I chanced to pick up a copy of a very remarkable work in a secondhand bookstore just a few weeks ago. I was overjoyed to find it, like coming across an old friend again after many decades, thinking he or she was dead.
For it was a book I had first read as a late teen, when in medical school. It made a profound impression on me at the time, taught me some things I hope never to forget and set me up for a lifetime of joyous rompings with some great (and grateful) women, not to mention how to have a healthy marriage.
I’m talking about The Ideal Marriage (sometimes translated as The Perfect Marriage), by Dutch gynecologist Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde.
In the words of one reviewer: This classic work, first published in 1926, concentrates on the cultivation of the technique of eroticism as an art in marriage. It sets the sexual relationship in the nostalgic prose of a more leisured age.
It quite literally took the lid off advanced sexual technique. The author talked openly and comprehensively about things that men and women liked to do to each other. It was very outspoken for the time—and even today, it’s too frank for the average prudish American.
It explained about oral sex, like it was the most natural thing in the world (which it is—even wild animals do it). There was breaking the hymen, sex during the menses, frigidity, erogenous zones and all sorts of taboo subjects taken head on.
To me it was a complete revelation. Not of the fact that sex was fun and could be messy but that there were lots of buttons and dials to press (in the right order), if you are going to get the best results!!
There is great emphasis on full orgasm. Of course, I mean the woman’s orgasm. It taught me, in no uncertain terms, that if the woman doesn’t have an orgasm, it wasn’t proper sex (except on rare occasions, when one partner is tired or down and willingly foregoes it).
Feedback over the years tells me this is right. I live it even today, having entered my 70th year and Vivien will allow me to say that (she reads all my publications and approves them before release).
Then there were the positions. Oh my! Nobody ever told me about those before I read this book! There was even a table, listing what got stimulated (turned on) for each major position.
For example a woman astride a man, who was lying on his back, it was the os of the womb that got maximum stimulation.
For doggy style, he pointed out that was good for caressing the woman’s breasts, bum and thighs during the act. He even pointed out there could be a slight problem: air being pumped in the vagina by the penis, acting like a piston, could generate “aflatus with noise results” (farting sounds!)
It was so gloriously frank that you couldn’t help but relax and feel it was all so n-o-r-m-a-l. One of its major contributions, I’m sure, was just talking about things that nobody ever dared talk about; giving them names; even making juicy recommendations!
He must have been a lovely man. I have tried in vain to find any comment or quote by his wife. After more than 80 years, it seems a hopeless quest now.
Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde
What was particularly striking (for its day) was the emphasis, indeed van de Velde’s passion, for the idea that women should have a wild time too! Radical stuff! How To Drive Your Woman Crazy could indeed be a corny modern version of the title.
One of its great merits is obvious in the author’s name: the Dutch are anything but shy about sex. You only have to stroll down the red light district in Amsterdam to realize there are few inhibitions in that city. But even in rural life a housewife feels free to earn a little on the side, if she is so inclined. Moreover, she doesn’t need to hide it from her husband.
So it’s no holds barred. There are chapters on foreplay (the sin of omission is unpardonably stupid, he says), anatomy and physiology (men and women separately), and chapters he calls sexual union and sexual communion (both different).
A big take-home for men, if they can grasp it, is that sex does NOT finish with orgasm for a woman. She cools down slowly, like a fiery motor engine cooling off.
Typically the man gets up for a pee, opens and beer and he’s done. Men need to force themselves to remain in bed, cuddling and caressing, talking gently and generally prolonging “the moment” for up to an hour, while his woman gently comes back to Earth. Read my article about how long sex should really last.
It is a book which scolds men for ineptness, rather than callousness. He writes of the average clumsy husband who “does not even know that his wife’s sexual sensations develop and culminate to a slower rhythm than his own. He does not know at all that he must awaken her with delicate consideration and adaptation…”
He remarks somewhere in the book (flipping through I can’t find it but I remember after some 50 years) that a man who can’t give his wife a different sexual experience every night is an unimaginative dolt.
As I said, radical stuff!
But it’s compelling advice on how to have a healthy marriage and it’s so logical. The man who takes his pleasure from a woman is a fool. How much more his delight would be if she is first raised to the pitch of a frenzied, sex-hungry animal who cannot control her desires! It’s not difficult. You just have to press the right buttons and knobs at the right time!
Well, van de Velde remarks chidingly of men: “…If erotic genius does not characterize him, the man needs explicit knowledge if he is to be capable of inspiring such desire and imparting such joy. He must know how to make love.”
There is no question this is the greatest sex manual of all time. It tells the husband exactly what to do. If he should do it, then, “in giving delight, he will himself experience it anew and permanently, and his marriage will become ideal.”
Stupidly (but predictably) the Catholic Church put The Ideal Marriage on the infamous Codex, its list of banned books. Even in Protestant and socially democratic Sweden, it was widely regarded as pornographic and unsuitable for young readers long into the 1960s.
Sadly, van de Velde (born in 1873) was killed in a plane crash in 1937, coming into Locarno.
Incidentally, van de Velde was a real doctor and scientist. He is credited with showing in 1905 that women only ovulate once per menstrual cycle. This contributed to the improvement of calendar-based methods of birth control, and later to the creation of other fertility awareness systems.
The full title of the book, in English translation, is: Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique. It hardly needs to be said that loving couples who share their lives together, married or not, will get a great deal from this book and discover how to have a healthy marriage. Nothing has surpassed it.
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