Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Review: A Steampunk's Guide to Sex

A Steampunk's Guide to Sex is a unique little book that seeks to both educate on Victorian sexual practices and provide guidance to modern readers in the sexual arena.

It consists of a few themed "chapters" which are collections of very short pieces on various topics, by various authors.  As such, the quality and interest of the pieces varies.  But generally the information about Victorian sexuality is very informative, well researched, and interestingly written.

I read this book mostly in very short sessions, but I often found myself reading more than I intended because it was so interesting.  I consider myself something of an expert on the Victorian period after decades of reading fiction and nonfiction on the subject.  I've even read a few nonfiction books on the subject of Victorian sex.  So it's pretty impressive that I definitely learned things I didn't know from this book.  The collection of Victorian sexual slang was particularly impressive in the sheer number of terms I'd never encountered (and I've read Victorian porn.)

So from slang, to Victorian porn, to Alan Moore on the lives of prostitutes of the period, to the history of vibrators (steam-powered and otherwise), the Victorian content is really good.  My only complaint is that I often wished the pieces were longer, that sometimes I had just got good and interested in the subject when the piece ended.

The latter portion of the book discusses different forms of kink and offers advice related to people looking to pursue them today.  This I found both less interesting and less helpful.  Perhaps I am in a minority who has had plenty of exposure to basic ideas about polyamory, BDSM, sex work, and consent issues, but I didn't learn anything I hadn't known or heard before, and I was bored.  Moreover, I really don't see how some of the topics related either to steampunk or the Victorian period.  Tips for becoming a stripper, for instance.  I understand the feeling that a "guide to sex" must provide practical advice, but I think possibly a general "how to pursue ethical sex" and "how to find out more about things you might be interested in"  may have left more room for the interesting Victorian stuff.

Again, opinions might differ from mine.  But I felt that the very superficial treatments these topics received here were unlikely to really help people who are genuinely interested in them.  And the focus on kink to the exclusion of "normal" sexual practices (common practices, maybe) might leave someone with a skewed image of steampunk itself.  Certainly steampunk may be accepting of people who practice a wide variety of kinds of sex, but it's hardly of huge import within the community.  Unless I'm just attending the wrong steampunk parties.  Also, I suppose I should mention that this book includes tintype photographs that contain nudity.  I have to say the photos were a little disappointing in their total lack of "steampunk-ness," other than the fact that they were tintypes.

At any rate, I do recommend this book to anyone curious about what Victorians really did in the bedroom.

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