Alex Comfort

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Alex Comfort
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Alexander Comfort

(1920-02-10)10 February 1920
London, England
Died26 March 2000(2000-03-26) (aged 80)
Oxfordshire, England, UK
Alma mater
  • Author
  • British physician
  • Gerontologist
  • Psychiatry professor
Known forResearch and study of human sexual behaviour
Notable work
  • Ruth Harris
  • Jane Henderson

Alexander Comfort (10 February 1920 – 26 March 2000) was a British scientist and physician known best for his nonfiction sex manual, The Joy of Sex (1972). He was an author of both fiction and nonfiction, as well as a gerontologist, anarchist, pacifist, and conscientious objector. [1]

<i>The Joy of Sex</i> book by Alex Comfort

The Joy of Sex is an illustrated sex manual by British author Alex Comfort. First published in 1972, an updated edition was released in September 2008.

A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.


Early life and education

Comfort was educated at Highgate School in London. While a student there, he attempted to develop a superior concoction of gunpowder. During his experiments he inadvertently exploded his left hand, of which only the thumb remained. (Later in life, he claimed that his left hand proved "very useful for performing uterine inversions".) This story is used as evidence of his single-mindedness. [2]

Highgate School coeducational independent day school

Highgate School, formally Sir Roger Cholmeley's School at Highgate, is a British co-educational, fee-paying, independent day school, founded in 1565 in Highgate, London, England. It educates over 1,400 pupils in three sections – Highgate Pre-Preparatory School, Highgate Junior School and the Senior School (11+) – which together comprise the Highgate Foundation. As part of its wider work the charity was from 2010 a founding partner of the London Academy of Excellence and it is now also the principal education sponsor of an associated Academy, the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham, which opened in September 2017. The principal business sponsor is Tottenham Hotspur FC. The charity also funds the Chrysalis Partnership, a scheme supporting 26 state schools in six London boroughs.

Gunpowder explosive most commonly used as propellant in firearms

Gunpowder, also known as black powder to distinguish it from modern smokeless powder, is the earliest known chemical explosive. It consists of a mixture of sulfur (S), charcoal (C), and potassium nitrate (saltpeter, KNO3). The sulfur and charcoal act as fuels while the saltpeter is an oxidizer. Because of its incendiary properties and the amount of heat and gas volume that it generates, gunpowder has been widely used as a propellant in firearms, artillery, rockets, and fireworks, and as a blasting powder in quarrying, mining, and road building.

Uterine inversion Human disease

Uterine inversion is when the uterus turns inside out, usually following childbirth. Symptoms include postpartum bleeding, abdominal pain, a mass in the vagina, and low blood pressure. Rarely inversion may occur not in association with pregnancy.

He matriculated at Cambridge University's Trinity College to study medicine, qualifying during 1944 with both the Conjoint diplomas of Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians  (LRCP) London, Member of the Royal College of Surgeons  (MRCS) England and the Cambridge Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery or MB BChir degrees. [1] All in all, he accrued six degrees.

Trinity College, Cambridge constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England

Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. With around 600 undergraduates, 300 graduates, and over 180 fellows, it is the largest college in either of the Oxbridge universities by number of undergraduates. In terms of total student numbers, it is second only to Homerton College, Cambridge.

The conjoint was a basic medical qualification in the United Kingdom administered by the United Examining Board. It is now no longer awarded. The Conjoint Board was superseded in 1994 by the United Examining Board, which lost its permission to hold qualifying medical examinations after 1999.

Royal College of Physicians professional body of doctors of general medicine and its subspecialties in the UK

The Royal College of Physicians is a British professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, chiefly through the accreditation of physicians by examination. Founded in 1518, it set the first international standard in the classification of diseases, and its library contains medical texts of great historical interest.

Comfort had a passion for molluscs and joined the Conchological Society of Great Britain & Ireland when he was eighteen years old and made many contributions to the literature. [3]

Mollusca Large phylum of invertebrate animals

Mollusca is the second largest phylum of invertebrate animals. The members are known as molluscs or mollusks. Around 85,000 extant species of molluscs are recognized. The number of fossil species is estimated between 60,000 and 100,000 additional species.

The Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland is a British-based society concerned with the study of molluscs and their shells. It was founded in 1876, and is one of the oldest such societies in the world. It is a registered UK charity that anyone can join. It promotes the study of molluscs and their conservation, through meetings, publications, workshops, field meetings, and distribution recording schemes.

Life and work

Comfort served as a House Physician for the London Hospital and later became a lecturer in physiology at the London Hospital Medical College. During 1945 he obtained the Conjoint Board's Diploma in Child Health, and progressed to a PhD during 1950 and a DSc of University College, London during 1963. [4]

A pacifist, Comfort considered himself "an aggressive anti-militarist", and he believed that pacifism rested "solely upon the historical theory of anarchism". [5] [6] During World War Two, Comfort wrote a letter to the Tribune magazine (2 April 1943) denouncing the Allied bombing of civilians:

<i>Tribune</i> (magazine)

Tribune is a democratic socialist political magazine founded in 1937 and published in London. While it is independent, it has usually supported the Labour Party from the left. From 2009 to 2018, it faced serious financial difficulties until it was purchased by Jacobin Publisher Bhaskar Sunkara in early 2018, shifting to a quarterly publication model.

The bombardment of Europe is not the work of soldiers nor of responsible statesmen. It is the work of bloodthirsty fools.... Night after night those Europeans who risk their liberty to listen can hear the emetic threatenings and boastings of bloody-minded and reactionary civilians. They contrast the alacrity and satisfaction which attend each contemptible operation with the subterfuge and sloth which we have displayed in such tasks of constructive policy as the admission to sanctuary of the Jewish refugees. [1]

In a letter to Horizon , Comfort claimed that a Nazi victory over the United Kingdom would lead to a literary renaissance. [7] He was an active member of the Peace Pledge Union  (PPU) and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and a conscientious objector in World War II. In 1951 Comfort was a signatory of the Authors' World Peace Appeal, but later resigned from its committee, claiming the AWPA had become dominated by Soviet sympathisers. [8] Later in the decade he actively endorsed both the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War, 1957, and the Committee of 100, 1960. Comfort was imprisoned for a month, with Bertrand Russell and other leading members of the Committee of 100, for refusing to be bound not to continue organising the Parliament Square/Trafalgar Square protest of 17 September 1961.

Among the publications by Comfort concerning anarchism is Peace and Disobedience (1946), one of many pamphlets he wrote for Peace News and PPU, and Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State (1950). [5] He exchanged public correspondence with George Orwell defending pacifism in the open letter/poem, "Letter to an American Visitor", under the pseudonym "Obadiah Hornbrooke". [9]

Comfort's book The Joy of Sex (1972) earned him worldwide fame and $3 million. But he was unhappy to become known as "Dr. Sex" and to have his other works given so little attention. [10]

Comfort devoted much of the 1950s and 1960s studying the biology of ageing (biogerontology) and popularised the subject. He could be termed an early biomedical gerontologist (life extensionist) on the basis of his opinion that science could extend human lifespan. During 1969 he suggested that life expectancy (not simply maximum life span) could be extended to 120 years of age within the next 20 years. [5] Although Comfort believed that ageing could be postponed, he did not believe that it could be eliminated, and he did not write about rejuvenation. [11]

One of Comfort's final letters was to The Guardian during 1989, protesting against the Thatcher government's introduction of the poll tax. [1]

Personal life

The Joy of Sex made Comfort known internationally as "Dr. Sex" and soon thereafter he and his wife of thirty years divorced. A few months later, during 1973, Comfort married his mistress (and ex-wife's best friend) Jane Henderson, with whom he had been having an affair for more than a decade. The book's illustrations were based on photographs that Comfort and Henderson had taken together. The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a liberal research institute, offered Comfort a job, and so, during 1973, the couple relocated to Santa Barbara, California, where it was located. [2]

They frequented the Sandstone Retreat, a clothing-optional community in California espousing "open sexuality", or swinging. In his 1981 nonfiction publication concerning sexuality in America, Thy Neighbor's Wife , Gay Talese noted, "Often the nude biologist Dr. Alex Comfort, brandishing a cigar, traipsed through the room between the prone bodies with the professional air of a lepidopterist strolling through the fields waving a butterfly net". [2]

Jane Henderson, however, eventually became tired of the "open love" community and Comfort became involved in lawsuits with his employer concerning a claimed breach of contract. During 1985, the couple returned to England, where they lived the remainder of their lives in Kent. During 1991, Comfort suffered a severe cerebral haemorrhage, after which his son from his first marriage acted as his caretaker and business manager. His second wife Jane Henderson died soon after the haemorrhage. He died on 26 March 2000; he was eighty years old. [2]

Partial bibliography

  • No Such Liberty (1941) – novel
  • Three New Poets (1942) – Alex Comfort, Roy McFadden, Ian Serraillier
  • A Wreath for the Living (1942)
  • Elegies (1944)
  • The Power House (1944) – novel
  • The Song of Lazarus (1945)
  • Outlaw of the Lowest Planet by Kenneth Patchen (1946) – Preface by Alex Comfort
  • Art and Social Responsibility (1946)
  • The Signal to Engage (1946)
  • Peace and Disobedience (1946) – pamphlet (reprinted in 1994 in Against Power and Death) [5]
  • Barbarism and Sexual Freedom (1948) – non-fiction
  • On This Side Nothing (1949) – novel, influenced by Albert Camus, whose work Comfort admired
  • Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State (1950)
  • Sexual Behaviour in Society (1950) – non-fiction
  • Hygromia cinctella (Draparnaud) in England. (1950) Journal of Conchology. 23: 99–100.
  • Biochemistry of molluscan shell pigments. Proc malac Soc London. 28: 79–85.
  • And All But He Departed (1951)
  • A Giant's Strength (1952) – novel
  • The Biology of Senescence (1956) – non-fiction
  • Come Out to Play (1961) – novel
  • Haste to the Wedding (1962)
  • Darwin and the Naked Lady (1962) – articles
  • Sex in Society (1963) – non-fiction
  • Ageing – the Biology of Senescence (1964)
  • Koka Shastra, being the Ratirahasya of Kokkota, and other medieval Indian writings on love (George Allen & Unwin, 1964; translator)
  • Process of Ageing (1965)
  • The Nature of Human Nature – non-fiction (US edition Harper & Row 1966)
  • The Joy of Sex: a Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking (1972)
  • More Joy of Sex: a Lovemaking Companion to The Joy of Sex (1973)
  • Come out to Play (1975)
  • A Good Age (1976)
  • Poems for Jane (1979)
  • The Facts of Love: Living, Loving and Growing Up Crown Publishers (1980)
  • I and That: Notes on the Biology of Religion (1980)
  • Tetrarch (1981)-a fantasy novel inspired by William Blake
  • Reality And Empathy: Physics, Mind, and Science in the 21st Century (1984)
  • Imperial Patient (1987) – a historical novel about Nero
  • The Philosophers (1989) – satire of Thatcher's Government set in the future. [12]
  • The New Joy of Sex: a Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking for the Nineties (1992)
  • Writings Against Power and Death (1994)

Comfort, Alexander. 1967. The anxiety makers: some curious preoccupations of the medical profession. Nelson [13]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 David Goodway, "Introduction" to Writings Against power and death: the anarchist articles and pamphlets of Alex Comfort. London : Freedom Press, 1994. ISBN   0900384719 (pp. 7–30)
  2. 1 2 3 4 Levy, Ariel (5 January 2009). "Doing It: A new edition of "The Joy of Sex."". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  3. Dance, S Peter (2010). "Comfort and joy among the snails of Chaldon". Mollusc World (24): 12. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  4. The Medical Directory 1969 (125 ed.). London: J & A Churchill. 1969. p. 356. ISBN   978-0-7000-1400-2.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Rayner, Claire (28 March 2000). "News: Obituaries: Alex Comfort". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 18 September 2008. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  6. For discussions of Comfort's political views, see Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (1992) by Peter Marshall, and Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow (2006) by David Goodway.
  7. "George Orwell: Pacifism and the War".
  8. Carissa Honeywell, A British Anarchist Tradition: Herbert Read, Alex Comfort and Colin Ward, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011 ISBN   1441190171 (p. 112).
  9. Complete Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell volume II, pg. 294–303
  10. Martin, Douglas (20 March 2000). "Alex Comfort, 80, Dies; a Multifaceted Man Best Known for Writing 'The Joy of Sex'". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  11. "Gerontology A Good Age by Alex Comfort". 1975–1981. Archived from the original on 20 July 2008. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  12. Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, (1993). pg. 287.
  13. wikipedia