The Sex Diaries Project by Arianne Cohen

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The Sex Diaries Project by Arianne Cohen

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An interesting look at sex lives in the UK, that perhaps outstays its welcome but offers up suitably scientific voyeurism for many a curious reader.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Vermillion
ISBN: 978-0091939359

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It's often said 'there's nowt so queer as folk'. Surely this should be qualified as 'there's nowt so queer as folks' sex lives'. Arianne Cohen has made a major online database of testimony from people about their thoughts regarding sex - having it, not having it, having it with whom they're with, having it with those whom they're not with. And in every sense, the results can be exceedingly queer.

The majority of the first part is an eye-opener. Here is a week in the life of a dancer, a student, a home-worker or two, but it's evident there can be a very strange lack of love in a love life. There's anal sex, oral sex, cyber sex, pining for people one's been with a very short time, and hoards of doubt - about looks, size, weight issues, commitment, the future.

It may take a woman in her raunchy 50s a month from marrying a man a generation younger than her before a comfortable glow kicks in. That may be just me, though - as our editor says in her introduction her collection here will somewhere hit a chord, and portray something like one's own experiences. (BTW, I'm not the woman...)

She might be advised to tread with caution, however, as pointedly the first couple of examples of married sex life feature no sex whatsoever. It's not quite down as far as saying "The flowers I bought for myself have died", as someone later says - surely one of the harshest things one could submit about oneself to the Internet - but it's getting there.

To talk more of this introduction, it makes clear this is a special GB edition containing contents generated by those in the UK alone, as opposed to an American and (stereotypes ahoy) the Italian version. It is also the only content written by Cohen - the rest, bar the one-line descriptions of her contributors, is pure anonymous autobiography.

The result means we get an entirely different book to, say, the Nancy Friday volumes famous in the '90s for discussing the genders' sex and fantasy lives. There is nowhere here an opinion as to why people think or do what is in here, and nowhere a discussion of what type of character is featured.

And inevitably, therefore, there's more for us to read in to things. Here surely is writing the respondent regrets, relationships clearly not alive to see the book in print. Here is blunt betrayal, happily open relationships, the need for more (or less) and principally a successful look at the nation's sex psyche. The voyeur will find enough for a lazy lob but the psychiatrist will gain more - even if the volunteered data here is from self-selecting respondents and is not exactly representative.

On the whole it works better than one might think - but not perhaps as well as it should. The diary entries are often edited down, even as far as lasting three days only - and we see that might be because this is to serve as an advert for the archive online. These truncated narratives do still manage to encapsulate a nation, at least to my satisfaction - until maybe things go a little too far. Detailed testimony from both a male and female sub slave adds to the feeling we've had enough come page 350.

But I'm not saying they shouldn't be included - there's nowt so varied as folk, and the wealth of content, from promiscuous gay studs to mellow young girls - proves that with a fascinating appeal.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

If you're up for more, as it were, I enjoyed Why Women Have Sex, by Meston and Buss - surely the only instance online of a page about that subject with my portrait on!

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