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The Best of Sexology (Review)

Craig Yoe, Editor (Running Press)

By Jason Gargano · January 7th, 2009 · Lit

Founded in 1933 by Hugo Gernsback, Sexology is said to be the first sex-related magazine to achieve widespread (relatively speaking) circulation in the United States. Not familiar? You’re not alone.

While not as ubiquitous as Playboy founder/perpetual cultivator of synthetically endowed blondes Hugh Heffner, Gernsback had a similarly intriguing back-story. Born in 1884 in Luxembourg where he studied electrical engineering, Gernsback immigrated to Hoboken, N.J., in 1907 after being smitten by the writings of Mark Twain. The young entrepreneur would publish a number of technologically inclined magazines, including Amazing Stories, the first to focus on science-based pulp fiction. (The Hugo Award, science-fiction writing’s highest honor, is named after him.)

It wasn’t long before Gernsback, ever on the hunt for new subjects, tackled the issue of sex.

“The motivation was surely an equal part of evangelism and profiteering,” writes Craig Yoe, editor of The Best of Sexology, in his introduction. “Americans weren’t supposed to read about sex, but maybe they could under the guise of education. And what things Gernsback chose to educate our virgin-eyed and –eared grandparents on: vampire sex and homosexual chickens!”

Sexology was pretty racy for its day, publishing quasi-scientific stories on everything from uncontrollable erections and odor fetishists to sexological inventions and “sex and Satan.” Among the most curious pieces is a 1958 feature by Isadore Rubin entitled “Adolf Hitler’s Secret Sex Life,” which was supposedly one of the first examinations of the “dictator’s twisted and deviated sexual nature” and the impact it likely had on his “terrific drive for political domination.”

While much of the magazine’s subject matter is unintentionally hilarious by today’s standards — this 480-page collection is not subtitled Kinky and Kooky Excerpts from America’s First Sex Magazine for nothing — The Best of Sexology remains an amusing, strangely compelling artifact of a bygone era. Grade: B



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