Ever heard of a “Clamping Koala?” Me neither. Is it a yoga pose? A cool ninja move? Is it what happens when you illegally parked a koala on private land?

It is none of the above. The Clamping Koala is a sex position where two partners sit facing one another, legs crossed at the ankle, with the option to lean back. Nothing too extraordinary about that, you might think, except that the Clamping Koala is one of 60 sexual positions in a new guide produced by NRK, the Norwegian taxpayer funded public TV broadcaster.

The guide’s editor, Reidar Kristiansen, said: “NRK wants it to lead to increased knowledge, greater openness and security, inspiration and new conversations about sex… which ultimately means that even more people get a sex life they enjoy.”

Why a koala? If the position didn’t have a Norwegian name, they just made one up. There is also the spaghetti, the silkworm, the wheel of fortune and the flamingo, if you were feeling adventurous.

I briefly found myself wondering why our government doesn’t fund something nice like that, and then the thought of Boris Johnson having a hand in my clamping koala dawned on me, and I’ll be forever thankful they don’t. But that did get me thinking, has our government ever tried to help us Brits have better sex? Well, no. Not really. There have been numerous campaigns around sexual health, many laws passed that prohibit various sexual acts, and a hell of a lot of handwringing, but a practical guide to the most pleasurable positions is not looking likely any time soon.

But that doesn’t mean that, over the years, there haven’t been courageous campaigners who have tried to increase “knowledge, greater openness” and start “new conversations about sex”. Far from it. The fight to educate the masses on the ins and outs of sex has been raging for hundreds of years – and it’s not over yet.

Finding the balance between education and titillation, censorship and sexualisation, and between what is and what is not appropriate still lays at the heart of most public conversations around sex. But as Norway has acknowledged, these are important issues. Where do we learn about sex today? Hopefully, a parent or guardian will have “the talk” at the right time, then there’s sex education in school that will teach you the basics, but where do we learn how to have good sex? The abundance of online pornography has made viewing sex much easier, but porn is not a good educator. How do we learn to be a good lover?

Clearly, people have been having sex for as long as there have been people, but where did people of yesteryear learn about sex? Pornographic writing, photographs, and eventually films certainly played their part in teaching them about sex and there is certainly a long history of pornography masquerading as instructive manuals.

Works such as The School of Venus, or The Ladies Delight, translated into English in 1680. It tells the tale of the beautiful, but sexually naive Katy, and her instruction in “this misterie of fucking” by her older cousin, Frank. Frank teases Katy for being “such a Fool [as] to believe you can’t enjoy a man’s company without being Married”, and takes great pleasure tutoring Katy in all the in all the lascivious deeds men and woman enjoy together; providing graphic and titillating details throughout (such as describing the scrotum as “something like a Purse”, and ‘Bollocks’ as resembling “Spanish Olives”) .

But texts like this were erotic, rather than instructive in nature, a distinction not lost on the moralisers who utterly condemned its publication. The outrage surrounding The School of Venus was instrumental in establishing early censorship laws and there were at least two prosecutions brought against booksellers for selling this “pernicious, wicked and vicious book”, one in 1680 and another in 1688.

The nineteenth century saw a proliferation of “scientific” works on the human body and sexuality that blended titillation with medical facts to avoid falling foul of a charge of obscenity.

Works like The Generative System of John Robertson (1824), which contained illustrations of the human body taken from the pornographic text, Kalogynomania, or the Laws of Female Beauty (1821); or like Geneseology; or, the Physiology of Woman (1855), which was to be “kept from youth and unmarried women”, deftly walked a perilous line between science and smut. But they could hardly be called accessible, practical guides. They were distributed by purveyors of pornography, such as John Joseph Stockdale and William Dugdale, and were certainly not something any “good girl” would be caught reading.

The work of the early sexologists, Havelock Ellis, Richard Von-Craft-Ebbing, and, of course, Freud, elevated sexual science from the pornographic, but they were academic, rather than a how to guide for the public.

