Tag Archives | How To

How to Stay Married by Jilly Cooper

When I was growing up, the 60s seemed relatively recent. I was not old enough to remember them myself, but it was clear that my parents did. It was reflected in their style, their attitudes, their musical tastes. It was familiar ground.

Yet How to Stay Married is the most extraordinary period piece. It’s a heady combination of the deeply traditional:

If a wife feels resentful that she is slaving away…she must remember that it isn’t all roses for him either. He has given up his much-prized bachelor status for marriage, and he probably expects…to come home every night to a gleaming home, a happy wife, and a delicious dinner.’

…and swinging free-love:

‘If you want to dance cheek-to-cheek with the most attractive man/woman in the room, wait until your husband/wife is securely trapped on the sofa in another room.’

Well, maybe not all that swinging. In this book, ‘affaires’ are inevitable, usually the woman’s fault, and to be tolerated; sleeping pills are swallowed willy-nilly; and a ‘slut’ is the keeper of an untidy house. Wives need to be treated with a ‘firm hand’, and men are like little gods who require cosseting and obedience. Women may well work (until children come along, when they must turn to making paper flowers for pin money), but they should tweak their hours so that they can get home in time to tidy up and have dinner on the table.

It’s as if the word ‘marriage’ means something different entirely. Or rather, perhaps the shock lies in the word ‘marriage’ representing a clear set of values and behaviours. Contemporary readers will be used to defining their own ‘marriage’ or relationship, finding a balance of personalities that works for them – or doesn’t. We are certainly not willing to make the level of sacrifices that young Jilly fully expects to make, just to keep our partners quiet.

None of this is meant as a word of criticism of the book – it’s a wonderful, enlightening read. Jilly’s voice is as pert and knowing as one of her characters, leaving the line between seriousness and tongue-in-cheek rather blurry. The all-night sex and cocktail parties sound magnificent. But the best bit is Jilly’s cringing introduction: ‘What a smug, opinionated, proselytising little know-it-all I was then,’ she says.

So, perhaps don’t read How to Stay Married for matrimonial advice. But do read it to giggle and gasp at how much we’ve changed within a mere lifetime.
How To Stay Married by Jilly Cooper, originally published 1969, reissued in 2011 by Transworld.

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Dare…the Have Anal Sex by Coralie Trinh Thi

When I told Herbert I’d bought this book, his response was: ‘Why do you need a book? It’s obvious, isn’t it?’

Well, he has something of a point, but I don’t think I’m alone in wanting the security of having a book in my hand whenever I try something new. I mean, I put the book down when it gets to the sex bit, obviously. You know what I mean.

Either way, Dare… seems to try very hard to put me off altogether. I sympathise with the author, who has to get a whole book out of ‘use lots of lube’ and ‘go a bit easy the first time, eh?’ but the material she uses as padding leaves a lot to be desired. The problem is that Trinh Thi seems to find it hard to let go of the mystique of anal sex. She wants it to be extra-special, exclusive, dirty. When this attitude is applied to a ‘how to’ book, it results in a lot of mixed messages.

For example, a quote:

“Some people feel that participation in anal sex makes them feel ‘used’ or is something only prostitutes would do…The truth is, however, most prostitutes flatly refuse anal sex.”

Which leaves me…where, exactly? And that’s without even going into the chapters on the mystical and historical aspects of anal sex. I skim-read those.

The most basic things I want from a ‘how to’ book are clear facts and guidance, and reassurance that I’m not doing something dangerous. This book fails to even make those offers.

Perhaps you could recommend a better ‘how to’ guide for anal sex? I’d love to hear your tips.

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Betty Dodson – Sex for One

Sex for One is something of a classic. First published in 1974, it encourages women (and men) to really understand their own bodies in order to have better sex – both alone and with partners.

I was expecting Sex for One to be a ‘How To’ guide, but it’s actually more of a conversation, exploring Dodson’s own journey and extolling the right to orgasm. What surprised me was how fresh and necessary its message remains, especially in these times of labial trimming and hymen reinstatement. Most women Dodson worked with had never taken a close look at their own vagina, and those who had often thought that theirs was somehow abnormal. She also found a huge amount of guilt around masturbation, and an assumption that it was an inferior form of sex. It’s hard to argue that much has changed.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has ever thought that maybe their vagina is deformed, or that they don’t have a clitoris, or that they’re incapable of orgasm (all firm beliefs of mine as a teenager). Dodson’s take on sexuality is a joyous, practical one that will make you think hard about how liberated we really are.

You can find Betty Dodson’s site (including an excellent ‘Ask Dr Betty’ section) here.

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Urban Tantra by Barbara Carrellas

This is such a great introduction to Tantra for those of us who don’t own tasseled skirts or dreamcatchers.

The writing is sharp and energetic, and the advice is accessible and generous. What I particularly liked was the way in which Carrellas encourages you to add your own spin to Tantric practice, whether that be kinky or vanilla.

Personally, this book had a huge impact on my year of seductions, teaching me to find the joy in sex, rather than seeing it as a labour. After reading it, I understood that tantra – and indeed sex – boils down to communication, the ability to listen closely to your partner’s needs and desires, and to fully engage with your own.

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