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O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm Paperback – September 29, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

According to the World Health Organization, more than a hundred million acts of sexual intercourse take place every day. In this immensely entertaining and informative book, Margolis lays out in glorious and rich detail the widely varied human experience of sex beyond the simple and necessary act of reproduction. From straightforward biology of the human body to the mind-bendingly various cultural norms and practices within human civilizations past and present, Margolis presents a beautifully written, deep-focus view of human sexual pursuit, gratification and frustration. According to Margolis, the orgasm has been cherished, misunderstood, feared and pandered to throughout the ages. He cites anthropological research indicating that while the innate human tendency toward "pair bonding" holds true, sex and pleasure were once free and synonymous. Orgasm, with its white-hot physical pleasure and consciousness-altering effects, was worshiped in many developing cultures. As civilizations became more sophisticated about reproduction and, sadly, property rights, orgasms and who gives, receives and enjoys them, became increasingly regulated. In the West particularly, the female orgasm—always a mystery to the mostly patriarchal power structure—was increasingly seen as a threat to the advancement of social development. In the modern age, science has taken a front seat in the understanding and exploration of this most basic of human experience, with mixed results. While women have made strides toward orgasmic equality, in Margolis's view there is still some way to go. Neither leering nor squeamish, Margolis has created a fresh, compelling work guaranteed to ignite much late-night conversation.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Passing briefly over the scientific facts-- how long orgasms last in various species, what makes them happen, what keeps them from happening--Margolis devotes himself to the social history of the ways and means of orgasm. Some of this is purely speculation; for example, about the likelihood of oral sex in prehistory he opines, "It is beyond contention, surely, that at some stage man realized that the mouth on a face bears a distinct similarity to the mouth of a vagina, and then had a hunch that it might be interesting for the woman to apply her mouth to his penis, and vice versa." Is it beyond contention that it was inevitably men who made such a discovery? Sociobiology is invoked in Margolis' discussion of what masturbation aids tell us about human sexuality, and medieval literature is mined for what it has to say about Celtic homosexuality. Indeed, there is no discipline that Margolis doesn't employ to explore his fascinating subject. And his breezy, sophisticated writing doesn't hurt, either. Patricia Monaghan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (September 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802142168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802142160
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,252,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Ryan on September 30, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm very well-versed in this material, as I'm in the process of writing a book that deals with much of it. So I was looking forward to reading what promised to be a well-written account of such juicy material, when most are dry as ash. I was pleased to find that the writing is lively and surprising, but like other reviewers, I was dismayed by the extremely poor editing and even more, by the plethora of mistaken "facts." Just the first few pages provide more than enough examples. On the first page of the preface, Margolis asserts that "Men and women have practiced procreative sexual intercourse for approximately a hundred thousand years." What's he talking about? We've obviously been having sexual intercourse as long as we've existed -- and though there is debate, our species is thought to have existed far longer than one hundred thousand years.

But even more disturbing is the author's ignorance of very basic information concerning human sexuality. On page 1, he claims that, "the first sexual act by which two like creatures sought intimate contact expressly to give one another physical and emotional pleasure... may well not have taken place until some time in the twentieth century AD, most likely at a location in Western Europe or North America." This is simply astoundingly wrong, not to mention racist as all get-out. For this to be true, nobody in hundreds of centuries ever had sex to give each other pleasure -- no hunter gatherers (most of whom do not equate sex with reproduction), nobody in India (where the Kama Sutra was written thousands of years ago, detailing how to give and receive sexual pleasure), nobody in China (where the first known sex manuals were written even before the Kama Sutra), etc. Just silly.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Bartram on December 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book contains some fascinating history. Most helpfully, it presents the astonishing diversity of sexual practices around the world and throughout history - in a way that makes hash of the surviving moralistic sexual restrictions that inhibit greater exploration and fulfilment. Many western readers will know that there are different family forms around the world - a knowledge that helps legitimate diversity in our own cultures. The same lesson comes from an appreciation of diversity in sexual practices: once you know something about avisodomy in other cultures, it's hard to sympathize with people who get bent out of shape about teenage masturbation.

So, substantively it's a good book. However, it's a bit hard to imagine that the editor at Random House is still in a job. There are misplaced commas and awkward sentences. More significantly, the book ends poorly: a passage that appears several pages before the end is repeated at the very end, leaving a poor impression. While this may seem trivial, the fact is that reading the book was more of a chore than it should have been.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Ian Kerner on October 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a sex therapist and author, it's rare that I'm both entertained and informed by a book about human sexuality. Jonathan Margolis' survey of the history of the orgasm offers a fresh discovery, and a laugh, on every page. Well-written, opinionated and contentious, I don't agree with all of his observations, but his research is meticulous and stands up well to debate. Margolis has done a great service to students of sexuality, as well as to the layman with this thorough, fascinating book. Liberating the orgasm from the discourses of sexual politics, this important work lets us learn, and, more importantly, laugh a little at sex. At the outset, Margolis states that the World Health Organization estimates that at least a hundred million acts of intercourse are engaged in per day, "and they can't all be bad." With a laugh or a raise of the eyebrows on every page, as well as the frequent "ejaculation" -- 'well what do you know -- this book is probably more consistently satisfying than sex! I can't recommend it enough.
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Erica Phillipson (Hawaii) on January 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover

I don't know if I should confess this but I will.

I have been searching for a book that will let me understand, train me, motivate me, and assist me in achieving at least one orgasm in my lifetime.

I must also confess that I have had many lovers. Some good and some very bad. None of them ever succeeded in giving me the big O as I have heard it being called.

What does all this have to do with this book? I will answer that now please.

This book explained how a woman builds up to an orgasm. The author does an outstanding job of explaining the anatomy and nerve endings, what each part does, and how they must come together as a team to all a woman to loose it in a out of control mind numbing, legs shaking, spastic laden orgasm.

The author was successful with me in allowing me to have my first orgasm since the day I was born 68 years ago. It was a big one, pent up, and a wet one galore!

I highly recommend this book to any female between the ages of 21 and 93.


Erica Phillips

(Happy, Very Happy in Decatur)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Frank Johnson on December 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I didn't have high hopes of this book after reading a spiteful and silly review by Thomas Lacquer, somebody whose work I have quite admired in the past. However, having read Margolis's refreshing and brilliantly written work, I can only imagine Professor Lacquer was a little jealous. Indeed, re-reading the Prof's pompous and confused ramblings on - and they are worth re-reading just to try and decode what he is trying to say - I am convinced he merely feels upsatged by this worthy newcomer. Terrific book. I would unhestitatingly have given it five stars had Margolis's publisher splashed out on an index and a few citations. But from my reasonably extensive knowledge of the subject, I have to say Margolis's sources appear to be spot on, whoever they are!
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