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The Cartoon Guide to Sex. By Larry Gonick and Christine DeVault. New York: HarperPerennial/HarperCollins, 1999. 247p. bibliography. index. $14.95. ISBN 0-06-273431-8.

Reference, nonfiction, sexuality

Adults, teens; nudity, sexual situations

The latest in Larry Gonick's long line of "Cartoon Guides to...," this book is a frank discussion of sex and all the issues that surround it. Christine DeVault, his collaborator, is a family life educator and has written widely about sexuality and family life: She knows whereof she speaks.

The book is nominally hosted by Mother Nature and the Etiquette Elf. Chapters include "Sex Is... Paradoxical!", "You're an Animal!", "Human Sexual Anatomy," "Growing Up Sexual," "Who Vacuums?" (gender roles), "Communication," "Love," "IT, as in 'Doing It'," "Not Getting Pregnant," "Sexual Health and the Alternative...," "Uninvited Sex," and "Problems and Solutions." The contents range from discussions of how teens become sexually aware to depictions of sexual positions to issues about such medical problems as crabs, syphillis, and AIDS. DeVault, who wrote most of the text (Gonick seems to have been solely responsible only for chapters 1 and 2), also covers homosexuality in detail, as well as fetishes, S & M, and other kinky behaviors. She gives the pros and cons of condoms, rates the effectiveness and safety of various forms of birth control (including abortion), and suggests exercises to get individuals in the mood. In fact, if one has a question about something sex-related, this book will almost certainly answer it. The only topic that it does not cover is hypoactive sex drive (low sex drive) in adolescents, though DeVault does deal with that subject in adults, especially married ones.

Although the art is in Gonick's trademark cartoony style and is, as always, very funny, there is a goodly amount of explicit material here, as there must be in a book of this nature. Some of the sex depicted is between heterosexual couples; other drawings depict homosexual couples. Of course, Gonick does not draw such repulsive acts as rape, self-strangulation to achieve orgasm, or sex with children.

Boy, I wish I'd had this book when I was a teenager. It is so... comforting and honest are good words. And nonthreatening. The tone throughout is evenhanded, friendly, and informative without being in the least preachy. DeVault is disapproving of the attitude toward sex displayed by conservative religions, though she downplays that aspect of the book, preferring to deal directly with issues of sex rather than blame anyone. Her message is that sex is a normal part of life and that sexual problems can often be solved by mutual cooperation, psychological counseling, or even medication. (Yes, she does mention Viagra.)

Reading this book made me think of the musical A Chorus Line, in which one of the "boys" auditioning for the musical reminisces about discharging a white, milky fluid, then going to a medical dictionary and deciding he had gonorrhea. If he'd had this book to go to, his mind would have been set at ease. Similarly, I imagine that adolescents (and many adults!) reading this book will turn to it again and again, and not simply to giggle in embarrassment over the pictures. Highly recommended.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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