Afraid to Ask: Everything We Didn’t Want to Know About Sex

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Afraid to Ask: Everything We Didn't Want to Know About Sexby Susie Bright  

you know that there’s a brand new millennial edition of that 1960s cornball bestseller,
Everything you always wanted to know about sex* *But were afraid to


Yes, it’s Doctor David Reuben again, who made a good part of his vaunted
reputation by writing a whole chapter that explains that “homosexuals are trying the

impossible: solving the problem with only half the pieces.” He cracked wise that when it
came to lesbianism: “One vagina plus one vagina still equals zero” — what a card! Yes, this
is indeed the formidable California psychiatrist, who in his first edition soliloquy about
female sexual satisfaction, pronounced that every woman “has the right to enjoy the
pleasures that are available to the family cat and dog.” Right on, Mr. Vaginal Orgasm!


And he is indeed the same #1 New York Times best-selling author who
made beaucoup bucks by summing up impotence as “a penis that won’t do what it’s told.”


EYAWTKAS* was a parallel phenomena to the porn film sensation
Deep Throat — a completely UNextraordinary work with extraordinary marketing
timing, published right at the commercial cusp of the ’60s sexual revolution.


Reuben wasn’t cold or clinical — he said sex was fun, and funny. He encouraged
us to joke about our old fears now that we knew there was nothing to be afraid of (except,
perhaps, those differently-pleasured folks). He made a big heap of fun of non-traditional
sexuality, but by 1969 middle-of-the-road standards, he still managed to look like quite the
libertine. He was enthusiastic about oral sex, as well as the pleasures that men and women
could take without guilt from (vanilla) lovemaking. While he came nowhere near the
bohemian and progressive flavor of the counter culture of the era, his chatty manual was
the perfect cocktail conversation piece for the newly hip and slightly titillated. Best of all,
the book had a zeitgeist-ready title and bright yellow wrapper — a happy-face aura that
implied it was now possible to know “everything.”


Well, I don’t know about you, but I was afraid to ask what the scary doctor has
come up with now. I am deathly afraid of men who wear their degrees around their necks
like medals, who think that their brand of male chauvinism is a gift from God (and, in the

Everything you always wanted to know about sex* *But were afraid to ask 
David Reuben, M.D.  
(HarperCollins, hardback, 1999; 368 pages)

good doctor’s case, the A.M.A.). Here is a man whose most lasting contribution to
American sex education was to make monsters out of people he didn’t understand and who
he was plainly afraid of: the gay, the non-vanilla, the sex worker, and just your average
fed-up woman with a neglected clit.


It’s not just penises who don’t do what they’re told in Reuben’s sex world, much
to his irritation. This man is sick to death of perverts, hussies and non-credentialed sex
gurus who are now climbing all over his vaunted turf. He is outraged that common folks
have been taking advice from know-nothings who perhaps don’t read at least a half a
dozen medical journals each month, like he does.


But the difference with Dr. Reuben’s expertise isn’t that he reads his
J.A.M.A. backwards and forwards — it’s that he also seems to be reading a half a
dozen crackpot right-wing religious journals every month. And I say this not because he
confesses it, but because after thirty years, no one could be saying the things he does about
sex unless they had been in seclusion with Jerry Falwell all this while, peering at time-motion studies of Tinky Winky.


Reuben hasn’t grown over the past three decades — he’s regressed. Lesbians have
now been removed from his old “Prostitution” chapter, but he still shows them their place
when he writes, “Lesbians can do anything a man can, until it comes to the last little detail —
pushing a hard penis into an eager vagina.”


And whereas he used to typify all gay men as lipstick-and-girdle-wearing drag
queens, he now begins his Homo chapter in the twilight world of glory-hole bathhouse
junkies. (Of course any reasonable discussion of gay men’s sexuality would include

communal sex, but Reuben seems to be the last person on earth who doesn’t realize that
dungeon romps are a MINORITY experience in gay men’s lives — that a discussion of
fellatio between two guys in a suburban bedroom might be a more typical place to start.)


I could keep you in stitches for hours quoting punchlines from his “96.9% ALL
NEW” edition. But after all is said and done, this jubilee jokebook leaves me more
mystified than amused.


EYAWTKAS* is published by HarperCollins, a company that prints
all kinds of well-respected authors — hey, including myself: it has many gay, feminist and,
at the very least, politically sophisticated editors among its ranks. In fact, I would say
the average water-cooler delivery man at Harper’s knows more about what is going on in
sex in America today than David Reuben. So why did the editors on this project let the old
coot make such a bloody fool out of himself? It almost seems intentional . . .


For example, one of Reuben’s favorite grab-the-reader ploys is to let you, the naif,
learn the folklore of the sexual underground. Yikes! Did you know that a “Sappho
Daddy-O” is a straight man who has an erotic preference for lesbians? Are you aware that a
light pink handkerchief in the left pocket of a bondage aficionado indicates that they’re a


Finally, does Susan Sontag know that “campy” means “obviously and obnoxiously
homosexual”? Well, tell her not to cry into her light pink handkerchief, because nobody
else believes this shit either!


I have my own theory about why Reuben was so intent on making a comeback to
the sexpert soapbox, and I’m idealistic enough to think it wasn’t for the money. He

certainly is not going to make any royalties on this novelty item. No, the element of the
true believer arises in Reuben’s poignant call to arms in his stunning chapter on sexual


After dusting off the naughty-hanky chart and checking his pulse on the piercing
craze, Reuben gets down to serious business. Sternly, he warns that “children as young as
three and four years old are being bombarded with BDSM.” (That’s what Reuben thinks is
the hip abbreviation for Bondage-Domination and Sado-Masochism). “Just look at
Saturday morning cartoons on TV,” he says: “Watch the cat being flattened by the
steamroller! Look at the dog being blown to bits by a stick of dynamite! See the cute
bunny thrown off the roof of a high building! Then watch the terrified expression of the
tots in the audience as they are being prepared to enjoy Sado-Masochist good times. Isn’t
the message: ‘Getting tied up is fun. All the kids do it!'”


Of course, Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote have been doing this since the 1950s,
but thank goodness somebody has finally caught up with their evil plan! David Reuben,
meet Catherine MacKinnon — and if you’d like to make it a four-way, we could conference
call Pat Robertson and Andrea Dworkin. The others may find David’s psychological
anachronisms — that all “perverts” are in a state of arrested development — a little on the
har-de-har side of the Freudian equation. But I think with a little politically-correct
polishing, Reuben could be right back on the talk show circuit in no time at all, telling us
everything he thinks he knows about sex, but we should be very afraid to hear.

Everything you always wanted to know about sex* *But were afraid to ask

David Reuben, M.D.

(HarperCollins, hardback, 1999; 368 pages)

Susie Bright and Nerve.com