’t always work and there are sections where I found the casual tone and personal voice of the author to be off-putting. But this is the price you pay for being a truly personal sex manual, and on balance the book benefits from this approach.
Trying to write about everything related to sex is an impossible task and Joannides does an admirable job of tackling a wide range of topics all in one book. The book is divided into nine sections ranging from “How To & Then Some” to “Sex and the Human Condition” to “Sex in History & Popular Culture." Each section is further broken down into detailed subsections each tackling a specific topic, including:
- The Importance of Getting Naked
- Orgasms, Sunsets, and Hand Grenades
- Sex & Diabetes
- Nipples, Nipples, Nipples
- Fun with your Foreskin
- Kinky Corner
- Sex During Your Period
- The Dirty Word Chapter
- Same Sex Fun and Lovin’
- Intercourse – Horizontal Jogging
- Sex During Pregnancy
- The Horny Pill & Patch
The structure of the book (along with an index and glossary) allows readers to devote as much or as little time as they have to reading up on a topic. Overall this is another example of the author’s desire to make a supremely readable and usable sex manual. At no point in reading the Guide to Getting It On does one feel like one has to read the whole thing in order to benefit. Never does the author suggest that you’re missing the important stuff if you skip one section or another.
One of the strengths of the book is the way it focuses on very specific sexual topics (like the medicalizing of sexual desire, or how to negotiate a threeway) without losing the larger context. You could say this is one of the benefits of having a sex manual that’s over 1000 pages long, but length alone isn’t enough (something I learned in Chapter Five). It’s how Joannides uses his text that counts, and this is where the Guide is elevated from a comprehensive collection of information to a truly functional and personal sex manual.
Weaving one’s way through the chapters, flipping back and forth from gender bending to genital warts to group sex, a space is created for readers to begin to imagine what they want their sex lives to look like beyond what they are today.
Not every element is as successful. There are forays into vaguely college-like humor in some of the writing, and in many of the illustrations that will turn some off. In places the writing style is so casual that instead of helping readers relax into the subject matter it could increase their level of anxiety.
And while the informational illustrations are outstanding, the “funny” illustrations are less successful in my opinion, often dating the book and limiting its accessibility to some audiences.
But these seem like minor flaws when compared to the achievement of such an exhaustive and entertaining book. It must be said that no sex manual will ever cover everything there is to know or say about sex, and no guide will appeal equally to all people, but the Guide to Getting It On is a major contribution on both fronts.
The Bottom Line on the Guide to Getting it On
Simply put, the Guide to Getting it On is the most comprehensive sex manual available. In terms of both the breadth and the depth of, no other sex manual offers as much and delivers so consistently. It is also an exceptional achievement in its emphasis on the unique and individual nature of sexual expression while never taking its eyes off important generalizations that can be made about sexual desire and behavior.
Whether you read 10 pages or 1000 you’ll benefit. Plus, it’s one of a handful of sex books you can feel good about purchasing since it’s self-published by the author who seems to now devote his entire work life to keeping the Guide to Getting It On going.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the book is fun and exciting to read. Despite its encyclopedic offerings, it never puts you down for what you don’t know, and only makes you want to read -- and try -- more.
More about the Guide to Getting it On: