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Book Review : Fear and Loathing in the Electronic Sexual Arena

June 16, 1986|CAROLYN SEE

The Electronic Confessional: A Sex Book of the '80s by Howard R. and Martha E. Lewis, edited by Jean Arbeiter (Evans: $17.95)

Dear Howard R. and Martha E. Lewis: I am a novelist and book reviewer somewhat past the first bloom of youth. I have always considered myself as having a wholesome (not prurient) view of sex, and as I read your book, "The Electronic Confessional: A Sex Book of the '80s," I find myself disturbed by such statements as: "Puberty may result from tumors in the genitals or on the adrenal gland. Congenital brain defects, a brain tumor, or an injury to the nervous system may also account for precocious puberty."

To me, Howard R., and Martha E., these statements, far from setting the reader's mind at rest about his or her sexuality, may actually increase his or her anxiety about his or her sexuality! Perhaps this reflects my own insecurity about what is really going on in the sex lives of my husband, mate, boyfriend, older sister, younger brother, friend-of-mine. Let me make it clear, I've got all this material aced, but some of the other people mentioned above are worried if some of these things you're mentioning are "normal."

Dear Howard R. and Martha E. Lewis: I'm not upset, but some of my friends are turned off by the fact that you say intercourse may sometimes cause stomach cramps. That anti-depressants may either take away your "sex drive" or cause priapism. That having a bowel movement after sexual intercourse (if the woman is using a diaphragm) may dislodge the diaphragm. You state that pregnancy "may also occur if the woman has a rectocele, an abnormal bulge from her rectum into her vagina." Until I read your book I had never heard of a rectocele, and now I'm wondering if that's normal!

More Worries

Dear H. and M. Lewis: I'd always known there were lots of sexually transmitted diseases you can get these days, from the relatively not-serious trichomoniasis to, of course, AIDS, but, tell me, does it really help the worried reader to know in such detail about "cytomegalovirus infections," or all those possibly gross things that can happen from an "abscessed tooth," or even that smoking can contribute to impotence? You advise a 23-year-old who's worried about this problem that "smoking may leave odors on your breath and body. You may find your partners pulling back somewhat from you. Even if you're not conscious of being rejected, you may experience a diminishment of sexual arousal."

Indeed, I'm--yes, I might as well admit it's I who am worried and not my younger brother-- I'm a little worried about the fact that the words foul and smell turn up repeatedly in this book; so that while you seem to be cheering people up, you're actually planting seeds of insecurity, anxiety, self-loathing and doubt about all things sexual. Tell me, is this perception normal?

Dear Martha and Howard Lewis: To be perfectly frank, it seems to me that your questions and answers in this book break down into roughly four parts: (1) Sad Diseases, both physical and emotional; (2) Foul Smells, of which the less said the better; (3) Cross Dressing--I only wish I knew as much about accessories as some of those 32-year-old married professional men who type their questions into your computer; and (4) Normal Heterosexual Intercourse, which gets short shrift. Real-life sex just doesn't seem to be worth the trouble, after reading your book. Is that what you meant when you said this was "A Sex Book of the '80s"? And is this feeling normal?

Could It Be?

Dear Howard and Martha Lewis: I guess this will be my last question. I understand that you both work with a computer service called "Human Sexuality" or HSX, and that it is "available through CompuServe, the largest of the videotex networks." I understand you offer computer support groups for gays and cross dressers and diaper fetishists and especially lonely folks who probably are a little shy and/or worried about disease; all those who have pretty much given up on the Sexual Revolution and are staying at home with their computers.

My problem is: Since this information (on how to join up with CompuServe and HSX) appears on Page 2, and since you then devote pages and pages to people who find their ideal fantasy lovers through the computer, I have to admit to a foul suspicion that this is less a "book" in the conventional sense than a 264-page advertisement for your service. Tell me, is this suspicion normal?

I want you to understand I'm not criticizing this HSX service in any way--although some of the things I read in your book made me consider going into a convent for the second half of my life--but I would like to suggest that people who are nervous about their own sexuality are terribly vulnerable and shouldn't be bullied. They shouldn't be scared into buying your service. (But, looking at the bright side, it could be a way of conquering that other overriding fear in the '80s--the fear of computers themselves.)

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