Lucy and Todd

Philippe Brenot/Laetitia Coryn–The Story of Sex

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2016 at 10:36 am

What do sexologists know about anything? Doesn’t the very word, sexologist, make your heart sink? The thing is, sex isn’t just about insertions, secretions, emissions, pregnancy, diseases, and having a bit of a giggle. Sex is about life, death, love, sorrow, exultation, memories, the news, the movies, literature, art, music, politics, cigarettes, the whole shebang. Not to mention five thousand years of female subjugation. So mind the gap when you approach passion with dispassion, even for educational purposes.

Sexologist Philippe Brenot’s curiously coy graphic novel on the history of sex from apes to robots (but not sex between apes and robots, luckily) was written with the help of the collaborator and illustrator Laetitia Coryn. Pity her. It’s no small task to draw dozens of cartoony copulations (mainly doggy-style, perhaps denoting a personal preference), mean pictures of old women, and about a million nipples.

Coryn’s funny about the typical Roman citizen’s home, overwhelmed by tintinnabuli and other protective phalluses. She can do you a quick Enlightenment orgy, a pile of Hittite penises, or a fair imitation of Courbet’s famous painting of a vulva. But aside from some sartorial playfulness the visual jokes are almost as lame as the verbal efforts. There’s not enough variety in the layout. Coryn should have gone wild. Instead, all the razzmatazz of sex is laboriously conveyed through panel after panel of drab colours. Pffft!

As for the text, one can only hope Brenot spent no more than an hour writing it. Sly prejudice seeps through his Reader’s Digest level research. Here’s a list of the most dubious assertions. Only humans are capable of love. Apes are male-dominated. Ditto humans, as proven by goings-on in Babylon, the oldest city. Lecherous men did the cave paintings. Motherhood has always ‘immobilized’ women.

There’s more. Brenot claims it was the emergence of love that led to the invention of sexual privacy. He feels the beauty cult is a great thing. Older women, according to him, do not need sex. The Renaissance was ‘a fabulous age of discovery’, all about humanism. The Marquis de Sade was merely a madman. Casanova refused to wear condoms. And how about this shocker? ‘Freud spoke little of sexuality in his works.’

And so it goes on. The G-string was the first form of clothing – how exactly did Brenot verify this? The kiss developed two hundred million years ago yet only reached Japan in the twentieth century. Arranged marriages are never satisfying. And women were liberated not by the vote or increased access to wealth and contraception, but by the bra, the bikini, and plastic surgery.

Merde, but zees is crazy!

Let’s set a few things straight. Animals love: have you ever seen an unadoring dog? And though chimps may endorse male domination, bonobos don’t. Women probably had very powerful positions in society until a mere five thousand years ago. Babylon’s not as old as Mohenjo-Daro, a highly evolved matriarchy (with excellent plumbing!). Throughout most of human history the extended family made childcare more feasible. And Stone Age artists, whether men or women, depicted the female form in a spirit of reverence, not lust.

The porn industry has demonstrated that the urge to have sex in private is highly negotiable. The pressure to be beautiful dismays and degrades women all their days. And don’t you think it’s odd a sexologist, who bravely goes where no man has gone before, has nothing worthwhile to say about the sexuality of post-menopausal women, even if they’re not his scene?

Besides making forays into humanism, the Renaissance is more notable for exporting rape and slaughter and importing the potato, the tomato, and syphilis. De Sade was a revolutionary, as any Frenchman ought to understand. And, although his ‘little fellow’ pleased him less ‘in costume’, Casanova approved of condoms, had quite a collection, and even wrote poems about them.

Freud’s extensive writing on sexuality has enlivened the work of many a psychoanalyst, artist, and stand-up comedian. Bras are actually very uncomfortable, which may be one reason feminists burned them in the ’60s. And as for plastic surgery, from boob jobs to labial trimming this painful, invasive, life-threatening, money-grubbing business is one of the screwiest things our screwy species ever got up to.

Not only factually then but philosophically flawed, Brenot’s effortful attempt at offering us entertaining sex info is also unapologetically Eurocentric and Francophilic. This narrows its scope considerably. Some of the historical figures he names might perplex readers outside France: Robert the Pious, Brantôme and the gallant women, Gabrielle d’Estrées, Agnès Sorel, Charles de Beaumont, the Incroyables and the Merveilleuses.

A few other choice bonbons for you. Until he was forty Henry IV thought his penis was a bone. Rousseau was ‘an inveterate masturbator’. Montaigne was (perhaps) the first to write openly about man love. Everybody in eighteenth-century France was sans culottes. There were no toilets at Versailles. And during Victorian times the French called jam fiture, being embarrassed by the prefix con. (No matter how squeamish the English got about piano legs, they never sank to shortening controversy to roversy!)

Amongst the many promiscuous French writers and artists mentioned, curiously there’s no sign of the most famous French f***er of them all: Georges Simenon. Instead Brenot, who previously published a whole book on masturbation, devotes an ardent chapter to the subject here. He acts like the world’s just been waiting for the all-clear to wank from sexologists. Roger and out.

LE

A version of this review appeared in the National, Nov. 7, 2016

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