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The Joy of Gay Sex Author Charles Silverstein Goes Deep 40 Years Later

‘The Joy of Gay Sex’ Author Charles Silverstein 40 years Later

Since 1977, The Joy of Gay Sex has educated generations of gay men on blow jobs, cruising, fisting, and gonorrhea — and perhaps just as subversive, it also includes an equal number of passages of a nonsexual nature. Co-writers Dr. Charles Silverstein and novelist Edmund White wanted to create a first-of-its-kind guidebook for every aspect of the gay experience.

The book has been seized by customs agents around the world, burned, and banned. But it’s also gone on to be translated into five languages and was revised in 1993 and then again in 2006 (co-authored by Silverstein and Felice Picano).

And who can forget the drawings?

The biting of a nipple, the curl of pubic hair — no detail was left out. The images were intended to be as stimulating as the writing. One evening, the publisher called Silverstein at home and asked, “Why do you have to use the word ‘cock’”? He preferred that they use “penis” and Silverstein replied, “Your cock is different than your penis.”

He had been forced to make innumerable edits, instructed by sensitive readers to cut entire passages, but on this point, Silverstein held firm.

“What’s the difference?” The publisher asked.

“Your penis is part of your anatomy, and your cock is what you fuck your wife with,” Silverstein replied. In the end, he got his way.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Dr. Charles Silverstein on the LGBTQ&A podcast.

One thing that appears in a later book by Silverstein, Man to Man, and seems to be of particular interest to gay men today is the origin of the label “daddy.” A classification of gay men, like “twinks” or “bears,” a “daddy” exhibits the exact energy and qualities that you think one does: strength and stability. There’s a safety to daddies, and according to Silverstein, it’s not a new phenomenon. There has always been a “daddy scene” in gay culture. “Some of it has to do with issues of masculinity,” he says on this week's LGBTQ&A podcast. “A daddy is more masculine. Some of it has to do with power issues.” He adds, “One of the things that’s true in gay male relationships is that when two guys have sex, there is a power relationship between them, but it’s a voluntary one.”

For Silverstein, as he moves further into his 80s, sex has become a smaller part of his life. “I miss some of that, but also there’s a lot of disappointment that goes along with it. There’s a lot of pain. I can do without that. I have found that the more in love two people are, the easier it is for them to hurt each other. If I have any kind of other relationship, I don’t want it to be that hurtful.”

It used to be that to learn much of the information in The Joy of Gay Sex, customers at bookstores had to ask to see a copy of the groundbreaking book that was often kept under the counter and out of sight so as not to offend anyone. But queer people now have smartphones and computers with 24/7 access to the internet, where they can discover just about anything they want about sex. They can also find one another there. For Silverstein, who was a teenager in the 1940s and didn’t engage in his first sexual experience with a man until 1970, there were no resources on the scale of The Joy of Gay Sex to turn to. He was forced to learn on the job — trial and error “with lots of errors,” he says.

“The first time I had sex with a guy was a big learning experience. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Fortunately, he did." That night would prove to be a catalyst for Dr. Charles Silverstein. It was in that moment that he decided he would dedicate himself to fighting for acceptance for all gay people. His mission was to make sure that future generations, people who would one day read his books, would be spared the pain and struggles that he faced. He wanted those who followed after him to live without shame, to know that sex can and should be pure joy.

Listen to the full interview on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

LGBTQ&A is The Advocate's weekly interview podcast hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Past guests include Laverne Cox, Brandi Carlile, Billie Jean King, and Roxane Gay. New episodes come out every Tuesday.

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