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Sex Advice from E.B. White

Published July 14, 2022

When you hear the name E.B. White, you may think of a sentient spider who could spell on a 4th grade level, or about a mouse-child named Stuart, or about a swan who couldn’t…swan, or whatever that book was about. (And if you’re asking “Who’s E.B. White?” then why are you even on this website?) 

But a couple of decades before he was an award-winning author of kid-lit, and before he collected The Elements of Style, E.B. White co-wrote a book about S-E-X. 

Is Sex Necessary, or Why You Feel the Way You Do, which he co-authored with James Thurber (yeah, the Walter Mitty guy), was released in 1929. According to The Attic, the two men were colleagues at The New Yorker and decided that they’d take a crack at sending up the self-help and sex-advice manuals that were still semi-popular at the time. 

“Thurber and I were neither more, nor less, interested in the subject of love and marriage than anybody else of our age in that era,” White said. “I recall that we were both profoundly interested in earning a living, and I think we somehow managed, simultaneously, to arrive at the conclusion that […] the heavy writers had got sex down and were breaking its arm. We were determined that sex should maintain its high spirits.”

The book was a hit at the time, but it may not pack the same punch today, some 93 years (!!!) after its publication. Although the nonprofit [James] Thurber House is unsurprisingly effusive, describing it as “a masterpiece of drollery” that “stands the test of time,” a GoodReads reviewer summed it up by writing “[I] honestly don’t know what the f-ck I just read here.” 

He still gave it two stars though, so it has to be better than that swan book. 

Earlier this week, we paid homage to E.B. White’s birthday with a whole thruline quiz – every round title matched a work by E.B. White. Take a peek:

Featured image courtesy of: Eustress, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0