Dissecting a 1970s Sex Manual: How to Get More Out of Sex

by | Apr 20, 2021 | Uncategorized | 32 comments

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We’ve been taking a romp through history looking at views of sex in different periods.

We’ve looked at the Roman world; the medieval period; and the Victorian period

Today we’re jumping forward to the 1970s. On the podcast this week we’ll be taking a little bit of a broader look, throwing in the 1950s and 1960s as well. But I want to set the stage here. Both World Wars saw the world opening up for women, as they did so many of the “men’s” jobs while the men were out at war. Society was changing. 

And technology was changing! In the 1950s, the famous Kinsey report was published–the first mainstream scientific study of human sexuality. It got a lot messed up (and used very dubious methods), but it made sex, and sexual response, a much more common topic. 

In the 1960s when social upheaval took place and authority was thrown aside, the sexual revolution came with it. The best way to reject society’s values was often in the sexual arena.

(The 1960s had plenty of GOOD things about it too–including a push for justice and equality. I’m just looking at the social ramifications for sex here). 

For my in-law’s 50th anniversary party, we found this amazing book from the 1970s on sex, which we put front and centre on display. I stole it after that (if you’re looking for it, Mom and Dad, we’ve still got it!), and I gave it to Connor to mine through to see how sex was being talked about in the 1970s–right before Christian books about sex began to be written. Let’s take a look!

Looking at a 1970s sex manual

When I was in university, the sentence, “I’m going to review a 1970s sex manual in detail for my mother-in-law one day” never crossed my mind. But here we are! 

So let’s take a look!

1970s sex manual

THE GOOD in the 1970s sex manual

For this series on sex through the ages, I have mostly been pointing out beliefs and practices that were either bad, goofy, or some combination of both. But as we get into How to Get More Out of Sex by David Reuben, M.D., I want to discuss a number of ideas contained within this book that have actually aged fairly well.

1. The idea that sex teachings are largely responsible for the orgasm gap isn’t new

This is something that Reuben actually spends a fair amount of time discussing. He asserts that sexually repressive cultural messages have made women feel like their sexuality is unthinkable, unmentionable, and untouchable, and that the result is difficulty reaching climax or enjoying sex at all. Instead, if we allow women to talk about, think about, and embrace their God-given sexuality, sex can be just as much for them as for men.

I was quite surprised to see how much of his writing on the subject of female sexual education mirrors what we found in our study, and this book was written almost 50 years ago. If people were discussing this 50 years ago, why have evangelical marriage speakers/writers still been teaching that sex is for men, and women can’t understand it? I have some thoughts, and I’ll be going into more detail this week on the podcast.

2. Sex needs to be physical, emotional, and spiritual

Reuben discusses the physical components of getting sex to feel good for women, but also emphasizes the importance of emotionality and spirituality. He deals with the emotional barriers that can impede pleasure and orgasm for women, including guilt over past messaging about sex, frustration with a selfish husband, etc. He also states that it is crucial not just for a man’s penis to touch the vagina the right way, but for his spirit to touch hers.

3. A man is responsible for helping his wife figure out how to make sex good for her.

The journey to overcoming orgasmic impairment is not the woman’s alone. Reuben acknowledges that men need to take an active role in promoting her pleasure as well.  It is not enough to say “Well sex feels good for me, so figure it out on your own.” As Reuben states, if all that was required of a man was to get hard, get inside her, and stay there for long enough to satisfy her, then “a good hard rubber dildo would be the ideal sexual partner” (p. 56). Instead, a man is required to work with her to figure out her pleasure, and to bring love, kindness, and understanding. Sex shouldn’t be about his physical release, but rather an expression of their devotion to each other that is unique to their relationship.

4. His language is usually neither overly clinical, nor is it condescending

In most of the book, he gives fairly detailed descriptions of specific anatomy and how they may come into play in sexual situations. His descriptions are neither overly bland, scientific and sterile, nor do they rely on pet names and euphemisms such as calling a penis Mr. Happy, or a vagina a “tender little friend” (as Kevin Leman did in Sheet Music, and as we’ve talked about on the podcast). It is straightforward and matter-of-fact. Sure, some people may find it more graphic than they feel comfortable with, but I found surprisingly little to cringe at while reading these chapters.

Now I say usually because, as we will see in “The Bad” section, there were some places in the book I violently cringed.

5. He takes pragmatic but nuanced approach to teenage sexuality

Rather than take a firm stance on whether teenagers should be having sex, he discusses many of the dynamics at play, including hormones, peer pressure, culture, curiosity, shame, parental influences, and the parents’ parental influences. And then rather than say teenagers should never have sex, or they should be free to have sex all the time, he argues that what teenagers need is for parents to understand that teenagers are capable of sex, many of them will want to have sex very badly, and many are currently having sex.

