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BOOK REVIEW: Lila Says by Anonymous

Lila SaysLila Says by Chimo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

Lila Says is the tale of a star-crossed odd couple. The lead, Chimo, is an unemployed, 19-year-old, Arab man living in a Parisian government housing complex. Chimo’s life revolves around writing stories and getting by however he can. A fair amount of the book is about living a life of poverty in the ghettos of one of the world’s most expensive cities, but the core of it is about Chimo’s relationship with Lila.

While Chimo is awkward with girls and uncomfortable in sexual matters, Lila is an exhibitionist and – it seems at first – a nymphomaniac. She is a pretty blonde girl being raised by a Catholic aunt. Over the course of the novel, it becomes less clear that Lila is a nymphomaniac, and it’s possible that she just gets excited by causing arousal in others – particularly Chimo. In other words, it’s not so clear to what degree she is having sex, versus telling erotic tall tales. At any rate, the interplay between Chimo’s repressed nature and Lila’s unrestrained nature is at the center of the story. It soon becomes clear that part of the reason Lila has chosen Chimo is because he’s simultaneously safe and interested. That is, he can control his libido but doesn’t reject Lila’s flirtations. Chimo is surprised to find that Lila doesn’t talk to any of his friends the way she does to him, and – in fact – she doesn’t talk to them much at all.

This book is hard to rate. It’s definitely rough around the edges. However, as it’s presented as the journal of a young, unemployed man with minimal education that roughness contributes to an authentic feel. I have no idea whether it’s really a case like Go Ask Alice. (Go Ask Alice was presented as an anonymous manuscript written by a teen-aged girl whose life fell apart due to drug use, but it turned out to be written by a middle-aged woman whose life experience was nothing akin to Alice’s – though she was a therapist and youth counselor and thus had access to stories of those like Alice.) However, the text feels like it could have been hand-scrawled in the ruins of an abandoned building by candle light as described. (That is, if one discounts the British slang which takes one away from the “Arab man in a Parisian housing project,” but the book was originally published in French and so the English edition translation was made to invoke the same class level in its readership.) There are even a few footnotes about the state of the pre-edited manuscript that sell the meta-story of the book.

It’s also a great oversimplification to classify the book as erotica. It’s true that there is a great deal of sexual content in the book, and most of what Lila says, except toward the book’s end, is intended to be titillating. However, the book is also about living in poverty, selling blood to get grocery money and such. Furthermore, the book’s end ventures away from eroticism and into the realm of tragedy.

I found this book to be incredibly and surprisingly engaging. I might say I liked it warts and all, but I think it’s truer to say its warts contributed to making it more engrossing. I would highly recommend it for readers who don’t mind adult themes and who aren’t attached to happy endings (no pun intended.) I don’t mean to give anything away or to beat a dead horse. It’s just that if one picks the book up thinking of it as romance or erotica, one might feel betrayed. Better to think of it as a gritty work of fiction.

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5 Myths of the Mind

 

I wrote a post a while back about six persistent brain myths that has some overlapping relevance to this one.

5.) A person is a unitary actor (the spherical cow of social sciences.) When I was a graduate student studying International Relations, a popular theoretical assumption was that nations were “unitary actors.” This meant that no matter how schizophrenic a government (and a nation’s civic institutions) might appear, they ultimately always pursued a national interest via a solitary hand. Like physicists assuming spherical cows, this makes life easier — even if it bears little resemblance to reality.

The full extent of the folly of the rational unitary actor assumption became apparent when I discovered that an individual isn’t even a unitary actor systematically pursuing its best interest. An individual is a collection of impulses, thoughts, feelings, etc. that seems like its under the command of a central authority only because that “central authority” [our conscious mind housed in our Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC)] is really good at forming post-hoc rationalizations and making up stories that let us feel unitary. The reader may think I’m just talking about some slim segment of the population with a multiple personality disorder, but no. I’m talking about anyone who has ever agonized over whether or not they should have an ice cream treat or take the healthy route. At the end of an internal battle that ends with the levers of action being operated by parts of your nervous system beyond your conscious control, you walk away with your conscious mind building a nice story that explains how it chose to either treat its taste buds or take it easy on its pancreas by keeping insulin production stable.

