Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But were afraid to ask) is a book that was written in 1969 by David Reuben, an American doctor. The book was one of the first sex guidebooks that entered the mainstream population in the 1960s and had a significant influence on sex education and in opening up people’s outlook towards sex and all that pertained to it.
It was the most popular factual book when it was released and was very influential in the sexual revolution of the contemporary America. Due to its great success, the book was translated into more than 50 languages and sold millions of copies. In 1972, the book was made into a film and in 1999, it was updated. The book was directed to the mainstream American population that was still new to matters that directly related to sex and sexuality.
Going through the book, one of the points that immediately strike the reader is the inaccurate and blatant misrepresentation of facts related to sex and sexuality that Reuben describes, all under the safe haven of legitimacy due to his position as an “MD”. For instance, the author presents erroneous information on male sexuality, or homosexuality, which only confuses the reader.
He states that male homosexuals all wished that they were women, an idea that is absurd just as most parts of the chapter. While it is true that a few male homosexuals enjoy dressing in women clothing, the phenomenon cannot be generalized to the entire homosexual population.
Dr. Reuben goes on to provide ‘interviews’ with ‘persons’ he claims were representative of the entire gay community, but which were equally misleading, for instance, homosexual men prefer to meet in public restrooms, or that many people engage in sadomasochistic behavior, and goes on to describe a ‘characteristic’ scene that seems more like a movie script than a true-life act (Reuben, 1969, pp. 138).
In some sections, the author even gets offensive, writing that gay sex is nothing more than going into the washrooms, doing some footwork under the stall separations and engaging in an emotionless act of oral sex through holes made on the separating walls. He also states that homosexual men are only interested in casual sex and not relationships, love, or getting to know their partners. In actual sense, this act also occurs among straight individuals.
His claim that “all gay men are fat” is unsustainable and only leads to the reader’s further questioning of Dr. Reuben’s medical qualifications. Dr. Reuben seems to favour evidence arising from the so-called homosexual community although this is debatable too. He also favors evidences that seem damaging or insulting to homosexuals, hence, we could conclude that the author either abhors homosexuality or is discouraging homosexuality through his book by writing how unpleasant the act is.
The views offered by Dr. Reuben are mostly uncorroborated by the majority of medical experts. No section of the book is cited as an actual expert study, yet the author goes on to give very bold statements that warrant some form of scientific study. He boldly praises Coca Cola as the best form of birth control, and how the mayor’s daughter contracted STDs from colored men.
A statement that is bound to stir a heated debate is the author’s emphatic assertion that syphilis and gonorrhea could be eradicated by giving compulsory penicillin injections. Unfortunately, similar scientific statements are not based on any actual study and only serve to increase the reader’s appetite for factual information.
In spite of negative reviews, the book offers some very useful information to its readers. For a society that was not well informed on sex topics back in the 1970s, the book was a constant companion. For instance, it educates both men and women on matters of contraception and birth control such as the ineffectiveness of rhythm method due to alterations in a woman’s cycle, and that of withdrawal, in birth control.
The chapters on prostitutes, menopause, masturbation, elementary human anatomy, and libido are quite useful and are further simplified by using the question-answer format. The section on birth control and how oral contraceptives are important in protecting women from serious diseases such as cancer of the ovary are very educative.
Dr. Reuben also laid bare the facts surrounding the ‘date-rape’ drugs, very few people knew that some women could intentionally take them before going out on a date. On STDs, the author explains why condoms are not absolutely reliable in preventing STDs as some would think, a fact that is echoed in various educational media.
Besides, Dr, Reuben warns that out of the 18 known STDs, some could cause cancer. The explanation of how a person can get AIDS by wearing a condom backwards was essential. The book offers all the basic questions about sex and is a useful companion for young adults and even older adults.
Reading the book in the 21st century, one cannot fail to notice several flaws that are presented in the book. However, back in the 1970s during the sexual revolution, information on sexual material was scarce and Dr. Reuben’s book made an interesting read for many people.
This period was marked by the urge to find oneself and the quest for autonomy and these led to alterations in sexual attitudes and behavior, the movement also challenged traditional social norms related to sex and sexuality, and this contributed to society’s appetite for literature relating to the revolution (Smith, 1990).
Consequently, Dr. Reuben’s book became an instant success. Society now accepted sex outside the traditional monogamous setup, topics on contraception, birth control, STDs, the normalization of homosexuality, masturbation, libido and similar topics soon followed. These are the same topics that Dr. Reuben addressed in his book and contributed to its success.
However, many of the alterations in social norms from the sexual revolution have so far become mainstream and this accounts for the mostly negative reviews that the book elicits from the contemporary society.
In Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Dr. Reuben offers useful educative material on sex, sexuality and the human anatomy. However, several chapters, moreso the chapter on male homosexuality, was not well researched and can create confusion to young boys trying to discover their own sexuality.
Despite this shortcoming, the book offers answers to questions that few people would openly want to ask or discuss. The author must also be praised for giving the book an upbeat tone and for his good sense of humour in discussing serious issues.
However, it is important to understand the negative reviews of the book, especially those on male homosexuals, only arise because issues that were new during the sexual revolution have become normalized and no longer draw elicit excitement as they did back in the 1960s.
Reuben, D. (1969). Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But were afraid to ask). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: McKay
Smith, T. W. (1990). Report: The Sexual Revolution? The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 3.