1. Sex is Complicated

Is masturbation sinful? Do women have different kinds of orgasms, depending on whether the clitoris or the vagina is stimulated?

The answer to the first question depends on your religious values, and the answer to the second is biologically no, according to Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

We’re college students and we want to know about these things, so naturally we’d run all the way up Washington Rd. to be on time for receiving advice from a renowned sex therapist. Despite the realities of activities at a place like Princeton, words like “masturbation” and “clitoris” still sound taboo echoing in public settings like McCosh 50, perhaps even in the Nassau Weekly.

Leave it to a 4’7” 76-year-old Jewish grandmother called Dr. Ruth to override this taboo and satisfy our burning curiosities about sex and relationships. Having advised on sex and relationships for over 20 years through radio programs, and newspaper columns for over 20 years, Dr. Ruth brought a welcome voice to Princeton’s campus last week, when she spoke to an audience of over 350 students.

But just because she helps people with their sex lives does not mean she advocates rampant promiscuity. Emotional companionship is key, she said.

“I believe in love and marriage,” she said. “In the culture we live in, I don’t think casual sex is going to work.”

Unembarrassed to describe sexual processes explicitly, Dr. Ruth debunked many sex myths for her Princeton audience. For example, the technical term for masturbation, onanism, relates to the Biblical story of Onan, who “spilled his seed in vain.” Though this passage is cited as a reference to the sinfulness of masturbation, the story tells of coitus interruptus, Dr. Ruth said, not necessarily masturbation. Modern scientific research on human sexuality has led us to debunk more recent urban legends, such as that hair grows in the palms of your hands as a result of masturbation, she said.

Applause for all of the readers who just looked at their hands.

At age 10 Ruth fled Nazi Germany for a Swiss children’s refugee camp, and never saw her parents again. This experience taught her the importance of being steadfast in your beliefs, she said. “You have to stand up and be counted for what you believe,” she said.

Though she believes wholeheartedly in marriage and a family life, her positions on other issues would be bashed by some conservatives: abortion must be legal, she said, and in her book “Value of Family” she re-defines the notion of family; same-sex partners, single parents, step-parents, unmarried partners, and grandparents can all head families, she says.

Nonetheless, she said that she would never argue about moral values concerning sexual practices; those who choose to refrain from masturbation and premarital sex should stick to their values, she said.

“Everybody has to make a decision depending on values and religious upbringing,” she said.

More education about sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases is essential.

“There’s a Jewish tradition that if you stand on the shoulders of giants, you can see further,” she said, laughing because of the relevance of this joke to her own stature.

Contrary to some myths, most women do not orgasm during intercourse. One study that Dr. Ruth cited on 1400 sexual intercourse episodes showed that only 30% of women actually orgasmed during the act, while another 30% orgasmed before or after intercourse, and 30% did not orgasm at all. Half of the remaining 10% consisted of women who were depressed or alcoholic, and 5% of female participants can orgasm anytime, anywhere, Dr. Ruth said.

Viagra seemed to elicit ambivalence from Dr. Ruth. Men go to their physicians, get the pills, and tell their wives to hop into bed without even having done the dishes. A man who has watched sports for three nights in a row prior to taking Viagra will probably not be successful in laying his wife, she said.

But anyone who is reading this article really just wants some sex tips, so here’s a brief list of some ideas that Dr. Ruth mentioned:

-If the woman wants more sexual satisfaction, her partner should employ fingers, tongue, and the big toe. Then she can give her man an orgasm; “it takes 2 minutes.”

-Play ring toss with onion rings. Enough said.

-Some people need fantasies. It’s okay to fantasize, but keep your mouth shut about it.

-Both women and men should become familiar with their bodies and sexual functioning. While driving, at every red light, relax and contract the vaginal muscle. For men: stand in front of the mirror and admire an erection.

Overall, communication between sexual partners is essential, Dr. Ruth said. People in a relationship need to learn what is needed to bring each other to sexual satisfaction, she said.

“Even the best lover, even one trained by me, has to be taught by his partner,” she said.


2. Sex Sells and Love Hurts

A new book by Dave Itzkoff ’98 deals with sex not as a topic of advice but as a central paradox in the author’s life. Namely, that it’s profitable to the publishing industry, but if you work there, you may not have it very often. With humor, self-deprecation, and candor, Itzkoff – a former Maxim associate editor – bares all in Lads: A Memoir of Manhood, taking readers on the emotional roller-coaster of his post-Princeton life working at men’s magazines in New York City. The memoir deftly reveals a workplace where executives will do absolutely anything to boost newsstand sales, as well as a disillusioning New York cityscape where the author struggles to reconcile himself with women, his Jewishness, his formerly drug-addicted father, and his Princeton diploma.

