Friction and Fantasy: Opening Pandora's Box
by Ramon Piñon, Jr.
BookVenture Publishing, LLC

"Human sexuality is not simply a matter of biology, but an expansive universe of ideas, myths, received ideas, traditions that have a long historical trajectory."

In a society constantly bombarded with sexual images and innuendo, is there a need for one more book about sexuality? In the age of information, is there anything the civilized world doesn’t already understand about human sexuality? When nearly every magazine on display at the grocery counter has an article about sex, what can be learned from yet another book on the subject? Surprisingly, there is plenty.

In a March 2018 interview for This Week in America, Piñon discusses the impetus for writing this comprehensive book on human sexuality. While teaching the Human Reproduction course he created in 1973 at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), he was approached by students asking if they could invite family members to sit in on the class. Specifically, students wanted their families to hear his lectures on homosexuality in which he points to Ancient Greek and Roman societies whose views of “homosexual interests and practices were seen as part of the normal range of human eroticism.” His conversations with these students led to his belief that an informative book for non-scientific readers was needed. After the 2002 publication of his textbook, Biology of Human Reproduction, based on his experience developing and teaching this course, he began the task of rendering its information accessible to the public. His first book, How We Become Female and Male: Our Extraordinary and Perilous Journey (2014), discusses the biological elements of reproduction. Blending works of literature and philosophy with the observations and data from various studies, he takes a historical and scientific approach to the study of human sexuality in this companion book.

Tracing historical views of sex, Piñon takes the reader from the extremes of ancient pagan religious rites in which orgies were a form of worship to the common assumption of the Victorian Age that women weren’t bothered by sexual feelings to today’s post-Sexual Revolution period. The author is clearly well-versed in his subject and writes with the purpose of educating and enlightening the public. His strong conviction that knowledge is power is evident, as is his talent for making scientific research and statistical information enjoyable. His choice of literature to illuminate each section gives the reader a deeper understanding of cultural attitudes of the past and present. His selection of poetry ranges from the ancient exotic and sensual works of Sappho to the mysterious, metaphorical offerings of Emily Dickinson. Readers will appreciate the author’s sense of humor through his inclusion of short humorous poems—testaments that humans have always been created funny rhymes about sex, and particularly, sexual dysfunction.

Piñon’s inclusion of studies by leaders in the field such as Masters and Johnson as well as Kinsey is eye-opening. Due to his skilled presentation of scientific information, one develops a deeper understanding of complex ideas surrounding sexual behavior. For modern readers unaware of the history of these studies, it may seem strange they were considered revolutionary. However, the author’s well-researched history of changes in societal attitudes toward sex—the most influential and repressive being that of the Christian Church—is presented in such a clear manner that one easily grasps the cultural upheaval caused by these studies. Readers who remember the controversial studies or were of the generation that experienced the Sexual Revolution will learn much about what fueled their own opinions about sex.

Perhaps the author’s greatest accomplishment is his ability to write objectively about societal taboos. The book deals candidly with controversial subjects in chapters with provocative titles such as “Erotic Preference and Gender Diversity,” “Our Disturbing Sexual Corridors,” and “Sexual Discontent and Its Origins.” In dealing with subjects such as fantasies, fetishes, and erotic preferences, Piñon’s frank discussion of the dark and dangerous aspects of sexual desire suggests that human sexuality isn’t easily understood. Many factors go into the makeup of one’s sexual behavior including childhood environment and genes. One of the most interesting, yet disturbing, aspects of the book is the unexpected empathy the reader feels for those considered monsters by society. One finds that assumptions are challenged and the reaction to some information will take time to process. However, it is a worthwhile endeavor to question one’s assumptions, and, in that regard, this book contains a wealth of thought-provoking material.

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