Mae West on Sex, Health and ESP (1975)
Mae West On Sex, Health and ESP was published in 1975 by W. H. Allen Publishers (London). It was written by Mary Jane ‘Mae’ West (1893-1980), an American actress, singer, writer and comedian, best known as a long-standing cultural icon and sex symbol. West is remembered for her sexual independence and outspoken nature, which saw her encounter many issues regarding censorship during her lifetime. The book will be of particular interest to historians of sexuality, especially those researching second wave feminism and sex-positivity.
The book can be considered an autobiographical advice publication, whereby West uses her own experiences regarding sex, sexuality, health and psychic abilities to inform her readership of how to best take care of themselves. The book includes three chapters on sex, health and ESP respectively and concludes with a summary of her special philosophy, including: ‘a man in the house is worth two in the street’; ‘there are no good girls gone wrong, just bad girls found out’ and ‘a lady may let her hair down as long as the gentleman stands up.’ It also contains advice for both men and women on how to harness sexual energy and put it to work, and the importance of self-care. Regarding her looks, West states ‘they are the result of a lifetime of good health habits,’ and pushes the idea that her advice can work for anyone.
Mae West on Sex, Health and ESP is particularly useful regarding ideas about female sexuality during the twentieth century. Published during the second wave feminist movement, topics regarding female sexuality would have been popular amongst sex-positive feminists and women seeking to discover and own their sexuality. The chapter on sex offers an insight into how sex-positive individuals may have thought of sex and sexuality. West offers comedic advice on harnessing sexual energy and using it to complete physical and mental activity such as housework and ‘balancing a chequebook.’ Wests sexual advice for men is interesting, as she notes men frequently approached her regarding their sexual dilemmas, and explains how women were particularly reserved regarding the topic of sex when approaching her. Advice for women includes mutual pleasure and instructions on the act of sex itself. Other topics in the chapter include marriage, astrology, homosexuality, love, sexercises and sex in the kitchen. Particularly interesting is West’s inclusion of fan letters she received asking for her opinion on sex and love problems.
West’s book provides a useful insight into ideas regarding sex, health and psychic experiences, particularly regarding female sexuality during the twentieth century. While it is difficult to measure the extent to which people took West’s advice on board, the book is enlightening regarding sex-positivity in the second wave feminist movement. The book illustrates that there was a demand for advice regarding sex amongst the public, who particularly enjoyed reaching out to recognised sex icons. The book emphasises that sex-positivity (particularly in Britain) should not be dismissed as minor and instead shows that ideas regarding the ownership of female sexuality were far reaching. Additionally, of particular interest, is the books failure to be published in the United States, thus showing how the topic of sex remained particularly controversial in some western countries in the late twentieth century.
By Imogen Smith