Carnal Knowledge, ed Tom Hodgkinson

Sex all the way
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The Independent Culture

The 40th edition of The Idler magazine is devoted almost exclusively to sex. There's a spattering of non-sexual material, but heralded by a piece on Mae West's anecdotes ("A hard man is good to find"; "Sex is like bridge: if you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand") it's sex all the way.

New York sex therapist Esther Perel somehow manages to steer a course through Tom Hodgkinson's more latex- than kid-gloved questions ("Didn't Benjamin Franklin say that once a month you should take your wife away to a hotel and treat her like a prostitute?") to say that we need more playfulness in our relationships. Elsewhere, Sarah Janes recounts her sex dream diary, David Bramwell explains how to make your own S&M toys, and Michael Bywater writes about resisting frantic sex, moaning that " Frantic is the chief characteristic of 21st-century life". Bywater is never one to miss out on a good bit of middle-class whining, but this is, nonetheless, writing of the highest order. You have to applaud someone able to shift from discussing Aristophanes to Julie Burchill within a few paragraphs.

In among all this there are some mildly titillating retro-70s pictures of women frolicking in the grass or around water, and a treatise by Penny Rimbaud (a man) on the Nature of Rejection that shows you can do a lot more with words, in this case sex words, than lay them out in long, straight lines. It's a pity the typography is so much more interesting than the content.

Unashamedly a book for the boys, this artfully printed volume only has one major fault. The Damien Hirst cover, supposed to express the "life and humour that should be wrapped up with sex", looks horribly like the aftermath of some middle-aged sex and sneezing incident round the back of a nasty suburban greengrocer's.

Ebury, £10.99

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