Author: Erika Moen, Matthew Nolan
Publish Date: 2014
Publisher: Persiscope Studio
Catalog ID: ISBN 978-0-9823437-8-4
Author website: http://www.erikamoen.com
Guest Review by: PF Anderson
Well, we all know who to call when we see a ghost (Ghostbusters!), but who are you going to call to review a comic book on sex toys? Of course, your local little old lady librarian, right? Well, maybe not, but that’s what happened here. I’m a medical librarian and creeping up on retirement age faster than I’d like. I am probably the last person on earth I’d expect to find writing a book review for a book on … sex toys? So think of it this way: If I say buy it (which is what’s going to happen), then maybe you’ll be able to show it to your mom, or granddad, or even (shock!) find it in your local public library! Now, wouldn’t THAT be something?
The “Oh Joy Sex Toy” book (henceforth referred to by the popular shortcut of OJST) is a selection of short topical comics from the web site of the same name. Yes, it is about sex. And sex toys. Why I was interested is because it is also educational and healthy (and because my kids really like this webcomic). Being a good mom, I like to know where it is my kids are learning about sex, and I like to have some idea what ideas they are picking up. I know I can’t control it, but if I know about it, then we can have good conversations and also keep the door open for when they really need to talk about something. I also like to know what sort of images are being presented, and if they are healthy, psychologically as well as physically. I love that the people in the strip look so comfortable, natural, and happy! I suspect that word “joy” in the title is no accident, since the artwork is always joyful, as well as accurate, accessible, and engaging. Erika draws herself as being chubbier than she is in real life (there are actual photos on the site), and draws her husband as a slightly scoop-shouldered somewhat skinny guy with glasses. I like these depictions so much because they doesn’t give that nasty idea that you have to be super-model skinny or have ripped abs to be sexy. Erika has this incredible crew of characters that function much like a theatrical chorus. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, with or without hair (from anywhere to everywhere), and are affectionately referred to as the “Masturbateers.” The subtext here is that this is for everyone. The audience is frequently addressed directly by name — “Perverts.” Erika explains the name as chosen because most folk believe other people are perverts (and not them)! So welcome to the club, because there is probably someone who believes that YOU are the pervert!
The OJST book includes comics that are on sex toy reviews as well as including sex-themed educational topics. What surprised me was how educational the sex toy reviews are! Let’s start there. My kids like to tell me how naïve I am, and I respond with trite things like, “Hey, you’re here, aren’t you?” thus proving their point. I know, ahem, KNEW, next to nothing about sex toys. I’d heard of dildos and vibrators, but have never seen them in real life. Just call me frankly ignorant. So the sex toy reviews were pretty much new ideas for me. Most of the reviews included the terms, explained what they mean, the mechanics of the toy, the target audience, how it works ideally and in real life, creative ideas for how to use it appropriately and effectively, risks and benefits, and whether or not it is recommended. Warming the cockles of my medical librarian heart, most of the reviews also include anatomical diagrams! With labels! Sex toys had pretty much baffled me (“Why would anyone want to do THAT?”) but anatomy diagrams were helpful to understand how X works and why some people like it. I also liked the inclusion of occasional remarks on, ahem, personal hygiene and the impact on personal health (especially when sex of any sort is part of the picture). I found the comics not only refreshingly open and honest, but also responsible.
After being so pleasantly surprised by how educational the sex toy comics are, I was looking forward to the comics on sex education concepts. Consumer health education and health literacy are two of my favorite topics, so I was inclined to be picky. This first OJST volume only has a few of the official sex ed comics, but there are many more on the website. My concern was if they were accurate or biased, honest or misleading, responsible or encouraging unhealthy behavior, and did they give the reader a way to learn more if they wished? I’ve tried to make handouts, fliers, and books for the public on health topics. It’s really hard to make the ideas clear, and even harder to make them remotely interesting. Erika and Matthew do both of those incredibly well. It’s no real surprise that Planned Parenthood has begun to partner with OJST! The sex ed comics include sources either as a URL directly in the comic frame or sometimes a collection of resources at the end.
The most challenging part is that sex ed can be about complex challenging ideas with a lot of emotional and moral subtlety that is virtually impossible to address through a short one to two page comic. That means sometimes important stuff is left out, and what’s left may be focused on a particular view of how the world should be. My impression is that OJST has struggled with this, and ended up making an editorial decision that the focus is on what’s currently called “sex positive,” that sex should be happy as well as healthy, for everyone involved in it. My take on this is that if my kid was only going to read one source on difficult sex topics, there are far worse places to go. For myself, I would be OK with starting here for information, and then continuing to look for more information and views in other places.
Now, drumroll, please. Should you buy it for yourself? If you’re interested in sex or enjoying sex, or like Erika’s style of art, sure! Should you buy it for your parents? Ummm, maybe? If your parents are super touchy about the topic of sex, you might want to be careful how you bring it up, but if they are more open-minded, they might actually enjoy it. Should you ask your local public library to get it? Absolutely! But do yourself and everyone else a favor, and suggest that the librarians have the book bound in khaki or navy blue backram, and label the spine with the title “OJST” instead of “Oh Joy Sex Toy.” That makes it easier to checkout without embarrassment, to read on the bus, and hopefully it might actually stay on the shelf. Librarians might worry about if the book is too much like porn. Trust me, it is nothing like porn. I found the information and presentation enlightening and educational, and easygoing, but not terribly explicit or offensive. (I admit there were moments when I gasped and closed the book fast, but I opened it back up later.) The more conservative of my friends did have some “OMG” moments, but most of them were more, “Oh, this is cool! I need to go home and look up the rest of it!” I live in a college town, and I can tell exactly what all the college students told me when I mentioned the book: “Oh! I love her! I’ve read EVERYTHING on the website!”