Parents need to accept that reality in order for them to effectively communicate with their children and teenagers, and to educate and guide them. To never address sex is harmful. To vilify sex is harmful. To just forbid and punish sex is harmful. Instead, support, communication, and education is the best way to address teenage sexuality and promote safe, healthy decisions.

(Obviously many Christians would want to take a firmer stance on sex being wrong in the teenage years, but the emphasis on open communication and the need to guide them is actually pretty true).

 

THE BAD in the 1970s sex manual

Now we come to the bad. There are a lot of things Reuben put in this book that aged about as well as… well… a 50 year old book on sex.

And Trigger Warning: some of these describe sexual assaults.

6. Wait, that’s….sexual assault!

When Reuben talks about fetishes and perversions, he makes a distinction between sexual proclivities that are simply unusual, and those that cross the line into harmful and pathological. Which is a fair point. Just because something isn’t standard, especially in a time where oral sex could be punished with 20 years in prison in some states, doesn’t mean it is automatically harmful.

But then when he gives examples from letters written to him, the last example of an “unusual taste” (p. 117) before talking about what’s bad was problematic for me. It comes from a man who described what he liked to do in lieu of masturbation. He would go to a crowded hotdog stand lineup every weekend in summer, pick out an attractively lady, and position himself behind her so that the packed crowd would grind his erection against her butt until he climaxed! He goes on to note that in four years of doing this every weekend he never had any complaints, so he must gotten lucky with women who were as into it as he was. No! That’s sexual assault! This happens to many women on crowded trains and subways during their daily commute, and they rarely speak up because they are terrified because there is a predator behind them PREYING on them, and it’s horrifying!

And using one’s power to get sex is sexual assault, too! (are these really the example  you want to  use?)

Many of the examples he gives from letters addressed to him and clinical interactions with his clients are problematic in ways that he does not address because they aren’t relevant to the point he is making. As someone who was not personally alive during the sexual revolution, it feels to me like many people saw the sexual revolution as a call to liberate everything related to sex, and to cast aside all judgements regarding what people do with their bodies in their personal lives. That’ “everything goes” mentality seems like a pendulum swing to me, because plenty of what he casually brings up is particularly out of touch by modern progressive standards. Here’s an example of what I am talking about.

When addressing how erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation are issues we need to deal with on a psychological level, he cites a “success” story from one of his clients who was able to overcome his condition with Reuben’s help. He thanks Reuben, explaining “You know, I’m a film producer and I can have almost any girl I want–all I have to do is promise her a contract. But in all those thousands of bedroom casting sessions, I never got to see how my own organ operated…” (p. 156)

Does this remind you of someone whose name rhymes with Barvey Meinstein? Me too.

And being subject to an erect penis should not have to be part of someone’s job. Not okay. 

This is actually a direct quote from Reuben! When explaining how a woman can use a sensual massage to help a man get it up, he says,

“One word of warning: the amateur masseuse is exposed to the same occupational hazards as the professional lady massager. They include lustful thoughts, wandering male hands, and the risk of being suddenly invaded by a throbbing penis. But then, that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?” (p. 168).

Maybe if you ask the late Ravi Zacharias. But much like many American and Asian massage therapists, I never asked for Ravi’s input.

7. It’s still sexual assault even if it’s with “exotic” girls

In another story about a man he helped overcome ED, he recounts suggesting a vibrator to this man he then says, “the only thing I can compare it with was an experience I had in Burma during the Second World War with a couple of sixteen-year-old temple dancers…” (p. 162).

Now I know 16 is old enough to consent in Myanmar, but an American vet reminiscing fondly about sleeping with two 16-year-old Burmese temple dancers 40 years ago after masturbating his limp penis with a suction cup vibrator is gross for me to read, and a detail I would have left out were I writing a book on how to get more out of sex. Especially considering I live in a place where 16 is two years too young, much like Reuben’s home state of California (where the age of consent had been 18 since over a decade before Reuben was born).

The lack of attention to the reality of sexual abuse is really quite astounding and sad.