The book’s cover says it all: a leather wallet with a 10-dollar bill peeking out of the side and the imprint of a condom smack in the middle. But the imprint implies the condom has (sadly) remained in that position for a long time, a suggestion reinforced by Itzkoff’s hilarious mishaps with women throughout the book.

Fresh out of Princeton, Itzkoff finds himself working for magazines that cater to “lads,” guys just like him who “were adults only in age,” rejoicing in the independence of adulthood— but rejecting the responsibilities that come with it. Though Condé Nast Publications has numerous kinds of magazines, Itzkoff gets placed at Details when a “pleasantly puritanical, middle-aged matron” executive named Bucky decides he would be perfect for that particular magazine on the basis of his resumé and one brief interview.

At both Details and Maxim, Itzkoff endures long underpaid hours at magazines for which no celebrity will agree to pose, except occasionally Pamela Anderson. The content of lad magazines such as Maxim reduces readers’ expectations, and the creative team will go as far as openly deceiving readers in order to sell more copies. At one point in the memoir Maxim general manager Lance Ford gives the staff a telling formula for success: “More Ads = More Editorial; Big Fat Magazine = More Chance of Newsstand Purchase.”

Perhaps Maxim’s most pronounced blunder during Itzkoff’s 3-year tenure as associate editor was the “Greatest City on Earth” issue of 2002. Each of 13 cities received a unique bundle of Maxim issues proclaiming that city the World’s Greatest, a scheme that blew up when different newspapers reported the honor and deliveries got crossed between cities. In Philadelphia, for example, subscribers got their intended accolades for their city, but most newsstands accidentally received the New York issue, which proclaimed the City of Brotherly Love “a glorified piss break between New York and D.C.”

Though at times the scenes involving Maxim editors and writers drag on, from the office to bizarre retreats, the critique of lad magazines embedded in Lads is quite timely. Though these “young men” magazines enjoyed an initial success five years ago, Maxim’s newsstand sales were 15.8% lower in the first six months of this year compared to the same time last year, according to the New York Times.

Some of the most hilarious moments in the book deal with Itzkoff facing rejections from flighty females. From the alcoholic “Cowgirl” to the noncommittal “Baby Doll,” Itzkoff seems to fall for girls easily, and they nonchalantly brush him off despite his high hopes each time. He calls women five times more than they call him back, and fails to completely woo the female colleague with whom he shares his first Ecstasy experience.

Just when we feel sorry for him, Itzkoff lightens our spirits with unrestrained off-the-cuff humor. After Baby Doll dumps him, for example, we bounce back from that letdown with a digression that begins, “I don’t mean to brag, but I can masturbate to anything.” Likewise he’s not afraid to tell his prospective employer, or his readers, the details of an old man-to-man hazing tradition called the Princeton Rub, one of the more lewd aspects of a pre-SHARE Princeton that hasn’t been forgotten in University folklore.

Itzkoff is not the only young Princetonian to publish a well-received full-length book recently. He graduated within one year of Jonathan Safran Foer ‘99, author of the 2002 international bestselling novel Everything is Illuminated, and Ian Caldwell ‘98, who co-authored the 2004 bestselling mystery The Code of Four.

Beyond the humor and the insider’s look at Maxim, Itzkoff offers an honest vision of how his Princeton diploma follows him inextricably throughout his career. He continually encounters alumni at men’s magazines, one of whom helps get him the Maxim job, and becomes keenly aware of the Princeton-like social hierarchies present all around him. His mixed feelings about Princeton peek through at various points in the memoir, most notably in reference to finding a job:

“Most everyone despises Princeton graduates, with good reason: We are intolerable self-promoters, committed careerists who have come to see the world as our personal feeding trough, and we wear our connections to one another like a bib as we bury our greedy faces deeper in the slop,” he writes.

But when Itzkoff’s face literally gets buried in peanut butter to showcase in Maxim a new substitute for shaving cream, we laugh with him, not at him. We’re still on his side when a reader claims the face in the photo is female, and a male senior editor takes credit for it.

Itzkoff also nods to Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Lads has a preoccupation with Jewishness and the prototypical Jewish family in a Roth-like treatment, and, somewhat like Holden Caulfield, Itzkoff wonders, “Am I more of a phony for having attended an Ivy League school or for preaching my present and continued aversion to it?” and ends his journey in a psychiatrist’s office.

Overall, Lads will make you gasp, laugh out loud, and look at Maxim in a whole new way.