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The End of Raunch?

This year's sexy books are anything but.

By  Tyee Staff and Contributors 19 Jul 2007 |

This list was compiled with contributions from Danielle Egan, Jen Selk, Richard Warnica.

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Is chaste the new sexy?

2006 was the year of the raunch, when pole dancing went feminist and "empowerment" became synonymous with a baker's dozen Jell-O shooters and a topless spot in Girl's Gone Wild.

But if this year's crop of "sexy" books is any guide, the backlash is now in full effect. Sure, Porn 2.0 is grabbing more viewers than ever. But with sex so commonplace, people, or at least publishers, are looking for what's next.

This year's sex-culture books feature virgins, men vacuuming and crafty sex toys. And, really, what's less sexy than those?

The Bunny Book: How to Walk, Talk, Tease and Please Like a Playboy Bunny (Chronicle Books)

Sort of like a sexed-up version of The Rules, mixed with a little Swell, The Bunny Book eases you into Heffner-honed advice with sections on grooming, how to dress, and how to hold a drink before delving into the nitty-gritty sex stuff (anal and all). Though you might not want to take the tome out in public (considering the hot pink cover and candy-coloured pages), with illustrations by Annabelle Jasmin Verhoye, it's fine for home-based consumption. The verbiage leaves something to be desired and features an overabundance of words like coochie, tushy and titties, but the advice itself is fairly realistic and not unlike anything you might find in a popular women's mag. Think Cosmo. Believe it or not, Bunnies don't like to weigh themselves, they're big on safety, and they're "hopeful about monogamy" even though they "don't think people are naturally monogamous." Most importantly, they're down with personal choice. They espouse, more than once, that what's right for one woman, may not be right for another. Even post-feminist independent types might find it tough not to get sucked in; after all, you've got to admit, many women still want to be pretty and desired. Of course, even Bunnies aren't ready to admit that their top concern is snaring men. This book tells the sad and oft-repeated lie about sexual (read, slutty) behavior being all about female empowerment, but so what? The Pussycat Dolls: Search for the Next Doll reality TV series did the same thing and it was a huge hit.

Porn for Women by The Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative (Chronicle Books)

The cover is funny: a guy tentatively vacuuming an already immaculate white living room. Perfect as a one-panel comic. But not so much for a 90-something page picture book that tackles the subject of "what really turns women on." According to the anonymous group of Cambridge academics who put the book together, women will get hot for photos of mostly fully-clothed men dressed like Tommy Hilfiger models scooping kitty litter, making us chamomile tea, gearing up to crop nose hair, scrubbing and then putting down the toilet seat and telling us that they want to watch figure skating, they want us to eat more cake because we look too thin and they need us to come shoe shopping with them. CWPC, as they call themselves, think that this kind of content is "so provocative, so incendiary" that we should sit down in "a safe place" to read the thing. Hardy har har. They're playing with stereotypes and trying to call attention to a lack of good female-friendly porn, right? Wrong, they're actually serious. An e-mail interview with the group's anonymous "pornspokesperson" reveals that they think these images and words will actually turn women on, based on extensive research. Just don't bring along your sex toys and libido. A Canadian Tire catalogue is more of a turn-on than this crap. If you want to look real porn, check out Jane's Guide.

Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank (Bloomsbury)

Blank is earnest about her subject and has done her homework about "virgin heritage," from Mary "the most forgettable virgin in history" to the wealthy Christian women who started monasteries to the stars of the teen TV drama 90210. In the book, she makes interesting socio-political comments about the economic value of virgins through the ages as "breeding sheep" in waiting, medical guinea-pigs, mentally-diseased freaks, icons, objects for sex tourism and pawns of religious right conservatives. You'll also be amazed to learn, in great detail, the physiology of hymens, which serve no known physical purpose, and are more like pasta strainers than the skin of a drum. Some are so thin that they won't last a round of childhood doctor-playing while others survive childbirth! Conspicuously missing from the book is historic and current information about Middle and Far Eastern cultures. Interviews with modern-day virgins are also absent. And that's a shame, particularly with the recent proof that U.S. abstinence-based programs are failing miserably. It would have been great to hear from a few card-carrying virginity pledgers, lapsed or otherwise. Their absence actually supports the continued mystique about and objectification of virgins. This book is informative, but a dry read and a tough nut to crack. Maybe it's appropriate that it haunted my bedside table, untouched for months, collecting dust.

Make Your Own Sex Toys: 50 quick and easy do-it-yourself projects by Matt Pagett (Chronicle Books)

If the idea of a furtive trip to the store for cucumbers and bananas makes you squirm, then homemade sex toys may not be for you. Matt Pagett's book is all about spicing up your bedroom bounce with materials found in the home, hardware store, and yes, supermarket. But in the age of Paris Hilton, porn-star memoirs, and ginger-bread-men Kama Sutra guides, the book is hopelessly dated and totally mundane. Full of bad puns and double entendre -- the intro begins with the line "sex is the great thrusting engine that drives mankind forward" -- the book drips with '70s style kitschy taupe and orange graphics. It might make a funny stagette gift, but seems good for little else. To pick one example, from many, would you really want to whittle a wooden willy? Consider the splinter safety cautions. And lots of this stuff is obvious. The "Vegedildo" and "Cell Phone Climax" sections, for example, helpfully remind you to cover your chosen phallic produce or vibrating phone with a prophylactic. Many suggestions don't yield toys at all. One entitled "The Midas Touch" gives instructions on how to guild breasts with metallic craft paper. (This project works for men as well. "You've heard of gilding the lily -- why not gild the willy?" says Pagett.) Why not indeed? The results are an odd reflective glow and a quick trip to the shower.

Stacked by Susan Seligson (Bloomsbury)

In Stacked, Susan Seligson takes a trip through all things mammary. Seligson, a veteran of the New York Times and Salon, among others, is no stranger to the tit wars. For over 35 years she has lugged around her own set of 32DDD breasts and her many stories of life with a giant rack colour this engaging and accessible book. But while Stacked is long on quips -- solid one-liners seem to punctuate every second paragraph -- it is, at times, a little short on insight. The book is full of fun reporting and funny characters, but there is no sense, by the end, that we are any closer to truly understanding our breast-based cultural obsession.