Enter any major bookstore in the industrialized world and you are likely to find several shelves (if not more) devoted to studies of sexual behaviour. Such books might be found in the psychology section but the chances are they will be grouped together under a more specialized heading: sexology. Here you will discover a range of works, including updated editions of Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex (1972), that give popular advice on sexual techniques for same-sex and other-sex partnerships. Especially in the 1960s, the number of ‘how-to’ manuals offering guidance on sexual practices and the improvement of sexual pleasure proliferated as never before. Such writings have been popular since at least the time of Married Love: A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties (1918) by Marie Stopes (1880-1958). This bestselling book was among the first to broaden common knowledge of human sexual potential, and it remains an open question whether such works are ultimately liberating or oppressive in their repeated insistence that sexual satisfaction is a fundamental human need. Similar kinds of guidance on sexual matters circulate perpetually in the mass
media, from advice columns in magazines aimed at young people to live ‘adult’ radio talk-shows. Given the ample opportunities that now exist to obtain information about many aspects of eroticism, it is perhaps hard to appreciate how dangerous this kind of knowledge was often thought to be when sexology – the science of sexuality – first made its appearance in the late nineteenth century.