To consider how the conscious and subconscious mind can be on two entirely different pages on a subject, we’re going to veer into controversial and provocative territory. [So be warned, and if you’re sensitive about sexuality and particularly coercive sexual fantasy, you may want to skip down to the next paragraph.] Across a series of studies, an average of 40% of subjects (generally, or maybe exclusively women) admitted they’d had a fantasy about being raped. Many readers will react with incredulity, perhaps suggesting that there must be something wrong with such a person. However, obviously numbers like that aren’t describing a lunatic fringe. The next response one might here is, “Why doesn’t a person with a rape fantasy know how horrible and decidedly unsexy rape is?” If you’re following my gist, you know the answer is that said person knows very well. Consciously, she is aware that rape is violent and horrific, and moreover she probably even knows that it’s about commanding power rather than sexual desire for the rapist. This knowledge doesn’t undermine the fantasy [unless, perhaps, she really forces herself to think about it intensely] because the arousal is driven by a more visceral part of the mind that FEELS that the act is about the rapist being overwhelmed with sexual attraction even though the person KNOWS that that’s not the case.

[Note: I do realize that it might theoretically be possible that a much more complex collection consisting of many individuals and organizations might behave in a more unitary fashion than an individual. That is, even though a nation his made up of many non-unitary actors, perhaps the nature of the game forces it to behave in a unitary fashion. I don’t buy it. I’ve been reading a great example in a biography by Ingrid Carlberg about Raoul Wallenberg where both the Soviets (who had Wallenberg in custody but wouldn’t admit it) and the Swedes (who didn’t know whether Wallenberg was alive and sent mixed signals) were befuddled by varying actors sending mixed messages and collectively behaving ineffectively. It’s hard to come away thinking that Stalin and his Ministers had a rational and unified decision process. Instead, it seems like a perfect storm of incompetency and incorrect assumptions resulted in an outcome that wasn’t ideal for any of the parties.]

 

4.) Everyone can be hypnotized via instant induction and then commanded to do anything that’s asked of them.  Hypnosis is among the most misunderstood activities around. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that hypnosis is a favorite device in movies and fiction, and people draw information from these fictitious sources. The “Now You See Me” movies (see above) offer many such displays of a person being instantaneously hypnotized against his will even when the person is an expert himself, and made to do things against his interests. Misconception also flowers when people hear real or fictitious accounts of Cold War programs like America’s MK Ultra or the Soviet’s psychotronics. The lesson to be taken away from those expensive and morally-dubious programs is that it may be possible to break a person’s mind, but you can’t force someone to do something they abhor while programming them to forget all about it afterwards.

Another reason for the misunderstanding, is that there’s a disreputable group of stage hypnotists and others who love to spread these ideas because it’s more intriguing if people think they can do it to anyone at any time than if they understand that their subjects have been carefully selected to be among the more readily prone to achieve trance states and to be responsive to suggestion. It’s true that most people are hypnotizable and will respond to suggestions to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do (as long as it’s not something that they don’t want to do.) But highly hypnotizable individuals are only about 15% of the population, and there’s another 15% at the other end that are virtually impossible to hypnotize. The video below has more detail on the science.

 

3.) One has no access to one’s subconscious mind. The conscious mind is like the loudmouthed drunk who swears he invented the potato chip bag clip, the envelope-wetting sponge, and Velcro. That is, it’s hard to hear over the din of incessant yapping, and since the conscious mind claims credit for everything, it’s easy to be fooled that there’s nothing else to listen to in the mind. However, if you can knock the drunk out, you start to become aware of what the subconscious has to say. Those who don’t meditate may be aware of subconscious imagery as they are falling to sleep (the hypnogogic state), as they are waking up (the hypnopompic state), or sometimes even during dreams (i.e. so-called lucid dreams or dream yoga.) Those who do meditate will be well aware of images that spontaneously form and fade in the meditative mind, and which can give rise to conscious thoughts if left unchecked.

 

2.) Memory is a recording of life events.  I’ve been reading Julia Shaw’s “The Memory Illusion” recently. It’s a fascinating look at false memories. There are many famous cases of false memory, but what is most interesting is Shaw’s success in planting false memories of criminal activity. “Planting” isn’t the best term to describe this. It’s more about getting the subject to visualize events such that they create the false memory. While I stand by what I said about the myths of hypnosis, there have been a number of cases of false memories being implanted while an individual was in a hypnotic trance, and so one shouldn’t disregard the power of hypnosis altogether.  The fact of the matter is that what we remember isn’t the occurrence of the event itself, but the last remembrance of said event. This means that there’s a great deal of room for memory degradation over time, and for a false transcript of events to form in the mind.

