Good Sex Illustrated

February 7, 2008

The family, in Tony Duvert's iconography, is the mainspring of oppression, "breeder of meat and whittler-down of men. As a 'producer' unit, it is ... capable only of destroying the children that it turns out."

It's not a startlingly original assertion. But that's mainly because this petulant little book was first published in 1973 in the wake of cult writers like David Cooper with his optimistic prediction of The Death of the Family and R. D. Laing who diagnosed families as the cause of schizophrenia. Both were strongly influenced by the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his elevation of the orgasm as a force for liberation.

It's not clear why the publishers have seen fit to revive what can only be seen as a curiosity of its time, except perhaps to test how well it has survived. Duvert sets out to demonstrate the commodification of sexuality through examination of a five-volume sex education manual, published by Hachette. Each volume is directed at a different age group, and each features an idealised nuclear family in order, according to Duvert, to reinforce capitalism's tyranny. But in the light of subsequent work, especially Foucault's majestic history of sexuality, his conclusions seem crude and unformed.

Even more naive is Duvert's interpretation of why sex is seen purely as a means to procreation. The family, he argues, is a microcosm of an industrial machine where fathers are the owners, mothers producers and children the product. Nowhere does he acknowledge that this analysis was first made, more cogently, a century earlier by Freidrich Engels.

Duvert's castigation of the family and his railing against the reduction of sex to market forces spring from a passionate advocacy of unfettered sexuality. Children, he says, are taught to be ashamed of erotic desires and to repress sexual instincts. Little girls should be able to regard their burgeoning breasts as playthings; little boys should revel in their hanging testicles and hardening penises.

And clearly it's those little boys who interest him. Each chapter begins with a blurred photograph of a small boy's pencil-like erection, ostensibly to show how sexuality is dehumanised in commercial society. But the repetition of the picture merely serves to highlight what appear to be the author's own preferences. An unsettling amount of his diatribe is a paean to the act of masturbation, leading to a more sinister subtext: a child's right to sexual exploration with adults.

Fathers, apparently, deliberately exaggerate the evil intents of strangers. "The paedophile," Duvert claims, "goes beyond being simply a pervert, a squanderer: he's the father's rival."

He even argues that the pederast is preferable to the parent: "To buy his protection, the children or adolescents will have to give in to him, submit their sex to him, as they do for the father; but instead of being castrated, they'll only be harnessed."

But it's not any old child abuser Duvert is defending. It's specifically middle-class, wealthy homosexual preyers upon children. "The homosexual protector offers, outside the family, what that family can't give." You can't help wondering why he protests quite so much.

Throughout his polemic, Duvert continually generalises about children: their sexual make-up, their need for physical and erotic expression and their repression by market forces and the family. You need to know children quite intimately to be able to make such claims. Since Duvert had none of his own, how did he manage it?

Good Sex Illustrated

By Tony Duvert, translated by Bruce Benderson
Semiotext(e)/The MIT Press 184pp
ISBN 9781584350439
Published 7 December 2007

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