Weidenfeld £7.99

The Sex Myth: Why Everything We're Told is Wrong, By Dr Brooke Magnanti

Who decides what's weird... and why

Since revealing herself as the author of the Belle du Jour blog and memoirs, Dr Brooke Magnanti has become an acerbic critic of the media's distorted representation of sex and the detrimental effect it has on prevailing social attitudes and beliefs.

The Sex Myth is a compendium of the most popular and salacious sexual dogmas pedalled by the press, only instead of bolstering these widely accepted ideas, Magnanti dissects each one to expose the unreliable or outright fictional evidence on which they are based.

Magnanti discusses issues including the stereotyping of male and female sexuality; sex addiction; the sexualisation of children and teenagers; rape; the porn industry; trafficking; prostitution; and the motives of those opposed to sex work. While these subjects have all generated a surplus of column inches and books, it would be foolish to dismiss The Sex Myth due to any perceived lack of originality. What makes it special is the impeccable diligence with which Magnanti analyses empirical data and research to bolster her claims.

She highlights the determinative influence that “Agenda Setters” – those, including pharmaceutical companies, governments and religious groups, likely to profit from the promotion of a specific theory – have on the development of so-called diseases such as female sexual dysfunction (FSD). And although she agrees that some claiming to suffer from sex addiction do act in a worrying way, the condition might also be interpreted as “pathologising what is probably, to most of us, reasonable sexual behaviour”. The problem is that because “we are unwilling to let go of a tendency to define what is the 'right' amount of sex”, it is easier to label someone who deviates from this socially imposed norm as transgressive or unwell instead of questioning the status quo.

At no point does reading Magnanti become laborious, owing to her clear, accessible language, insightful humour and wit. There are also quirky historical facts, to prove that confusion is not a modern-day phenomenon. For example, the Kellogg empire was founded by a man who wished to promote sexual abstinence using cereals; and wind-up vibrators were issued to physicians in the 1870s.

The Sex Myth is an ambitious, meticulously researched and passionate antidote to the damage caused by years of misinformation and the destructive intolerance of those who refuse to consider divergent viewpoints. It is an enlightening must-read for anyone exposed to the press.

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