 

1.) Emotions get in the way of good decision making. I just posted a review of Antonio Damasio’s book “Decartes’ Error,” which examines this subject in great detail. Damasio found that patients who had damage to parts of the brain responsible for emotion often became victims of paralysis by analysis. That is, without emotion to give them a kick, they can’t make decisions. Reason doesn’t always provide a clear answer because the world is filled with uncertainty. When there’s not enough information, we still need to make decisions, and this is accomplished by emotional “gut instincts.”

BOOK REVIEW: A Brief History of Vice by Robert Evans

A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built CivilizationA Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization by Robert Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book’s title and subtitle suggest its central theme, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. As the title suggests, drugs, sex, and sundry bad behavior aren’t just the abhorrent actions of a marginalized few who society seeks to reign in. In some cases, culture and civilization are built on said behaviors. Evans devotes a fair amount of space to discussing research on vices’s role in the growth of civilization. These hypotheses and theories run a gamut from the non-controversial and well-established to more sweeping claims such as that the agricultural revolution was largely driven by the dictates of beer production (i.e. both the need to produce a lot of grain and to be homebodies through the fermentation process) and that the dawn of religion may be linked to the ingestion of mushrooms of the magic variety. Despite the book’s light and humorous tone, it should be noted that the author treats the latter type of claims with the requisite skepticism.

But this isn’t just a book of history, anthropology, and evolutionary biology as pertains to the origins of vice and its linkage to civilization and culture; it also offers humorous anecdotes of the author’s experiments into how to replicate some of the vices of the ancients – as well as offering step-by-step directions for readers to conduct their own such investigations. As might be expected, there’s a lot of humor in the book. Just the idea of debauchery building civilization offers plenty of opportunity for the subversion of expectations that makes comedy, but then one adds in stories of people (and occasionally other species) making decisions under the influence of mind and mood altering substances (or even under the influence of horniness) and one enters territory ripe for hilarity.

The book consists of 15 chapters that cover both expected and unexpected topics. Not surprisingly, discussion of drugs – legal and illicit — takes up a large portion of the book. [I should make clear that the discussion of illegal substances is purely historical, and the “how-to” sections describe “experiments” that were legal in the author’s jurisdiction and that will be for most readers.] Ten chapters are about various consciousness and mood altering substances including: alcohol (ch. 1 & 4), psychedelic substances (ch. 7, 8, and 10), tobacco and marijuana (ch. 9; treated together because historically they had more in common than in their modern use / legal status), the ephedra shrub and derived products ranging from Mormon tea to Methamphetamine (ch. 11), coffee and caffeine (ch. 12), designer drugs ranging from ayahuasca [made from two different plants that don’t live together and which only work when used together] through pain killers and on to the dangerous scourge of synthesized substances created in labs to get around drug laws for a few days until they will be added to the schedule of illegal substances.) The final chapter (ch. 15) is devoted to the search for the mythical salamander brandy of Slovenia (claimed to have hallucinogenic qualities owing to a toxin emitted by the submerged reptile.) I should point out that I have oversimplified with this division of chapters for simplicity’s sake. Some of the chapters dealt with more than one type of substance. For example, Chapter 10 is really about drug cultures and how they kept people safe in, for example, shamanic tribal societies, and how the loss of such culture is part of the reason we have a more severe problem with substances in modern society.

No investigation into the role of vice on civilization would be complete without discussing sex, though there are only two chapters about it. The first, chapter 6, discusses prostitution / sex work. There’s a widespread tongue-in-cheek reference to “the world’s oldest profession” that hints that sex work is both ancient and that past civilizations sometimes viewed these activities in a much different light than do we in modern, Western society. The second chapter on sex, chapter 13, addresses a different question altogether, but one which has captured the attention of many a scholar (as well as being fruitful territory for humorists), and that’s why there’s such a vast range of sexually titillating activities. It’s not difficult to figure out the evolutionary advantage of extreme pleasure being linked to sexual intercourse. However, it’s much less clear why there are such a huge range of fetish behaviors that are intensely arousing for some while ranging from being boring to disgusting for others. [It’s not cleared up by thinking that there is just a tiny fraction of the population that is into everything. A person who gets excited by wearing a head-to-toe rubber suit while being failed with a halibut might find a foot fetish utterly disgusting.]

