Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Varadarajan, Tunku. "Seeking Pleasure Far from Home." WALL STREET JOURNAL June 9, 2009.

Bernstein, Richard. The East, the West, and Sex: a History of Erotic Encounters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. The East, the West, and Sex is the best sort of book about sex: it is replete with anecdotes from history that titillate as they inform and observations on human nature that amuse as they illuminate, all delivered in language and tone that is broadly moral without being moralizing and certainly far from prudish. To his credit, Mr. Bernstein strives hard to avoid prurience, or even the suggestion of it, although occasionally he does drop his guard, as when he writes of Western men being "powerfully drawn to the slim, small-boned, black-haired women of Asia, more plumlike than melonlike of breast, spare rather than full of buttocks and hips." Mr. Bernstein's survey of Westerners in the fleshpots of the East -- ranging from the 17th century to the present -- is actually cultural history with a point, an attempt to show that nonmonogamous sex in the Orient (at least for men in power) long carried no contingent connotation of sin and was, in fact, a natural part of the masculine condition. While Christian scolds of old viewed such easy sexual possibility as clinching proof of Eastern degeneracy, the more worldly among Western men saw in the East an opportunity for liberation -- for a breaking of the shackles they wore, perforce, in London, Lisbon or Rotterdam, before the West's own sexual revolution. . . . Mr. Bernstein is right to characterize the West's historical relationship with the East as one, largely, of an assertion of political power. And with conquest and colonization (or with modern-day military interventions such as America's in Vietnam) the wielders of authority could satisfy their sexual desires in the East if they chose to do so. But Mr. Bernstein cautions against Manichaean conclusions that would have us condemn this behavior -- as well as the activities of today's Western men who go east, with their bulging wallets, for some casual "boom-boom" -- as a form of sexual colonization. There may have been -- and may still be -- an inequality of bargaining power in many of the sexual transactions in question. But as distasteful as some Western arbiters may find such relations, seeing them as merely predatory and cruel, many Eastern women regard a few hours with a fat German tourist who'll pay them well as a perfectly reasonable professional option -- in the circumstances. And their circumstances, let us remember, are not the fault of the fat German tourist. . . . Read the whole review here:

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