Sunday, 14 February 2010

New light on "60's sex-ed mystery"

Like many proper viruses, viral emails have a tendency to lay low for long periods of time, briefly breaking out in epidemics before disappearing again. The supposed sex-advice I covered in the last post is a case in point. Over the past few years, it has broken cover several times. The earliest outbreak I could trace was in 2003, though doubtless there were earlier instances. As I discussed, the extract derives from an elaboration of an earlier spoof entitled "The Good Wife", purportedly from a 1950s housekeeping magazine but more likely dating from the late 1980s.

So what caused this latest outbreak, which centres around what looks like a scrunched-up photocopy? While the printed original remains elusive, I've found what might be a clue from a blog entry by Maria Williams, a journalist with the South Wales Argus, dated 5th October 2009. She writes as follows:

IT'S been a thoroughly depressing week on many fronts... So I was cheered when a colleague brought in an item one of his relatives had been given at a retirement seminar to show just how far our society has come in the past 40 years.

It was an extract from a 1960s sex education textbook for girls, written by a woman - and I shall share it with you in a bid to brighten your day.

Is the South Wales Argus the source of this latest infection?

Ms Williams also has this to say:

How the world has changed - perhaps a little too far now that tweenie magazines have advice on sexual positions and how to get and keep your boy using management techniques.

But is does put me in mind of that great quote by the American humourist P.J. O'Rourke: "If anyone ever tells you that things were better in the good old days, just say the word dentistry."

As sex law expert Chris Ashford notes, hoaxes like this are doubly revealing: of our views about the past, and of our present attitudes and ideas. We are encouraged to smile at the supposed naivety or antediluvian attitudes of our predecessors, but at the same time pause for thought at the implied contrast with today's sexual free-for-all. What Williams' "dentistry" remarks shows, however, is that the piece ultimately affirms contemporary mores by casting the past as a place of rampant sexism and sexual misery.

It may not be entirely coincidental that the "advice" has re-emerged at a time when traditional views of marriage have once again become politically contentious. The subject is certainly "in the air" - witness the news story about the Rev Mark Oden's instruction to the women in his congregation to submit to their husbands. Though I don't think Oden was just talking about sex.

No doubt I'm reading far too much into what is just a bit of harmless fun.
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Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cautionary advice to young ladies - and Internet users

I found this bizarre photocopy - posted here - via someone's Twitter feed earlier today. Stu Kennedy, who put it up, tells me that it was forward to his brother at work as part of a circulatory email.

The text, which purports to be from "a sex education textbook for girls" from the 1960's", reads as follows:

When retiring to the bedroom, prepare yourself for bed as promptly as possible. Whilst feminine hygiene is of the utmost importance, your tired husband does not want to queue for the bathroom, as he would have to do for his train, but remember to look your best when going to bed. Try to achieve a look that is welcoming without being obvious. If you need to apply face cream or hair rollers, wait until he is asleep before doing so, as it can be shocking for a man last thing at night. When it comes to the possibility of intimate relations with your husband, it is important to remember your marriage vows and in particular, your commitment to obey him.

If he feels that he needs to sleep immediately afterwards, then so be it. In all things be led by your husband's wishes. Do not pressure him in any way to stimulate intimacy. Should your husband suggest congress, then, agree humbly all the while being mindful that a man's satisfaction is more important than a woman's. When he reaches his moment of fulfilment, a small moan from yourself is encouraging to him and quite sufficient to indicate any enjoyment that you may have had.

Should your husband suggest any of the more unusual practices, be obedient and uncomplaining but register any reluctance by maintaining silence. It is likely that your husband will fall promptly asleep after relations have concluded, so once he is fast asleep, adjust your clothing, freshen up and apply your night-time face and hair care products.

You may then set the alarm so that you can arise shortly before him in the morning. This will enable you to have his morning cup of tea ready when he awakes.

A hoax, I presume. It certainly reads like one, though that hasn't stopped many people from taking it at face value. The "sex education" book isn't named in any of the online sources for the text. It is variously attributed to the early 60s, the 1950s, or specifically to 1963; several sources add the claim that it was "written by a woman" (although the author herself is never named). Almost all versions include the phrase "this is an actual extract". The earliest dated example I've tracked down online is from an old messageboard, August 2002.