For those who are counting, that leaves three chapters on miscellaneous forms of vice. Chapter 2 discusses music, particularly as a lubricant of social activities, and it presents an intriguing theory that Stonehenge may have been built for its acoustic qualities – i.e. to facilitate ancient raves. Chapter 3 explores celebrity worship, an activity which we tend to think of as both recent and as harbinger of doom for humanity, but which actually has a long history – so long that it may date back further than humanity, itself, does. That leaves chapter five, which delves into a grab-bag of bad habits that would today be collectively labeled “douchiness.” This includes narcissism, inexplicable overconfidence, and a tendency toward lying, bragging, and delusions about self or others.

The book has a range of graphics from photographs to diagrams. Some are for educational purposes (e.g. to help the reader conduct their own experiments) and some are mostly for comedic effect. The “side-bar” discussions of how to reproduced the results of the ancients (and the author, himself) are presented in text-boxes for the sake of clarity. There are one or two of these text-boxes in most chapters. As mentioned, the subjects for these “hands-on” activities are chosen to avoid running afoul of the law.

I enjoyed this book. It’s at once amusing and thought-provoking. I think the author hits a nice medium between doling out humor and educating the reader. I’d recommend reading it (though not necessarily conducting every one of the experiments) for anyone who finds the subject intriguing.

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BOOK REVIEW: Tantric Yoga by Gavin and Yvonne Frost

Tantric Yoga: The Royal Path to Raising Kundalini PowerTantric Yoga: The Royal Path to Raising Kundalini Power by Gavin Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

Whenever I review a book about tantra, I have to start by clarifying which tantra I’m talking about. For tantra is one of those concepts that everybody thinks they know the meaning of, but few agree about what it is exactly. There are at least three broad interpretations of tantra. Among old-school Indian Tantrics, tantra involves the use of practices and rituals to elevate one’s consciousness, and at least some of said practices involve activities that mainstream religions (i.e. Hindu, Buddhism and others) consider vices. Two alternatives can be considered in contrast to that baseline view. The first of these is the mainstream religious view of tantra that keeps the unobjectionable practices and dismisses those practices that the fly in the face of religious prohibitions, saying that they are just misunderstandings or misinterpretations and not to be taken literally.

The second view, and the one relevant to his book, is the modern and mostly Western notion of tantra as being all about sex. This isn’t to suggest that these modern Tantrics are just guided by base desire and are only seeking tips to be better in the bedroom. Most of them see tantra as a road to an altered state of consciousness, but that alpha and the omega of that route is in sexual activity. I’d like to read a book dealing in the first view, but either that is dying out or those kind of tantrics don’t write books. This has left me with books on the alternative perspectives. I’ve already reviewed one on the mainstream religious perspective, and so here is one on the modern / Western sex-centric approach. It should be noted that the authors are aware of the differences in strains and refer to the branch they are offering as “Reconstructed Yoga” or “Neo-Tantric Yoga.”

The book that Frost and Frost deliver is designed to be one-stop shopping for those who would like to join or start a “tantric house.” A tantric house is sort of like an ashram, but smaller and focused on the “Neo-Tantric Yoga” (sexually-oriented) practices. Needless to say, there is a great deal of protocol to consider when living under such conditions. The book is logically organized. It starts with sort of philosophical and conceptual background and progresses to delving into the specific details of various practices. The ten chapters are arranged into three parts that deal, respectively, with basic precepts, preparation, and the details of the practices.

I should point out that it’s not just in the emphasis on sexually-based practices that this book differs from the traditional view of tantra. One of the best examples of this can be seen in the first sentence of a preface entitled “How to Use this Book” which says, “Many believe that teaching requires gurus, but that belief became obsolete centuries ago with the invention of printing. This book will be your personal guru…” In the old-school view of tantra, the importance of an actual teacher is considered paramount both because ritual and practice are so central to the activity and because there is so much opportunity to lose oneself in the weeds.

