At the time The Joy of Sex book was published, the UK, the US and the Anglo provinces of Canada, Australia (all unlike most other Continental European countries) were still very prudish about sex, perhaps due to outdated Victorian laws still on the books, and because the English/Anglo-American culture never openly discussed sex. That meant that sex was something that was done (as birth rates in all English-speaking countries prove), yet was certainly never talked about in an open matter.
Yet in the US, The Joy of Sex became a huge bestseller (making the publisher very, very happy), spending 11 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list and remaining in the top 5 for more than 70 weeks (from 1972–1974). All told, it spent a total of 343 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. With a publishing success like that, it wasn't surprising that it was followed-up by a sequel called More Joy of Sex. With the book's discreet cover, its content was divided into what could kind of be described as appetizers, main courses, and special sauces (consistent with the cookbook design for The Joy of Cooking).
|The "hairy man" and his female lover from The Joy of Sex book|
Although Playboy had successfully operated since the 1950's, it initially operated within a very complicated barrage of restrictions and prohibitions in certain local counties, meaning it could operate as long as there weren't local restrictions, but that was ever-changing. Then, in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its decision on Miller v. California that dramatically narrowed and simplified the definition of obscenity, which resulted in dramatically fewer prosecutions nationwide. In that case, the definition of obscenity went from being an extremely broad understanding of "utterly without socially redeeming value" to that which lacked "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." That meant that many serious sex publications were suddenly allowed under the nation’s newer understanding of obscenity laws.
|Marilyn Monroe was the centerfold of the 1st|
edition of Playboy in December 1953
As noted, because The Joy of Sex was illustrated, rather than with actual photos, it managed to avoid the same kind of scrutiny as actual photography might have. The illustrations were very graphic, but looking back on them 50 years later is almost comical, with hairstyles better left in the 1960's and bushy pubic areas. The man in the illustration was heavily bearded; his hair was long, and, and frankly, his hair seemed to be a little greasy, too. His eyelids were usually at half-mast. He came to be popularly known in the the UK as the "hairy man" and his only slightly-less-hairy female partner (some hipsters are now doing the same thing, so I guess they haven't really learned from their elders' mistakes, even if the porn they consume looks dissimilar to them).
|Our Bodies, Ourselves: the feminist alternative|
I recall finding a copy of The Joy of Sex at home (or maybe it was More Joy of Sex, I don't recall exactly, it was one of them) as a kid. But to my surprise, I wasn't punished for finding it, I was actually allowed to read the book in its entirety, by myself, and was told to ask if I had any questions (I could tell they didn't want to do that, but felt obliged to offer that). I guess if I found a book that someone at home was reading, they really couldn't lecture about my reading it, and not another word was ever mentioned about it. When we had sex education in school a few years later, I remember thinking that we were kind of short-changed with the stuff we were taught in school because that book had so much more. In school, we were taught that sex consisted of a man "inserting the penis into the woman’s vagina". Um, "insert", as if that was a single second in time, and that was it?
Evidently, I lived in an area of the country that was more progressive than some other parts of the country. Some places (like Utah, or Mississippi or Alabama) were trying to ban these books and some continue to do so in 2017. They also tried to ban Playboy and/or Penthouse. And others, like Judy Blume books. (see my post on her at http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2012/06/tales-of-4th-grade-nothingjudy-blume.html) Like we kids weren't talking about this stuff openly on our playgrounds?! And there was always some kid who had moved in from out-of-town, maybe where books were banned, but school kids quickly indoctrinated them on the taboo content, so it didn’t stay secret for long. This stuff has a way of being shared on the school playgrounds.
I guess many kids of the 1970's had a very similar experience.