Everything you always wanted to know about sex* *but were afraid to ask
The Hand-Reared Boy
Everything you always wanted to know about sex* explained by David Reuben, M.D., *but were afraid to ask. The title of the current number-one nonfiction best seller is cute as a bug’s ear, and we know what Freud thought of those who were cute about sex (“Very uptight,” Sigmund Freud, M.D.). If a jocose approach to sexual matters is a mask for unease, then David Reuben, M.D. (“currently in private psychiatric practice in San Diego, California”), is in a state of communicable panic and I would be most unwilling to have him privately practice psychiatry on me, even in San Diego, the Vatican of the John Birch Society.
David Reuben, M.D., is a relentlessly cheery, often genuinely funny writer whose essential uncertainty about sex is betrayed by a manner which shifts in a very odd way from night club comedian to reform rabbi, touching en route almost every base except the scientific. Essentially he is a moralist, expressing the hang-ups of today’s middle-aged, middle-class urban American Jews, hang-ups which are not (as I shall attempt to show) necessarily those of the gentile population or, for that matter, of the rising generation of American Jews.
Yes, I am going to talk about class and race-religion, two unmentionables in our free land, and I am going to make a case that Jewish family patterns, sexual taboos, and superstitions are often very different from those of the rest of the population, black, white, and yellow, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Moslem. For gentile readers much of the charm of Portnoy’s Complaint was its exoticism. And despite those ecumenical reviewers who insist that everyone’s mother is a Jewish mother, the truth is that Mrs. Portnoy was the result of a specific set of historical circumstances, not applicable to anyone else, including the next generation of American Jews, if we are to believe in her child Alexander’s rebellion. Certainly his son (assuming he has not entirely wasted his posterity) will probably resemble next-door neighbor George Apley II rather more than father or grandfather.
I mention Alexander Portnoy because David Reuben, M.D., is his contemporary and they have a good deal in common. But where Portnoy’s creator is a highly talented artist often able to view objectively the prejudices and tribal taboos of his mother’s ghetto culture, Dr. Reuben is still very much in her thrall. Essentially he is not a man of science but a moderately swinging rabbi who buttresses his prejudices with pious quotations from the Old Testament (a single reference to the New Testament is inaccurate); surprisingly, the only mental therapist he mentions is Freud—in order to set him straight.
But then Dr. Reuben seems not to have been affected at all by the discipline of science. He explodes with snappy generalities (“All children at the time of puberty develop pimples”) and opinions (“All prostitutes hate men”) and statistics which he seems to have made up (“Seventy to eighty percent of Americans engage in fellatio and cunnilingus”). He makes no attempt to prove anything; he merely states his prejudices and enthusiasms as though they were in some way selfevident. It is possible that his advice to middle-aged, middle-class Jewish heterosexuals is useful, but they make up a very small part of the population he now wants to convert to his notions of “mature” sexuality. Certainly a white Protestant will find much of what he has to say inscrutable while a black will no doubt regard him as something from outer space (that is to say, suburbia) and yet another good reason for replacing Jerusalem with Mecca.
At two points Dr. Reuben is at odds with Moses. He thinks Onan was quite a guy, and his lonely practice particularly useful in toning up those of our senior citizens whose wheelchairs will not accommodate two people; and he has a positively Updikean enthusiasm for cunnilingus. Dr. Reuben would like everyone to indulge in this chivalrous practice—except women, of course: Lesbianism is “immature.” He is also sufficiently American to believe that more of everything is best. At times he sounds not unlike the late Bruce Barton extolling God as a super-salesman. “Success in the outside world breeds success in the inside world of sex,” sermonizes Dr. Reuben. “Conversely, the more potent a man becomes in the bedroom, the more potent he is in business.” Is God a super-salesman? You bet!—and get this—God eats it, too!
On those rare occasions when Dr. Reuben is not proselytizing, he can be most instructive, particularly when he describes what happens to the body during orgasm (I assume he is correct about the plumbing), and as he lists all the things that take place between the first thought of sex (D. H. Lawrence, apparently, was wrong: sex is all in the head) and final emission, the male reader is certain to be impotent for the next twenty-four hours (“You will never again,” said Leo Tolstoi wickedly, “step on a crack without thinking of a white bear”). Dr. Reuben also has a good plan for eliminating venereal disease by a mass inoculation of the entire population, which he only slightly spoils by suggesting that we use “our gigantic Civil Defense network,” which was set up for “just such a mass medical program (in case of bacteriological warfare). This would be a wonderful opportunity for a dry run which might pay off in case of a real war.” Well, he does live in San Diego.
Dr. Reuben is also a liberal on abortion, and informative on the subject of contraceptives. He finds something a bit wrong with all the present methods and suspects that the eventual solution will be a morning-after pill for women—as a Jewish patriarch he believes that woman, the lesser vessel, should bear the responsibility. He is also filled with wonderful lore, some of which I hope is true. Want to know the best nonmedical contraceptive? “Coca-Cola. Long a favorite soft drink, it is, coincidentally, the best douche available. A Coke contains carbolic acid which kills the sperm and sugar which explodes the sperm cells…. The six-ounce bottle is just the right size for one application.” Yes, but won’t it rot her teeth?