The book includes a great deal of ancillary matter. There are many black-and-white line drawings and diagrams. There are two appendices. The first appendix delves into the logistics of a tantric house from pet ownership to floor plans to issues to consider in considering applicants (needless to say many of these items wouldn’t be appropriate – or legal – to ask about when considering a prospective roommate or employee.) The other appendix is offered for gay participants because the rituals described throughout the book anticipate heterosexual coupling. There is a short bibliography and some brief assorted front matter as well.

This book is well written and organized for delivering what it’s intended to deliver. While it covers a lot of background information, it’s put together in a “how-to” format. This means that there are a lot of step-by-step instructions that could be useful if you intend to carry out the practices, but aren’t the most pleasant reading if one is trying to get a feel for the subject and / or to compare and contrast it to approaches with which one might be more familiar. There is certainly some intriguing food-for-thought peppered throughout, but it’s a how-to manual through-and-through.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who is interested in getting insights about life in a tantric household – particularly if one is interested in the details of ritual as well as the logistics and practical issues of such living. I’m sure there are more entertaining accounts of living in such a house, but which will not provide as much systematic explanation.

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BOOK REVIEW: A South Indian Treatise on the Kamasastra ed. by Swami Sivapriyananda

A South Indian Treatise On The KamasastraA South Indian Treatise On The Kamasastra by Swami Sivapriyananda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page (note: they have a different edition, I can’t comment on its commentary and art.)

 

This book was originally entitled “Rati Ratna Pradipika.” It’s an unfinished manuscript penned by a member of the Wadiyar (Wodeyar) Kingdom over 350 years ago. The Wadiyars were a south Indian royal family that ruled out of Mysore from 1399 to 1950. Like the “Kamasutra,” which heavily influenced this text, it’s a sex manual. Readers of the “Kamasutra” will not find anything new herein. This book serves more as a window into sexuality, culture, and their overlap for the place and time written. That said, it’s a quick read to appease one’s curiosity. The edition I read was only slightly more than 100 pages and that includes extensive commentary, artworks, and front and back matter.

This treatise consists of seven chapters. Chapter one is largely about astrology and what sex acts are most auspiciously practiced on which days of the month, but it starts with a brief classification of women with regards sexual promise. There’s not much content in this chapter that has any validity outside of the culture and times of its writing, and one wouldn’t want to consider this information to be a relevant guide to one’s behavior in the present day.

Chapter two delves into greater detail in classifying women and men (by body type, demeanor, and genital size / characteristics.) Women are classified as gazelle, mare, and elephant and men as hare, bull, and horse. There’s a brief discussion of which classes are ideally paired. The influence of dosha (i.e. kapha, pitta, vata)–a three-fold classification scheme broadly referenced in yoga and ayurveda—is also described herein.

Chapter three describes “outer play” which—as the name suggests—consists of acts that don’t involve bodily penetration (at least not beyond the so-called “French kiss.”) There are subsections for embracing, kissing, nail marks, and bite marks. The nexus of pain and pleasure is seen in the discussion.

Chapters four and five both concern the practice of “inner love.” The first of these chapters discusses 27 styles of intercourse. The 27 ways of intercourse are functions of genital size, time to orgasm, and level of passion. Chapter five elaborates on the subject that most people think of when they think of Indian sex manuals, and that is the physical positions. As with the “Kamasutra,” these postures range from simple and straight-forward to contortionistic.

Chapter six describes sixteen varieties of oral sex (i.e. eight female to male, and the same number vice versa.) Perhaps reflective of the misogyny of the times, the male to female varieties reflect different physical approaches, whereas female-on-male oral includes varieties such as “post-quarrel.”

Chapter seven is sort of a miscellany chapter that describes approaches to “love blows,” sounds, and a tour of the traits of women of various regions of India. As with the rest of the book, there are some entries that read comedically. (e.g. “While the woman is either sitting on his knee or on a bed the man lovingly punches her with his fist.”… “In response to this cruel violence she will cry like a goose, cuckoo, or duck.” However, the commentary clarifies and reduces confusion over what is presumably an attempt to translate as literally as possible.

The edition that I read (ed. by Swami Sivapriyananda with art by Raghupati Bhatta) was well done. The commentary did a great job of elaborating on confusing elements in the text as well as clarifying points which are incongruous with what we’ve come to know about sex and sexuality through the lens of modern science.