8. Ummmm….Abortion isn’t birth control

In literally the first sentence of the chapter about contraceptives, Reuben claims that abortion is the perfect form of birth control. He argues that it doesn’t interfere with foreplay, has the highest birth prevention rate, is safe, doesn’t get your clothes messy, and can be the cheapest method when averaged out across all of one’s ‘copulations.’ And while advocating that abortions are the optimal method of dealing with undesired pregnancy, he openly argues that abortions necessarily involve killing a child. I know abortion is a complex and heated topic, and I believe one of if not the largest topic for single-issue voters, but even most people who themselves get abortions report having used contraceptives during the month of conception. All of the pro-choice organizations I am aware of advocate for more access to contraceptives to reduce unwanted pregnancy before abortion even enters the picture, and they certainly aren’t calling abortion murder while they advocate for freedom and access.

For me, the issue here is that he calls abortions ‘killing,’ and then says that is preferable to using a condom or birth control pills for the sake of convenience and pleasure. He admits it’s a killing, but doesn’t seem upset by this. It’s easy to forget how people used to think about abortion.

9. There’s a bizarre bit about the penis-breast relationship?

Reuben regularly refers to this pseudo-scientific idea that a man with ED is subconsciously playing out a role-reversal revenge fantasy for times when he had been denied the breast as an infant, whether from it being taken away, not producing milk, or it leaking all it’s milk before he got to suck on it. His penis becomes the substitute for a breast, his semen for milk, and the vagina for a mouth. Reuben’s advice, therefore, is to say to yourself when you first see your partner for that night: “I am not going to snatch away the penis-breast just as my ‘baby’ is getting ready to drink” (p. 172). Or in the case of someone with delayed ejaculation: “I will eagerly feed milk to my hungry ‘baby'” (p. 177). Highly un-scientific, and so ridiculous that I almost want to put this in the Funny section. But it’s also gross enough that I feel fine leaving it here.

10. There is no recognition of the harm of certain cultures’ practices towards girls

In the 1970s, it was in vogue to treat other cultures as the same as ours and not to criticize other cultures.

But sometimes we need to!  For example, he brings up female circumcision, not as a human right’s violation, but as an operation that is considered important in some cultures, and describes how it ties into their famous hospitality. He also describes certain tribal practices of incorporating stinging ants into the sexual education of peri-pubescent girls by having the ants sting the girls genitals to promote swelling and rubbing. His stance on this practice is that it is “rational, sensible, and eminently practical” (p.14). He also explains how to use crack vaginally, and how to apply cocaine to the tip of the penis.

 

11. He argues recreational A-P repair surgery is an essential operation denied to millions of deserving women

Rueben recommends women get A-P repair surgery on their vagina, not out of medical necessity, but so they can sexually resemble an 18-year-old again. Now remember when I said there was some stuff in this book that made me cringe? Here we go: He says women should get this surgery after childbirth because when the baby’s head pushes through the birth canal, “the penis’s little grotto of pleasure is instantly converted into Carlsbad Caverns” (p. 17). That seems like a pretty reductive and male-centered view of a woman’s body at the very moment of her going through the emotionally and physically intense experience of bringing a life into the world.

THE FUNNY in a 1970s sex manual

I just had to include this one because it was so funny to me, and I think is an excellent way to end on a lighter note.

12. Test your male pheromones

Reuben suggests men rub a clean handkerchief on the underside of their testicles in the morning before they shower, and then wear that tainted (pardon the pun) hanky in their breast pocket as they go about their day. He suggests some men who do this find themselves drowning in women.

Sheila says: Thanks, Connor, for reading through this so I didn’t have to!

It’s interesting how you can see from these tidbits how much the 1970s was trying not to lay judgment on anyone–but sometimes judgment needs to be laid! And even though they thought they were so progressive, they almost completely ignored issues of coercion and sexual assault (pretty similar to many of our Christian books, actually).

Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the Christian books that were written into this culture, to help us better understand what these books were trying to address. And then in the podcast this week we’ll go into more detail about this cultural transformation, and how so many different things were pulling us in all different directions, at the same time. It makes it easier to understand why the early Christian sex manuals took some of the stances they did, but also helps us clarify what we should be saying now.

12 Bits of Sex Advice from a 1970s sex manual

What stood out to you from all of that? Anything surprise you? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sex Throughout the Ages Series

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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32 Comments

  1. Emilie

    Thanks for taking one for the team, Connor!

    Reply
    • Lisa

      My grandmother was given “extra stitches” after giving birth “for her husband.” This was in the 1940s and was apparently not uncommon. Sex was always painful after that, and it never got better.

      Reply
  2. Lisa Johnson Scott

    This is the same author that wrote the book “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)” published in 1969 that was a HUGE bestseller in the 1970’s.
    Not sure how this book differs from that one but the “Everything…” book was very influential I know from other reading. (He updated it in 1999 according to Wikipedia to change some of the problematic things you addressed so at least he was willing to admit he was wrong and changed).

