Jonathan Margolis
O - An Intimate History of the Orgasm

By Isobel Shirlaw

In his socio-anthropological history of man's insatiable appetite for orgasm, Jonathan Margolis evaluates centuries of rather dry academic scholarship, and retells it in an entertaining and provocative style.

Once you fold back that sexy pink jacket, you are confronted with a rather immodest 400 pages of orgasmic anecdotes. Ancient Chinese pillow books of the second century instructed newly-weds on how to achieve a sexually fulfilled marriage. Graphic diagrams, illustrating the 48 sexual positions, accompanied highly poetic language that couldn't be more removed from modern pornography. Intercourse is likened to 'the meeting of the dragon and the unicorn' and the climax – 'the bursting of the clouds'.

At the crux of this study lies the paradox of the orgasm's existence. Why has it emerged as an evolutionary by-product? Conception occasionally occurs before the male has reached climax, and it is common for the female to conceive long before she orgasms. There is no direct evolutionary advantage to being good in bed, apparently. But let's not forget that Mrs Margolis is a romantic novelist, and much of this book is devoted to women's descriptions of their (supposedly superior) climaxes, and we are told repeatedly how much Mr M loves to come.

Despite making me feel a little bit like a smutty perv on the tube, especially when wedged up someone's sweaty armpit during rush-hour, this really is a rollicking romp of a read. Margolis is especially convincing on 'sexual regret' and on what makes us often feel suddenly repulsed by a sexual partner immediately after orgasm. but I'd query his hypothesis on large protrusive noses, and women's deep, inhibited longing for cunnilingus. He suggests that 'it may only be modesty that prevents male fashion from highlighting nose size in men to match the blatant display of sexuality seen in women's lipstick. It cannot be entirely his singing and personality that make Barry Manilow the sex symbol that he is.' I would perhaps pause at that moment to question Margolis's argument that 'millions of adoring female fans dream idly of what Manilow might be able to achieve with that outsize proboscis'. But then again, one man's meat – as it were. In short, Graham Norton in specs.
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