By Cordelia Hebblethwaite
Forty years ago, a London publisher was working on a groundbreaking sex manual – a “gourmet guide” to sexual pleasure, with copious and detailed illustrations. But how could this be done tastefully and legally?
Think of The Joy of Sex and chances are your mind will drift to an image of a man with a bushy beard and a woman with hairy armpits.
It’s not a photograph, but the nearest thing to it in pen and ink.
In early 1970s Britain, photographs would have been too risque. But hand-drawn illustrations based on photographs? Maybe society was ready for that.
“We were a bit nervous when we took this on,” remembers one of the book’s illustrators, Chris Foss.
“The publisher had to write a contract which confirmed that they would pay our defence if some old fart decided to make an issue out of it.”
n the summer of 1971, Britain had been gripped by the Oz trial, in which the editors of a satirical magazine were found guilty of obscenity for publishing a sexualised parody of the children’s comic character Rupert Bear. (The judge was famously called a “boring old fart” in court by a defence witness, the comedian Marty Feldman.)
It was also only 11 years since Penguin Books had faced an obscenity charge for publishing DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover – the full text, complete with four-letter words and descriptions of sex between the lady and the gamekeeper.
But Penguin had been found not guilty thanks to the literary merit of the work, so Joy of Sex art director Peter Kindersley calculated that the quality of the art work would shield the publishers, Mitchell Beazley, from prosecution.
The images were graphic – they showed genitals and countless sex positions – but they were also artistic, and tasteful.
For good measure, he also added a number of historical images from India and Japan.
“There was concern about the explicitness of the pictures and therefore we thought as a foil we would put in some of these ancient pictures,” says Mr Kindersley.
“In a way we were relating ourselves to the past… We wanted to make the book feel as though it was related to a great tradition of explicit pictures.”