    Reply
  3. Lisa Johnson Scott

    My take on number 9 about the penis/breast thing is the author is a psychiatrist trained in the psychodynamic theory common when he studied-founded in Freud’s ideas about oral fixations from early childhood. (Anal retention, oral fixation etc sounds very odd to us now since these ideas of therapy aren’t common now) my guess anyway.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Makes sense. Freud was still really big in the 1970s. When did he go out of favour? 1990s?

      Reply
      • Lisa Johnson Scott

        There are still people who do psychodynamic therapy it’s just updated over time now (to not include stuff like this authors says about ED).
        In answer to you question though I would guess psychodynamic depth therapy became much less prevalent in the 80’s onward as shorter “evidence based” models like CBT became emphasized partly to control costs of therapy. My take anyway.

        Reply
  4. Sarah

    Connor, thanks again for writing a great article! Love your work on the site and it’s always nice to see a bona fide man saying that sexual assault is bad in no uncertain terms.

    Reply
  5. Angela

    I was really surprised at how “forward-thinking” much of the good advice was, and it makes me wonder if western Christians benefited at all from it at that time, since this came out prior to western Christians writing positively (?) detailed books about sex.
    The bad and weird were AWFUL and just – wow yeah. But also unsurprising in a way, considering the era. It makes me feel aware that the men quoted likely had no idea at the time that other worldviews/experiences should inform their own… then makes me aware that I have my own views/experience that should be open enough to consider correction/improvement.

    Reply
  6. Jaime

    Oh my gosh, this would have traumatized me to read this. I’m sorry you had to go through this Connor! 🤪. Another relic of the past that can burn.

    Reply
  7. Joy

    Talk about taking one for the team Connor! I like how you broke it into sections so we can easily see the issues.

    Reply
  8. Leighann

    This whole series has been really helpful in understanding how we got some of the beliefs that we have in society today. I’m really interested to see how our Christian teachings came out of this. I think it will help a lot of discussions to not be seen as attacks or persecution; but something to “course correct” and grow from.

    Reply
  9. Emily W

    Did I miss an episode on Freud? Please, if you do that, which would push you back in time from the 70s, make sure to bring up Karen Horney! She took him on after being a follower which in my mind gives her even more credit.

    Reply
  10. Ylva

    I once came across a pseudo-scientific book on female sexuality from the 60ies where up until today I am not sure if this was erotica masquerading as “case studies” or supposed to be serious. (I was 11 when I found it I think and took it all as truth which is another story).
    It framed women, or better, young girls, as “sexually aggressive” and how they engaged in sex acts, some of them as young as 14. As group sex with several men and sex with older men was something these kids wanted and regularly did.
    Some of the things in the 60ies and sexual liberation were just really really dark. Some people were seeking to legalize pedophilia (which haunts our country’s green party up until today) and many other weird things.

    Reply
  11. Lisa Johnson Scott

    Personally, I think purity culture is not so much an overreaction to the sexual revolution but really an insistence on not making *any changes* from the cultural gender roles and sex framing common in the culture in the (US at least) 1950’s.
    Much of Evangelical teaching about sex and gender roles now would align very closely with common cultural norms then. That imho is what they want.
    This book shows movement in the 1970’s general culture towards women’s sexual needs at least. Evangelicals said nope. And we see it still persist today sadly.

    Reply
    • Lindsey

      I think you’re over-simplifying a bit. Let’s not forget that the 1950’s brought us The Kinsey Reports, which were horrific in regards to pedophilia and sexual abuse of children. I’ll share a link below that briefly touches on the issue:
      Trigger Warning: article contains a discussion of child molestation.
      https://www.jurispro.com/files/documents/doc-1066205622-article-1798.pdf
      The obvious (and, arguably healthy) reaction to this would be a knee jerk rejection of the material. I myself reject it as anything but an atrocious violation of human rights.
      Is evangelical teaching on sex too far into the other ditch in an attempt to cling to a time that felt more “innocent and stable” for many? Certainly. But I don’t know that the motives were bad in its inception or even today, by many.

      Reply
      • Lisa Johnson Scott

        Yes I agree it’s an oversimplification. And yes there were forces like the Kinsey report that were not within the common cultural norms.
        I think though that seeing the Evangelical motives as good is also a huge oversimplification ignoring (not saying you are just the general idea I often hear) dark motivations of racism and sexism that in part motivated wanting to fight against change and enforce the status quo.

        Reply
      • Lisa Johnson Scott

        Today we can see clear examples how the issue isn’t about simply about restoration of “morality” or healthy relationship structures. Actions do not follow.
        For example, continued refusals to protect victims of sexual abuse in the church (including children).
        Or as this blog notes, refusal to acknowledge changes that need to be made to bestselling books to have less damaging messages about sex.