As mentioned, the edition I read had artworks to help clarify the text. These paintings / drawings are exaggerated (not unlike Japanese erotic artwork) and stylistic, but give one the gist of what the author was trying to convey. Most of the pictures are in chapters five and six where they are most helpful, but a few are placed for aesthetic purposes in other chapters. There’s also a brief bibliography in the edition that I read.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in the nexus of sex, culture, and yogic / ayurvedic thought.

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BOOK REVIEW: Submission by Marthe Blau

SubmissionSubmission by Marthe Blau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book describes the life-cycle of one woman’s submissive relationship with a dominant man. Her relationship with the man isn’t sexual in the conventional sense–though she participates in lots of sex and he commands her to engage in various sexual activities. It’s a relatively tame and more modern variant of the tale told in the famous “The Story of O” written by another Frenchwoman, Pauline Réage (a.k.a. Anne Desclos.)

While “Submission” is like any number of stories of submissive individuals being dominated by a dominant and / or sadistic partner, it does carve out a unique space. The female lead is a highly regarded lawyer who is married with a family. She isn’t on the weak side of some power dynamic (i.e. it’s not a secretary / boss or employee / employer kind of tale.) That’s not that different from “Story of O” in which the lead is a successful photographer, but it does add complexity to the lead’s motivation.

It also makes the story’s main question a little bit more intriguing. That question being, how long can the relationship go on with the demands on her becoming progressively more intense (re: degrading) while the intimacy of the relationship isn’t increasing as she’d like? This tension builds to a climax at a point where the man momentarily shifts from the cool dominant to an angry abusive.

It goes without saying that the book contains graphic sexual scenes and won’t be the cup of tea of puritans or those with delicate sensibilities. Included among acts described are bisexuality, public nudity, wearing of sex toys in public settings, and mostly mild sadism.

“Submission” is interesting both as a work of erotica and as a psychological sketch. There seem to be many books out there that tell similar stories, so it’s hard to place this one. I wouldn’t call it exceptional in any way, and I found “The Story of O” to be more intriguing and intense. That said, while I haven’t read the “50 Shades…” books, from what I heard about them, this one likely surpasses them in terms of writing and the building of characters of verisimilitude. [That said, the “50 Shades…” books have obviously been immensely popular for a reason, and that reason—near as I can tell—is they tap into a fantasy in which a man who is extraordinary in every way (genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist-with-six-pack-abs) falls for a woman who is mediocre in every way because she submits to his will. “Submission” won’t scratch that itch.]

The book is short, clocking in at a less than 220 pages. It does have a discernible plot, though it’s more character-centric. A little more depth with the lead character and her dominant could be interesting. As it is the reader is left to draw many conclusions about the characters’ motivations—which, admittedly, has its advantages.

If you know what you are getting into, I’d recommend this book.

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BOOK REVIEW: Perv by Jesse Bering

Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of UsPerv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

“Perv” is an examination of human sexuality outside the norm. As one might expect from the back blurb mention of a woman who was aroused by the Eiffel Tower, the book provides many a revelatory “things-that-make-one-go-HUH?” moment. The author’s humor–and willingness to offer cringe-worthy personal confessions–makes the book all the more readable. (e.g. As an example of the author’s humor: “As an adolescent male, you’re basically an ambulant sperm factory with an incompetent foreman…”) The book is in the vein of Mary Roach’s “Bonk” (something about sexuality triggers the urge to go monosyllabic), but Bering carves out his niche in deviant territory, while Roach’s book provides a more balanced look at the subject (although both books exploit anomalies to make for interesting reading.)

There are two ways in which this book wasn’t the one I expected, one of which is entirely my fault for reading too much into some words in the book blurb while ignoring others. I think the author and/or publisher must take some responsibility for the other as the subtitle itself leads one to expect a different emphasis in the book beyond the first chapter. First, I expected more insight into why people engage in these behaviors. Are there explanations rooted in our evolution? Does a given act result from some cross-wiring in the brain? There’s a cursory mention of science in the book’s description which led me to expect it to go much further beyond a cataloging of anomalous sexual behavior. To be fair, the author does back load an interesting discussion on the role of theory of the mind into the last chapter and there is some of this discussion throughout. However, the book spends much more time on history and semantics than I expected. Semantics sounds boring, but there are some fascinating insights into how words came to be used, and how usages have changed over time. (Also, the reader may be surprised at the huge vocabulary of “-philias” [objects of love / attraction] that’s not unlike the more well-known one for “-phobias” [fears.])