Between mature guys and gals, anything goes (though anal penetration of the gal leaves doc a bit queasy). Male impotence and female frigidity he recognizes as hazards, but psychiatry, he is quick to point out, will work wonders. He is a remorseless selfadvertiser. Every few pages he gives us a commercial with brisk dialogue and characters named Emily who suffer from frigidity until…. But let’s listen in on Emily and her doctor after some months of treatment. Is Emily frigid now? Lordy no! Emily is fucking like a minx. “I’m happy to say, doctor, this is just a social call. I wanted to tell you how happy I am. I don’t know what it’s done for other people but psychiatry did what Mother Nature couldn’t do—it made a woman out of me!” Music up and out.
Or take the case of Joni, the beautiful airline stewardess who couldn’t achieve the big O no matter how hard she (he) tried. After being told that the values she had learned as a girl on a farm in Iowa (Christian puritanism) were not applicable to a flying bunny, she was able in a matter of months to write her doctor “at Christmastime” (when, presumably, all thoughts flow toward the orgasm), “I may have been a stewardess, but I really ‘won my wings’ in the psychiatrist’s office.” To one who locates psychiatry somewhere between astrology and phrenology on the scale of human gullibility, the cold-blooded desire to make money by giving one’s fellows (at best) obvious advice and (at worst) notions even sillier than the ones that made them suffer smacks of Schadenfreude.
Along with testimonials to the efficacy of his art, Dr. Reuben has a good deal to say about many subjects, and since he never attempts to prove anything, his opinions must be taken as just that. Some examples. “Orgasm among nymphomaniacs is as rare as orgasm among prostitutes.” To which any liberal arts professor would scribble in the margin, “prove.” For Dr. Reuben’s instruction, the only bona fide nymphomaniac I ever went to bed with (I had two assistants let me quickly add; I am no Miller-Mailer man) promptly produced a splendid series of orgasms of the variety known as “skimming.” In fact, she enjoyed having orgasms so much that she thought it fun to have sex with a lot of different people, thus betraying her immaturity. Three point two times a week year in and year out with the same mature and loving mate ought to have been quite enough for the saucy shicksa.
Then there is Smiling Jack who suffers from premature ejaculation. Why? Because he wants to punish women. “The smile is characteristic of men with premature ejaculation—they are all profusely apologetic but their regrets have a hollow ring.” Fastcomer, wipe that smile off your face before you stretch out on Dr. Reuben’s couch.
“Blind girls become particularly adept at secret masturbation. They….” No. You had better read this section for yourself. At least the author had the courtesy to wait until Helen Keller was dead before rushing into print with the news. Then “the chap who pays to see two ladies perform homosexually also has his problems, as do the father and son who patronize the same hustler.” A breath-taking non sequitur, as usual unprovable and also, as usual, an echo of Mosaic law: Thou shalt not look upon thy father’s nakedness.
The looniest of Dr. Reuben’s folklore is “Food seems to have a mysterious fascination for homosexuals. Many of the world’s greatest chefs have been homosexuals” (Who? I’m really curious. Not Brillat-Savarin, not Fanny Farmer). “Some of the country’s best restaurants are run by homosexuals” (Those two at Twenty One?). “Some of the fattest people are homosexuals” (King Farouk? Orson Welles? President Taft?). “The exact reason is complex….” It certainly is since there is no evidence one way or the other. But if there were, Dr. Reuben had best find himself a friendly shrink because he makes at least eight references in his book to the penis as food, usually “limp as a noodle”; in fact, food is seldom far from the good doctor’s mind when he contemplates genitalia—no doubt for a very complex reason (when I met him three years ago in San Diego he was round as a…well, butterball; since then, according to the dust-jacket photo, he has “matured” and lost weight).
But Reuben the folklorist is nothing compared to Reuben the statistician. “At least seventy-five to eighty-five percent of [prostitutes’] clients want to have their penises sucked.” “Ninety nine percent of johns refuse to wear condoms [with prostitutes].” “Only about one tenth of [aging] females choose celibacy.” “Chronic or repeated impotence probably affects about thirty to forty percent of men at any given time.” And of course those 70 to 80 percent of men who engage in cunnilingus. Since two can play these games, I shall now open my own private files to the public. Right off, 92 percent of those men who get cancer of the tongue have practiced cunnilingus from once to 3309 times in their lives. Those who practice fellatio, however, are not only better dressed but will take at least one long trip in the coming year. Ninety-six percent of those who practice sixty nine (for Dr. Reuben’s heteros a must) periodically complain of a sense of suffocation. Finally, all major American novelists after forty occasionally have orgasm without a full erection. Further statistics on this poignant condition will be revealed as soon as I have heard from Saul, Norman, Vladimir, and Mary.