Fiona Sinclair reviews ‘The 52 Seductions’ by Betty Herbert

Betty Herbert The 52 Seductions, Headline Publishing Group, 2011. £12.99

I must confess that I began to read this book with some trepidation. Not having read the original blog I imagined it would a cruder version of Sex in the City. However the narrator Betty has a matter of fact attitude to sex which serves to relax and disarm even the most nervous reader. Broadly the book concerns a loving couple who after 10 plus years of marriage want to rekindle and explore their sexuality. They therefore embark on the challenge of finding differing ways of seducing each other each week.

I particularly enjoyed the second strand of narrative prefixing the early chapters. Here Betty recounts without self pity the on going saga of her potentially serious and certainly debilitating gynaecological health issues. It is these glimpses of real life that stop the book from becoming a mere sex romp.

I marvelled at Betty’s matter of fact attitude towards intrusive gynaecological examinations, and indeed her game intention to continue on with the seductions at a time when sex would be the last thing on many women’s minds. Yet what transpires is a thoughtful exploration of ways of achieving intimacy without vaginal penetration.

Whilst at times the book has this more serious vein it is also extremely funny. This is inevitable since sex is after all very funny. The comedy arises for Betty’s own comments on the tasks at hand and also from the increasingly ambitious explorations of sexuality including use of sex toys, a brush with transvestism and over zealous sexual positions involving a sofa. I particularly liked the incidents concerning Bob the cat (actually female like the Blackadder character) who seems quietly determined to sabotage the seductions including deciding she must get to the to the second floor of the house when the couple are engaged in some tricky stair sex.
What struck me was the level of research the writer undertook as a prelude to the seductions. Consequently the book becomes an education for both couple and reader.   We are taken to sex fairs, and a convention on tantric sex in Berlin. The reader is allowed full access to the seductions. It is here that the writer’s skill is shown for the narrator wisely describes the sex acts in non erotic often anatomical language. The results are not the choreographed writhing we see on TV but the reality of sex between a couple who knows every inch of each others’ bodies and are undeterred by  fanny farts, the need for ‘lube’ and the mechanics of achieving certain positions which are rather like docking the shuttle. Indeed such a down to earth approach to sex renders the reader quite blasé by the end of the book, when reading about masturbation, rimming and latex cat costumes.

As the sexual exploits become more ambitious, they are  skilfully counterbalanced by two discursive strands; Betty’s  wish to confront her own inhibitions and her need to square her feminist principals  with certain sexual practises such as the use of pornography and anal sex .  The writer manages to discuss such serious matters with a lightness of touch that does not intrude on the main narrative of the seductions but does however give certain sex acts a context.

This is an entertaining book. It is also thought provoking and informative.   During the course of the year Betty has done the leg work for many thirty something couples whose sex lives have become stale.  It also persuasively gives any couple permission to experiment with and explore their sexuality. It struck me too that this is a book for the baby boomer generation who with kids and mortgages off their hands have the health and money to similarly enjoy each other. 

….reviewed by Fiona Sinclair

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