Susie Bright can call it “a tewwible sex ed book” if she wants to, and yeah, it had some serious flaws. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that without considering what you are comparing it to. As one of the most widely sold sex ed books of its generation (in a class with perhaps one other member, I’m thinking of Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask) and in a world where there was no sex information freely available to minors, Joy of Sex became “the first serious sex information we ever saw” to a lot of people of my generation. Whatever its flaws (and I remember dismissing parts of it as “some serious hippy shit” reading it as an adolescent more than a decade after its publication) it was a lot better than Hustler magazine, which can stand in for the only other sort of sex info available to rural youngsters at that time. If there were better sex ed books likely to be on the open stacks of a public library in small town America before 1985, there weren’t many. Maybe Our Bodies, Ourselves? Not in our library, no indeed.

Those cheesy illustrations, though? There’s a story behind them:

Think of The Joy of Sex and chances are your mind will drift to an image of a man with a bushy beard and a woman with hairy armpits.

It’s not a photograph, but the nearest thing to it in pen and ink.

In early 1970s Britain, photographs would have been too risque. But hand-drawn illustrations based on photographs? Maybe society was ready for that.

“We were a bit nervous when we took this on,” remembers one of the book’s illustrators, Chris Foss.

“The publisher had to write a contract which confirmed that they would pay our defence if some old fart decided to make an issue out of it.”

Joy of Sex art director Peter Kindersley calculated that the quality of the art work would shield the publishers, Mitchell Beazley, from prosecution.

The images were graphic – they showed genitals and countless sex positions – but they were also artistic, and tasteful.

Before the artists could start work the team had to find models to pose for them.

Plan A, explains Mr Kindersley, was to use models from London’s Soho district – the hotbed of the capital’s sex industry.

“We found all these people who started posing, but halfway through the pose they would ask for an extra ¬£100 ($160) – it was just complete chaos,” he says.

There was some difficulty finding a workable Plan B. As the project approached a dead-end, it was the book’s other illustrator, Charles Raymond – responsible for the colour artwork – who came to the rescue. He volunteered to do the modelling himself, with his German wife, Edeltraud.

Chris Foss, who was responsible for the book’s black-and-white illustrations, took the photos. The book’s author, Dr Alex Comfort, had given them dozens of positions to get though, and all were done for real over two hectic days in early 1972.

The miners were on strike and they had only limited light to work with before the power cuts would plunge them into darkness.

“We’d say: ‘Charlie, we’ve only got another 20 minutes,'” recalls Mr Foss. “And he’d say: ‘Oh I’m terribly sorry’ and he’d go off to prepare himself to perform again, and Edeltraud would go: ‘Charles, Charles, please, please come on, we only have 10 minutes, please two more positions.’

“So it was all quite fraught shooting the positions – but it worked.”

The same kind of matter-of-fact approach applied in the post-production.

“I remember Chris and Charles coming into the office with all these absolutely explicit photographs,” says Mr Kindersley.

“And we all stood round saying: ‘That’s a good one, yeah that’s very good.'”

All of which makes me wonder: who has those photos now? That would make an art book!

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