        Reply
      • Lindsey

        I agree, as I do believe that much of the leadership now seeks to simply preserve their own power. However, when I think of the average, everyday couple that yearns for “the 1950’s”, I think their motives are pure. Things *seemed* simpler and safer then for many – though far from all – in the US. However, it is not a time remembered fondly by many of our black or Hispanic brethren – and with good reason. Their experience also cannot be discounted.
        Every time period had its good and bad – which is one of the things that makes this series so interesting.

        Reply
      • Lisa Johnson Scott

        “However, it is not a time remembered fondly by many of our black or Hispanic brethren – and with good reason.”
        Yes and it is also not remembered fondly by many women because they did not have the legal ability to many things we take for-granted today (like not being fired for being pregnant, or not being denied jobs or credit cards etc because you are a woman as just a few examples).
        I do not long for the 1950’s and wonder about those who do.

        Reply
  12. Pamela

    Ewwww. Just ewwww. The bad outweighs the good, for me; I will not be reading this book! Thanks for the excellent summary, Connor. The only line of your commentary that made me wince a bit was when you called childbirth “trauma” for women. I know Rebecca did indeed have a traumatic experience, but please know that that is not the norm. I’d like to normalize (and healthify, if that’s a word?!) the way we talk about childbirth, much the same way you, Sheila, and the rest of your team are doing for sex/marriage. Nuance is everything!

    Reply
    • Lindsey

      I actually think trams is the appropriate medical term, much the same way as having ones hand crushed in a door would be referred to as a trauma. Just because it’s a normal process (and all four of mine were unmedicated, natural, and straight forward water births), doesn’t mean that the tissue hasn’t been traumatized.
      That’s how I took the statement.

      Reply
      • Connor Lindenbach

        That is what I meant in my head, the medical impact on the birth canal and surrounding tissues, but I also recognize that it is because of my wife’s experience that that word was my reflex descriptor. I appreciate the note, and will make an edit to the language.
        Thanks!

        Reply
      • Pamela

        OK yes I see what you mean — medical trauma — although it is quite different than a hand getting slammed in a door as that would be an accident but childbirth is the intention — i.e., the female body working as it was created to work (not getting injured, although certainly sometimes injuries do also occur). I took it first as emotional trauma, not medical trauma, so that’s why it made me pause.

        Reply
  13. Emmy

    He is just a secular author, right?

    Reply
  14. Emmy

    The little grotto of pleasure part was awful. Reminds me of the “penis homes” of Mark Driscol, only worse.

    Reply
  15. Alex

    Ugh, some of this was disturbing to read. Was this a best seller at the time? I mean is this book representative of what people thought or was it more of an extreme attempt at changing people’s feelings towards sex? I was born in the late 70s so I’m just wondering if this would have been the societal attitude towards sex my parents would have been influenced by?

    Reply
  16. Katherine

    With respect, I’m not sure you characterized the current trends in the abortion debate accurately. It seems to me that Mr Reuben was actually quite ahead of his time in his thinking on abortion (#8). While some pro-choice folks are still making the same hackneyed “it’s not the killing of a person” arguments, the leaders of the Choice movement have been much more transparent lately and seem to sadly echo Mr Reuben’s sentiments exactly.
    https://www.liveaction.org/news/some-pro-choice-activists-admit-abortion-kills-life-i-knew-it-was-a-baby/
    And as for point #11 – “vaginal rejuvenation” is a standard surgery where I live here in Asia for the majority of women, and it would make me “tight like a teenager again” my doctor promised me. Uh, thanks but no thanks.

    Reply
  17. Cari

    Conner, Thank you. You wrote this well. We appreciate you.

    Reply
  18. Headless Unicorn Guy

    No! That’s sexual assault! This happens to many women on crowded trains and subways during their daily commute

    There’s a French word for this: Frottage.
    And one for those who practice it: Frotteur.
    Golden Age SF Author Isaac Asimov had a reputation as one; specifically for feeling up women in hotel elevators at SF cons (as well as being very full of himself in general). The guy described in the above excerpt cranked it up to the next level.

    Reply
  19. Headless Unicorn Guy

    Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the Christian books that were written into this culture, to help us better understand what these books were trying to address.

    I’m looking forward to that one.
    Make an interesting Compare & Contrast with this one.

    Reply
  20. AMB

    There is so much polarity between the good and the bad in this one. Admittedly I wasn’t expecting much good, so that was a nice surprise. However the bad is just… so… bad. Thanks for taking one for the team.

    Reply

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