The page above, whose provenance I cannot trace, seems to be from a printed original. I can't confirm this; there are, however, other known printed versions. The same passage also occurs in "The Good Wife's Guide", supposedly taken from a Home Economics textbook (also from the Sixties) in which the sexual advice is tacked onto the end of more general comments about an ideal housewife.

The first paragraphs of this read as follows:

Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return from work. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it. Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

These same paragraphs also occur in a shorter piece with the same title, which claims to be from Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May, 1955.

This is how The Good Wife's Guide ends:

Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

A good wife always knows her place.

The longer Internet version omits the two sentences following "fairness and truthfulness". Instead, it continues like this:

Once he has had a chance to have his evening meal clear the dishes and wash up promptly. If your husband should offer to help decline his offer as he may feel obliged to repeat this offer and after a long working day he does not need the extra work.

Encourage your husband to pursue his hobbies and interests and be supportive without seeming to encroach. If you have any little hobbies yourself try not to bore him speaking of these, as women's interests are often rather trivial compared to men's.

At the end of the evening tidy the home ready for the morning and again think ahead to his breakfast needs. Your husband's breakfast is vital if he is to face the outside world in a positive fashion.

Once you have both retired to the bedroom prepare yourself for bed as promptly as possible....

There follows the sexual advice with which we began.

According to Urban Legend site Snopes, the magazine extract is a fabrication: it didn't surface until long after the text began circulating by email and is "clearly a mock-up". It is just possible that it dates from the 50s - presumably as a satire on contemporary images of the ideal housewife. On balance it's likely to be far more recent, however. It is said to have been circulating in faxed form since the 1980s.

To sum up: the sex advice, purporting to be "an actual extract from a sex education textbook", began life as a hoax continuation of an original spoof article, itself likely to have been a hoax. But the style also owes something to another piece dismissed by Snopes, the hilarious "Advice to Young Brides" supposedly written in 1894 (though the repeated use of the word "sex" rather gives it away). The bride in that text, though, is imagined to be a young woman of rather more spirit than the submissive Stepford-style wife depicted in the passage allegedly from the 1960s. For example:

The wise bride will permit a maximum of two brief sexual experiences weekly during the first months of marriage. As time goes by she should make every effort to reduce this frequency.

Feigned illness, sleepiness, and headaches are among the wife's best friends in this matter. Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove very effective, if used in the late evening about an hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction.

Clever wives are ever on the alert for new and better methods of denying and discouraging the amorous overtures of the husband. A good wife should expect to have reduced sexual contacts to once a week by the end of the first year of marriage and to once a month by the end of the fifth year of marriage.

It's also rather kinky:

Most men are by nature rather perverted, and if given half a chance, would engage in quite a variety of the most revolting practices. These practices include, among others, performing the normal act in abnormal positions; mouthing the female body; and offering their own vile bodies to be mouthed in turn.

A hoax, obviously. Yet according to Wikipedia, while Advice to Young Brides "reads like a satire on the Victorian era" and is often assumed to be a spoof, it is actually genuine. At least, it is accepted as being so by the University of Washington, which published the piece in its bizarre entirety on its website in 1998. The URL would seem to bear this out. Furthermore, it was the pamphlet's use in a UW course in human sexuality that year that led to its modern circulation on the Internet.

Despite these undoubted facts, I remain sceptical. There are good reasons for thinking it to be a hoax: neither the alleged writer (a suspiciously-named Ruth Smythers) nor the supposed publisher have left any trace in the records. In fact, the only evidence offered in the text's favour is its endorsement by the University of Washington. Academics have fallen for hoaxes often enough not to take this as decisive.

And what of the piece with which we began? Some sources date it precisely to 1963, the year (according to Philip Larkin) in which "sexual intercourse began". A coincidence? The world it depicts probably never existed - unless Mad Men is a documentary.

If anyone has any clue as to who actually wrote any of these pieces, and when, do please let me know.

SEE UPDATE 14/2/2010
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