The second way this wasn’t the book I expected was that—owing to the subtitle “the sexual deviant in all of us”—I expected much more discussion of widespread but unconventional sexual proclivities (e.g. exhibitionism, voyeurism, dominance / submission, role-play.) Instead, Bering spends a lot of time discussing rare fetishes for materials, animals, objects, etc, and also extremely high-profile (but also rare) proclivities such as pedophilia and vovarephilia (cannibalistic arousal.) One can see the appeal from the book selling perspective. Said emphasis provides a lot of WTF and giggle-inducing moments to keep up the reader’s interest. However, if you’re expecting drilling down into [no double entendre intended] why people engage in these activities, mostly you’ll get playful variants on “the heart wants what the heart wants” and not so much insight into whether there are unseen Darwinian mechanisms at work or whether there’s some synaptic cross-wiring. I doubt this is a conscious attempt to avoid dealing with the un-PC ramifications of finding some deviant behaviors to be explicable in terms of brains that are operating within expected parameters while others may only be explained in terms of something not working as usual. I doubt this because Bering seems quite willing to take the book in uncomfortable directions. I’m not certain that there’s not an unconscious bias away from considering the “why” questions because it risks putting one in the cross-hairs even if one reports in an objective and non-judgmental way. (Perhaps there’s a lack of scientific findings to report for the same reason.)

Still, while I didn’t get the book that I expected, there were some surprising bonuses to weigh into the mix. Bering provides interesting food-for-thought on a few topics. One of these is what he calls the “naturalistic fallacy,” which is the idea that whether an activity can be considered acceptable depends upon whether one sees it elsewhere in nature (i.e. besides humanity.) This has been used over the years to divide acceptable from unacceptable “perversions”—often by people who had little to no idea what activities are or aren’t seen across the animal kingdom. (We do, after all, see monkeys literally throwing their poop.) Another challenging area of consideration is whether society’s extreme distaste for pedophilia leads us to write laws that actually exacerbate child abuse and exploitation (e.g. completely CGI [computer generated imagery] pornographic material is illegal, and—according to the author—there is reason to believe that–were it not—exploitation of children would decline.)

The book consists of seven chapters. An introductory chapter sets up the idea of sexual deviance and its changing definitions. Chapter 2 is about the many ways in which people manage to overcome their instincts toward disgust in order to engage in sexual activities. Chapter 3 looks at various forms of hypersexuality (e.g. nymphomania) and the changing definitions over time—and the biases contained therein (i.e. it was once thought to be a condition only females could experience.) Chapter 4 considers various paraphilias—i.e. unconventional sources of arousal. Chapter 5 deals with the subjective experience of many of these sexual behaviors and how that brushes up against societal norms. Chapter 6 delves into the topic of age and attraction discussing pedophilia, hebephilia, ephebophilia, teleiophilia, and gerontophilia. Of these, the vast majority of people are teleiophilics (attracted to full-grown adults) with hebephilic and ephebophilic tendencies not being uncommon (i.e. attraction to pubescent or post-pubescent youths.) Much of the discussion is about pedophilia and the legal entanglement of pedophilia and ephebophilia. Chapter 7 delves into the science and psychology in a way that I wished the rest of the book had.

There are no graphics in the book. It does have both chapter end-notes and bibliographic notes (the former being more foot-note like elaborations and the latter being mostly sources.)

I found this book interesting. It was more historical and semantic (dealing in the terminology of deviant sexuality and its changing nature over time) and less scientific and psychological than I expected, but it was still loaded with interesting information and insights. I’d recommend this book with the provisos mentioned, i.e. that it might not be the book you expect and may deal much more in rare proclivities than one expects.

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POEM: The Mystifying Sex Life of Scootley-Wootleys

Scootley-Wootleys are not of this world.

They don’t come in 2 types–a boy and a girl.

There are 16 sexes, 64 ways to mate,

and 3,000 rules on who and whom may date.

Pop-too can’t date Wah-toh, and Wah-toh can’t date Plarks,

but Wah-toh can take Pop-too for Sunday in the park.

Blang-doos and Moracks can only date each other.

Unless a Plark and a Blang-doo have a common grandmother.

The Siskay and the For-noo can only date but once.

