Getting it On: A Condom Reader
Edited by Mitch Roberson and Julia Dubner
Published by Soho Press
1999, 240 pages
Buy it online
Reviewed by David Middleton
If you are looking for a public service announcement about the practice of safe sex, then Getting it On: A Condom Reader is your book. A compilation of stories, poems and humor from relative unknowns to best-selling authors like John Irving and Anne Rice, Getting it On attempts to piece together varying tales of condom-nation and the state of today's sexual environment. It all seems too much of a cautionary tale for the new millennium and about fifteen years too late.
To call this a "condom reader" is inaccurate or at best misleading. I fully expected outlandish tales and misadventures of condoms and their various and sundry uses: factoids, illustrations, flat-out humor, along with witty and astute insights into this modern cultural necessity. The humor the book does include feels forced and derivative. I felt that after every funny part the words (ha ha) should have been added in brackets. The introduction tells us that the book is about "getting on with life and relationships in the face of all the risks, both emotional and physical, that sexuality involves", but life in Getting it On seems quite dark and tends toward an undercurrent of morality tales, lecturing and some tired old male-bashing jokes. In Condomology in Twelve Easy Lessons, Cathryn Alpert sets us up for an old knee-slapper by telling us to:
1) Buy a condom that fits. Condoms come in a variety of sizes: Large, Extra Large, King Size, Jumbo, Colossal, Mammoth, Gargantuan, Humongous, and John Dillinger.
Now, skipping to the punch line:
11) If your condom accidentally falls off during intercourse, do not panic. Disengage your penis and carefully fish the loose prophylactic from the appropriate orifice. Buy a smaller-sized condom tomorrow -- say, gargantuan.
While guys who drive powerful automobiles may be overcompensating a bit in the sword-wielding department, not all guys with diminutive dicks are wont to drive such crotch rockets. And I'll rise up in defense of my less adequately endowed but nonetheless-well-adjusted-econobox-driving brothers any day. Of course we men should have a sense of humor about our oh-so (or not so) mighty members. I know I'm always the first to have a good chuckle at my own knob's expense -- with the fitting of condoms being high on the list of things- to-do-whilst-unsuccesfully-stifling-a-guffaw. Penises are not, after all, the be-all and end-all of a male's existence, but if you are going to point and laugh: be funny and original and we'll laugh right along with you.
The writings selected for this anthology are, for the most part, quite good. A few are even excellent, but some of the stories take excruciatingly long to get to the point. The point being the condom. And when the story finally gets around to our reason for reading, it's mentioned... and we move on. Getting it On's main criterion, it claims, is that in each story "condoms be thematically integral; a mere mention wouldn't do." While condoms are mentioned in each story, they sometimes have as much relevance as, say, the fact that a character wears shoes to protect their feet. Now this is not the fault of the writers. These stories stand quite well on their own, but to have included some of them as part of this compilation, the editors have missed their mark.
Perhaps the poems in this book should have been part of the humor, with no fewer than five pieces with condom in the title: Condom; Condoms; The Condom; The Condom Tree; and Condoms, Then and Now. All that is missing is Ode to a Condom. (Thou doest not dare to touch thy thingy, lest it be ensconced in a latex dinghy.)
If you want to read something erotic, sexy, funny, sensitive, and informative I'd recommend the previously reviewed anthology Going Down. It had lightness and humor without sounding admonishing. Unprotected sex is certainly a serious subject. I think we all know this quite well and have for a number of years. But if you are going to call a book Getting it On, I'm already looking for the fun. I don't want to hear the disembodied parental voices of reason saying "Be a good boy, now." | February 1999
David Middleton is art director of January Magazine.