O by Jonathan Margolis


The Intimate History of the Orgasm
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Despite its catchy title, there’s nothing intimate about this account, nor is it a history of the orgasm, but rather a superficial look at human sexual attitudes and behaviors over time and place.

British journalist (A Brief History of Tomorrow, 2000, etc.) and biographer of John Cleese and Uri Geller, asserts that testosterone, which drives sexual desire in both men and women, has been the single most influential chemical in human history. To demonstrate this, he surveys sexuality from prehistoric times to the present. After stops in Ancient Greece and Rome and a side trip to the Orient, he offers a breezy discussion of the repressive impact of Christianity, the flouting of its strictures in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Victorian prudery, and the 20th-century trend—at least in the Western world—to openness about sexuality. Margolis looks at the differences between male and female sexual drives and sensations with liberal use of quotes from sex manuals, sex surveys, fiction, popular science, advertisements, TV, movies, and the Internet. Changing attitudes toward homosexuality, masturbation, and prostitution; erroneous beliefs about female anatomy; unsavory practices such as bestiality and female genital mutilation; the use of sex aids like dildos and vibrators—all are briskly recounted. The author never presents himself as a serious historian, and so he plunges ahead with anecdotes, opinions, and statistics, debunking and proclaiming as he goes (there are no notes or bibliography). Reading of such hilarious absurdities as Wilhelm Reich’s orgone box and the Orgasmatron of Woody Allen’s Sleeper or the sexual quirks of various historical figures is always amusing, and Margolis keeps his narrative well-paced. His epilogue, a rather heavy-handed attempt to predict the future, can be skipped.

Glib and entertaining.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-8021-1786-4
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2004


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