But that’s plenty enough, cause it takes the whole of 4 months.

Planning an orgy necessitates a complex algorithm,

plus: blocks, straps, and a composite pulley system.

Just keeping track of it all was making me witless,

til I struck on a policy of minding my own business.

BOOK REVIEW: Touch by David J. Linden

Touch: The Science of the Sense that Makes Us HumanTouch: The Science of the Sense that Makes Us Human by David J. Linden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

“Touch” is a neuroscientist’s perspective on the human sense of touch, and the profound impact it has on life in our species.

It’s a short book, only about 200 pages of substantive text, arranged into eight chapters. The first chapter considers the role that our sense of touch plays in our lives as social animals. There are a number of studies described in this chapter, but I’ll cite only two that I think give an idea of what the chapter is all about. The first considers why a person holding a cold coffee is likely to be viewed more negatively than if that same person was holding a hot coffee after a handshake. The second reports that survey takers in a mall were more likely to gain compliance if they engaged in gentle, casual, and non-creepy touch—e.g. fingers to forearm.

The second chapter explores the combination of sensors we have in our skin—particularly in our fingers–that allow us to conduct feats of dexterity that (while we take them for granted) are phenomenally difficult. For all the billions put into robotics research, robots are nowhere close to being able to complete tasks that any five-year old can do. The third chapter examines how humans are uniquely geared to be able to give and recognize a particular type of touch sensation, the caress. Throughout the book there are a number of interesting stories, some of them are scientific case studies and others… not so much. This chapter begins with the story of a man on trial for flying into a rage because his girlfriend couldn’t get the pressure right when engaging in manual stimulation. (The author was actually on the jury.)

The fourth chapter delves more deeply and explicitly into sexual contact. Whereas chapter 3, dealt largely with hand against random skin, this chapter deals in genitals and erogenous zones more specifically. There are also a number of fascinating cases / stories herein. A lot of the chapter deals in how we experience and interpret pleasure.

Chapter five explains a specific type of sensation, that of temperature. It considers why crushed chili feels hot but crushed mint feels cool to the skin. While the focus of the book is on human anatomy, physiology, and social interaction, there are many cases from other species throughout the book. This chapter offers a prime example. It explains how Vampire Bats have a unique ability to sense infrared. This is of benefit to them, since they only take blood meals and, therefore, need to be able to sense where the blood is flowing and has the least insulation (fur) over it.

Continuing the examination of specific kinds of sensation, chapter six is about pain. This is where the neuroscientific perspective offers some interesting insight. In particular, because it considers why soldiers who had multiple gun wounds could do their job on the battlefield with nary a peep of complaint, but then would raise holy hell about a bad blood stick a few days later in the hospital. The case of a medic who was badly shot up but not cognizant of it until later is discussed in some detail.

Chapter 7 deals in the itchy, and asks and answers the question of whether or not itchiness is a particular case of low-intensity pain. By low intensity, I’m not speaking of the compulsive behavior sometimes spurred by such sensations.

Chapter 8 is also highly neuroscience influenced. It deals with various illusions of sensation, and how these illusions come about through the interaction of sense and the brain. While the most famous example of such an illusion is phantom limb pain experienced by amputees, Linden addresses less traumatic and more work-a-day tactile illusions for most of the chapter. (This may be because there are a number of popular works of neuroscience that deal in phantom limbs—most notably V.S. Ramachandran’s books.)

I enjoyed this book. It conveys significant technical detail, but does so in a fashion that is easy for a non-expert to follow both because of readable writing and the use of stories. The author uses frequent graphics to help clarify points, and the graphics (mostly line drawings and graphs) do their job by being easy to follow and interpret.

In short, the book was highly readable, concise, and informative. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in the sense of touch.

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DAILY PHOTO: The Erotic Artwork of Khajuraho

Title: "A kiss so good his head exploded"  Taken at Khajuraho on October 22, 2015

Title: “A kiss so good his head exploded” Taken at Khajuraho on October 22, 2015

 

If it’s not apparent from the title, this post features sculptures of a graphic nature. If you tend toward the puritanical, turn back now or be introduced to the wild side of ancient Indian sexual positions.

IMG_3200 IMG_3301 IMG_3300 IMG_3291 IMG_3288

 

I love the theme of covering one’s eyes–just not all that carefully.

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