If the Association for the Betterment of Sex were real, it would have been sued into oblivion long ago. I'm not particularly litigious, but after reading the organization's Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk, I'd get in on the class action.
The ABS is actually the invention of five humor writers (Scott Jacobson, Emmy-winning writer for the Daily Show, Todd Levin of Conan, Jason Roeder of The Onion, Ted Travelstead – who also appears in his birthday suit on the book's cover – of Vanity Fair and Esquire, and Mike Sacks, humor writer, author of And Here's The Kicker, and Vanity Fair staffer) known collectively as The Pleasure Syndicate.
While it's clearly a parody of sexual manuals like The Joy of Sex, Our Bodies, Our Junk is written in such an unflinchingly authoritative tone that it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. That's precisely where the ABS wants you when they posit that the average penis has nearly cubic dimensions and describe pubic hair in improbable units of measurement. I knit, so the image of a "skein of pubes" was especially distressing. Some of the more outrageous sections of the book are so convincingly specious that I couldn't help wondering if someone, somewhere was really engaging in these activities in earnest. Maybe some guy in some remote outpost has arrived independently at the "tea sandwich" method of intimate hygiene, "gently pressing the penis between two organic cucumber slices". If you read closely, there are real lessons to be gleaned. (I don't advise doing this.) After all, does it seem so far-fetched that a yeti's bowel movement would be "sensually present yet infuriatingly elusive"? Is it so difficult to believe that "bisexuality is just a hoax perpetrated by the lip-gloss industry"? Open your eyes, sheeple! And this is just true: "there isn't a body part, inanimate object, or idea that someone hasn't found a way to eroticize."
I can't shake the feeling that if the ABS were real, countless women's organizations would call for its protest.The female sex organs are often discussed with contrition, as if the ABS wants to help us women-folk cope with how impossibly enigmatic our junk is. I'm salivating just imagining what Jezebel would say about "girls, who grow up believing their pedestrian vagina is ugly or unclean" or the female orgasm which "can be detected by the faint scent of candy apples and the sudden appearance of a white dove" and the repeated idea that women orgasm with only the utmost aplomb: "In the throes of passion, a woman might very easily confuse prescribe and proscribe or misapply the subjunctive, and it's up to you, her lover, to work with whatever grammatical construction you are given." But, of course, it's all a joke – made abundantly clear by the book's suggestion that channeling Jay Leno would help gain entrance to an orgy. No one's going to protest this book, although doing so would probably make for hilarious viral marketing, because it's a great read.
Our Bodies, Our Junk allows the members of ABS glimmers of self-awareness, not unlike when Stephen Colbert cracks a smile, a nod to the absurdity of the character he so deftly plays. The authors seem comfortable positioning ABS members as overconfident simpletons who defer to online encyclopedias while the reader laughs at the writers laughing at the characters, all of whom are fictionalized versions of the writers themselves. This is not easy to pull off, but when done successfully as it is here, it is very, very funny.
Some of my favorite things from Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk
My favorite fetish: "Marcel Marceaunanism – These finicky fetishists are repelled by all forms of physical intimacy, and can only achieve sexual release by watching someone roll their eyes and sarcastically mime a hand job."
My favorite STD (a phrase I never thought I'd have occasion to think, much less type): "Genital scapegoating: For reasons still unclear to medical science, the private parts of individuals contracting this peculiar disease become objects of blame for all manner of personal problems and societal ills. Someone with genital scapegoating may not even know he or she has the disease until confronted by strangers with comments such as ‘Your vulva is why I drink' or ‘You know what's wrong with America? Your balls, that's what.'" It's going to take every ounce of me not to repeat these things to my mostly imagined enemies.
I appreciate the safe word suggestions, though surely someone would be taking a severe health risk by relying on their ability to recite under duress the ornate incantations with their elaborate meters and rhyme scheme.
"Fact: 90 percent of executive search ads in The Economist would not have been necessary if only somebody had taken the trouble to pass a business card between tightening of ball clamps." I've always suspected that a Venn diagram showing the overlap between financial work and BDSM fetishism would appear as a single circle.
The shadow play suggested for people not ready for physical intercourse is actually really creative. I'd pay to see this performed in a storefront theatre: "Each person has their own light source, which they direct from their side of the room to a midpoint in the center of the wall in front of them… The goal is to make the shadows intermingle." Sounds awesome.
Mike Sacks was nice enough to answer a few of my borderline creepy questions about his career and the book. Check out the interview below.
If by some series of misadventures, an inexperienced youngster were to interpret this manual literally, what portion of his or her bail would The Association of the Better of Sex be willing to pay?
Not much. Whatever was left in the office's Muscular Dystrophy collection jar.
How does a group of men, who seemingly only know one another professionally, come to find that, as far as sexual humor goes, they march to the beat of the same, awkwardly erotic drummer?
We all knew each other sexually before we knew each other as writers. We met every Sunday Night at the Gowanus Sex Club, where we'd mingle and partake of the seafood buffet. From there, it was a short leap to writing a book as we all sat in the Park Slope Tea Lounge, munching on Vietnamese sandwiches and blasting Enya.