Practical advice came with the women’s rights and birth control movement in the early twentieth century. Campaigners like Ida Craddock (1857-1902), an American woman who braved the wrath of the purity crusaders to advocate for free speech, women’s rights, and good sex. She wrote several instructive guides on lovemaking, such as Letter to a Prospective Bride (1897), Advice to a Bridegroom (1897), Right Marital Living (1899), and The Wedding Night (1900), which contained tips to women such as, “perform pelvic movements during the embrace, riding your husband’s organ gently, and, at times, passionately, with various movements, up and down, sideways, and with a semi-rotary movement, resembling the movement of the thread of a screw upon a screw”.

Craddock was certainly a trailblazer, but not everyone appreciated her frank advice on sex. She was prosecuted numerous times under the anti-vice laws of Anthony Comstock, the United States Postal Inspector and secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who successfully made it illegal for any “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material to be sent through the US postal service. As this was Craddock’s primary mode of distribution, she quickly made a powerful enemy in Comstock.

She served three months in prison for posting copies of The Wedding Night. Upon her release Comstock had Craddock rearrested. At the resulting trial, the judge refused to let the jurors read The Wedding Night, calling it “obscene, lewd, lascivious, dirty”. Craddock was sentenced to another five years but took her own life before the sentence could begin. Her suicide note was a lengthy critique of Comstock and the anti-vice crusaders who had attacked her work as immoral, but which she regarded as “sound common sense in treating of healthful and happy relations between husbands and wives”.

Across the pond, birth control advocate and eugenicist Marie Stopes (1880-1958) penned her own guide to sexual relations, following the annulment of her five-year marriage to Reginald Ruggles Gates on grounds of non-consummation. Stopes was a successful botanist but knew so little about sex that it wasn’t until close friends explained what it was that she realised there was something very wrong in her marriage. Stopes finally had penetrative sex with her second husband, Humphrey Verdon Roe. Her own naivety about sex led to her writing Married Love, published in the UK, claiming: “In my own marriage I paid such a terrible price for sex-ignorance that I feel that knowledge gained at such a price should be placed at the service of humanity.”

Stopes didn’t recommend trying the Clamping Koala but she did have a lot to say on the subject of sex positions, writing: “It is perhaps not generally realised how great are the variations of size, shape, and position of all the sex parts of the body in different individuals, yet they differ more even than the size and character of all the features of the face and hands. It happens therefore that the position which suits most people is unsatisfactory for others. Some, for instance, can only enjoy union when both are lying on their sides… In this matter every couple should find out for themselves which of the many possible positions best suits them both.”

Married Love was a huge success, but not without its opponents. It remained banned in America, under the same laws that censored Ida Craddock, until 1931. But Stopes’ work clearly met a need and was successful in changing conversations around sex.

Following the publication of Married Love and the ground gained by the birth control movement, more guides to good sex started to emerge. Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde’s book Het Volkomen Huwelijk was translated in English as Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique in 1926 and became one of the best-selling guides to sex of all time. It covers everything from basic biology to what genitals are supposed to smell like, birth control, and pleasurable positions.

The availability of self-help books finally meant that the public could access practical information about sex, but none of this was sanctioned or supported by the government. The establishment remained decidedly uncomfortable about that kind of thing for years. In 1959, the British Medical Association tried to issue some advice in a guide on the practicalities of sex to young people called Getting Married, which contained a chapter by Dr Eustace Chesser that questioned whether chastity was an outmoded concept and noted that sex, whether in or outside of marriage, was still a pleasurable act. It caused such an uproar, it eventually had to be withdrawn.

Sadly, the history of sex education in this country has long been one of suppression, censorship, and “thou shalt not”, and although things have certainly changed, a government guide to good sex is not expected any time soon. But it is worth remembering that our sex lives are subject to government issued laws. This has been particularly apparent throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, where hook ups and casual sex have been pretty much off the table for everyone, except for senior politicians and their aides, obviously. If the Government can pass laws to stop us having sex, do they have some responsibility in helping us have better sex? I’m not sure we’re quite ready for government-backed sex guides. I think we’ve all suffered enough.

By admin