May 2004

Liz Miller

nonfiction

Nerve's Guide to Sex Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen by Emma Taylor and Lorelei Sharkey

One of my favorite jokes is, embarrassingly enough, from an old episode of Third Rock From the Sun -- mystified by their human bodies, the aliens are delighted when teenage Tommy brings home his textbook for Health class. John Lithgow exclaims, "You found the owner's manual!"

But the Health textbooks I recall from high school mainly consisted of pictures of genital warts and how to check your boobs for tumors. They never specified how to handle an accidental fart in front of a potential conquest, or what to do if one wishes to booty-call an ex-partner. They never even covered the proper time to introduce tongue in a make-out session.

Oh, the woes of public education.

Luckily, Nerve's Guide to Sex Etiquette is here to fill in the gaps. Going into the nitty-gritty of orifice exploration, while also setting up guidelines for the social aspects of these interactions, Em and Lo strive to create order in the chaos of modern courtship -- all while encouraging the reader to enjoy the hints of chaos they can't quite control.

Written with the same poised tone that Miss Manners might use (encouraging "gentlemen" and "ladies" to be above reproach in their dealings with "whatever gender you find fairest"), the book's early chapters are devoted to the niceties of the hookup and the differences in how one handles formal sex and casual sex (with suggestions like "You should always have a guest toothbrush handy, still in its packaging, just in case a guest requests one. You do not keep a drawer full of them for guests to 'pick their favorite color,' as if you were the sex dentist.") Later chapters urge readers to be cautious in their use of teeth, unsurprised by emissions, and always, always, always prepared, clean, and safe -- while still having a good time.

Completely nonjudgmental in regards to whatever may tickle someone's fetish, this book is a neocon's nightmare, especially if said neocon does not agree that "every gentleman and lady should try both ends of a rim job at least once in their lifetime." On matters of hygiene, the authors err on the side of sterilization, but on matters of kink, anything goes (more adventurous readers than I might be interested in bookmarking the chapter on how to hold your own orgy). It's a refreshing stance, even though it can be a bit tedious to be reminded so frequently of how much sex everyone but you is having. Well, you and the neocons, at any rate.

All the bases are well-covered -- they even break down how to be a nice guy who gets action (I'm thinking of photocopying and distributing that section to those in desperate need of it). However, as the writers lament, this book is not yet required reading for all -- thus, following Em and Lo's guidelines might prove difficult. The prospect of explaining to some skeezy gentleman that buying me one drink doesn't mean that I have to do anything more than say "Thank you" -- at least, according to Em and Lo's standards -- isn't very appealing. And there are many, many standards; in writing this review, I wished for an index more than once.

In the end, the old-timey style may get a little old (I never thought I could ever get tired of the word "uncouth"), and many of the standards can only ever be suggestions. But it doesn't short-change the message of treating others with respect and kindness, even in strange and indelicate situations. For with the difficulties and complications of romance in these oh-so-modern times, reminding people to be careful of each other? Not such a bad notion.

Nerve's Guide to Sex Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen by Emma Taylor and Lorelei Sharkey
Plume
ISBN: 0452285097
224 Pages