In the book the laugh is never where you expect it to be. How difficult was it to avoid obvious sex joke tropes?
Pretty easy, actually, if only because so few of us know anything about sexuality. For instance, I have never seen a clitoris. I'm sure it exists, but has ANYONE seen this thing? My wife swears it's out there, as does our marriage counselor, but I'm not buying it.
For those readers who haven't yet read the book, it's worth mentioning that you are always illustrated with a black eye. Why is that? How much trouble has following your own advice caused you?
There is no special reason for the black eye, but I like to tell people that I got in a fight with some deaf guy from Texas who took serious offense at my "I Shaved My Balls for This" t-shirt. And that we're now Facebook friends. But, no, there is no special reason for the black eye.
How concerned are you that your name will forever be associated with the invention of one or all of the hopefully fictional fetishes or sexual positions featured in ‘Our Bodies, Our Junk ? Are you comfortable with your legacy?
I'm not too concerned. My father invented the Dirty Sanchez when he was young, and I guess it was fate that I would one day invent "The Wandering Jew" and various other sex positions.
Manuals that read this clinically and authoritatively are rarely intentionally funny. What inspired the tone of Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk?
I'm from the DC area and I've worked at an association and I knew a lot of blow-hard "experts." This book, if anything, was meant to satirize that world, which is not a world I'd ever want to return to. It's filled with a lot of PhDs with bullshit degrees and rainbow-suspenders and patriotic bow-ties. It was very easy for all five authors to mock this type of character, and once we found that voice, we quickly fell into the groove.
For And Here's The Kicker, you mention having done tens of hours of research for each interview. How many well-intentioned deviants did you and your co-authors interview for Our Bodies, Our Junk?
Actually, on average, it was about ten hours of interviewing. The research time was closer to 40 hours or so per person. Meanwhile, I was so burned out when it came time to write this sex book, that I just relied on personal experience and on stories from people I met on the G train.
What initially drew you to humor writing?
I grew tired of working in a record store in suburban Maryland.
You've mentioned in interviews for your last book, And Here's the Kicker, that it was an excuse to talk to writers whose work you [admire?]. What lessons did you take from writing that book?
I was really lucky—I got to speak to two writers who passed away not long after I spoke with them: Larry Gelbert and Irv Brecher. Irv wrote for the Marx Brothers, and it was like interviewing someone who knew Babe Ruth. Irv was a link to another time and place that's gone forever. Larry Gelbart had been a professional writer since he was seventeen, and he was a real mensch. I loved talking with him. As for what I learned, I think the main thing is to network with as many like-minded creative types as you can find. And to write every day, or as often as possible. Writing, like anything else, is a learned skill. But, in the end, I think it has to be self-taught. I don't think any course (whether at a university or the local Y) will give you the secrets and the talent to become a successful career.
When you began writing professionally, you weren't writing humour. How did you make the transition from more traditional publications to your work in McSweeney's? Was humor always the end goal? What advice would you give to someone interested in comedy writing?
Actually, I got started writing for National Lampoon and Cracked and MAD magazines (for MAD, I was forced to write under a pseudonym, because I was also contributing to Cracked). It was always my intention to write humor, but I just needed to make a living. I worked at Knight-Ridder in DC, and then at the Washington Post. And I now work at Vanity Fair. McSweeney's was a great outlet for humor writers. People forget now how few outlets there were in the late 90s for humor pieces. As for advice, I'd recommend to not think of writing as a competition. I think one should reach out to as many people as possible and try to work your way through the process together. It's easier and more fun that way. And the more people you know, the better it'll be for you down the road.
If readers are interested in reading more from you and/or The Pleasure Syndicate, where can they find more of your work? And what projects can we expect in the future?
Well, I have a new book coming out in March 2011 called "Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reality." It's a compilation of published humor pieces from New Yorker, Esquire, Vanity Fair, McSweeney's and other publications. In the meantime, I have a website: mikesacks.com.
The other writers for the Pleasure Syndicate are all fantastic, and you should definitely seek out their work online and on TV. They are Scott Jacobson (Daily Show and "Bob's Burgers"), Todd Levin (Conan), Jason Roeder (The Onion), and Ted Travelstead (Vanity Fair).
We're all currently pitching a second book, this one to take place in the workplace. I can't really give away the idea, but I will just say that, yes, it does involve the Vatican, a mysterious hooded figure named Silas, and a giant pot of yellow-potato salad.
Rebecca V. O'Neal is a Chicago-based comedy nerd and internet addict, the latter of which she feels facilitates her increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Do not enable her obsession by visiting her vintage fashion, comic book, literary, or comedy blogs or by following her on Twitter. She spends her time as a freelance writer, thrift store and estate sale frequenter, and depressed homebody who knows not the joy of smoke and drink. No known photographs exist of Rebecca, as it's purported that she is, in fact, a series of sophisticated holograms. She makes viral videos (1,2) in her spare time, because she has nothing else to do.