10 February 1920
|Died||26 March 2000 80) (aged|
Oxfordshire, England, UK
|Known for||Research and study of human sexual behaviour|
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.
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.
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.
Highgate School, formally Sir Roger Cholmeley's School at Highgate, is a British co-educational 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, 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 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. All in all, he accrued six degrees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A pacifist, Comfort considered himself "an aggressive anti-militarist", and he believed that pacifism rested "solely upon the historical theory of anarchism".During World War Two, Comfort wrote a letter to the Tribune magazine (2 April 1943) denouncing the Allied bombing of civilians:
Tribune is a democratic socialist magazine, founded in 1937 and published in London. It is independent but has usually supported the Labour Party from the left. Publication of the fortnightly print version was suspended in January 2018 for "a short break", continuing online, and it was relaunched as a bimonthly magazine in September 2018.
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.
In a letter to Horizon , Comfort claimed that a Nazi victory over the United Kingdom would lead to a literary renaissance. (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. 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.He was an active member of the Peace Pledge Union
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).He exchanged public correspondence with George Orwell defending pacifism in the open letter/poem, "Letter to an American Visitor", under the pseudonym "Obadiah Hornbrooke".
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.
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. Although Comfort believed that ageing could be postponed, he did not believe that it could be eliminated, and he did not write about rejuvenation.
One of Comfort's final letters was to The Guardian during 1989, protesting against the Thatcher government's introduction of the poll tax.
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.
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".
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.
Comfort, Alexander. 1967. The anxiety makers: some curious preoccupations of the medical profession. Nelson
Anarchism is an anti-authoritarian political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary, cooperative institutions and the rejection of hierarchies those societies view as unjust. These institutions are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as distinct institutions based on non-hierarchical or free associations. Anarchism holds capitalism, the state, and representative democracy to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.
Libertarian socialism is a group of anti-authoritarian political philosophies inside the socialist movement that rejects the conception of socialism as centralized state ownership and control of the economy.
Pacifism is opposition to war, militarism, or violence. The word pacifism was coined by the French peace campaigner Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901. A related term is ahimsa, which is a core philosophy in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. While modern connotations are recent, having been explicated since the 19th century, ancient references abound.
Colin Ward was a British anarchist writer. He has been called "one of the greatest anarchist thinkers of the past half century, and a pioneering social historian."
Anarchism and violence have become closely connected in popular thought, in part because of a concept of "propaganda of the deed". Propaganda of the deed, or attentát, was espoused by leading anarchists in the late nineteenth century, and was associated with a number of incidents of violence. Anarchist thought, however, is quite diverse on the question of violence. In the name of coherence some anarchists have opposed coercion, while others have supported it, particularly in the form of violent revolution on the path to anarchy. Anarchism includes a school of thought which rejects all violence (anarcho-pacifism).
George Woodcock was a Canadian writer of political biography and history, an anarchist thinker, an essayist and literary critic. He was also a poet and published several volumes of travel writing. In 1959 he was the founding editor of the journal Canadian Literature which was the first academic journal specifically dedicated to Canadian writing. He is most commonly known outside Canada for his book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962).
Anarcho-pacifism is a tendency within anarchism that rejects the use of violence in the struggle for social change, the abolition of capitalism and the state. The main early influences were the thought of Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy while later the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi gained importance. Pacifist anarchism "appeared mostly in the Netherlands, Britain, and the United States, before and after the Second World War and has continued since then in the deep in the anarchist involvement in the protests against nuclear armament.".
Anarchism in the UK initially developed within the context of radical Whiggery and Protestant religious dissent. During the English Civil War and the industrialisation English anarchist thought developed in the context of revolutionary working class politics.
Sir Herbert Edward Read, DSO, MC was an English art historian, poet, literary critic and philosopher, best known for numerous books on art, which included influential volumes on the role of art in education. Read was co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. As well as being a prominent English anarchist, he was one of the earliest English writers to take notice of existentialism.
Anarchism has long had an association with the arts, particularly with visual art, music and literature.
The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) is a non-governmental organisation that promotes pacifism, based in the United Kingdom. Its members are signatories to the following pledge: "War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war", and campaign to promote peaceful and nonviolent solutions to conflict. The PPU forms the British section of War Resisters' International.
Nicolas Hardy Walter was a British anarchist and atheist writer, speaker and activist. He was a member of the Committee of 100 and Spies for Peace, and wrote on topics of anarchism and humanism.
David Goodway is a British historian and a respected international authority on anarchism and libertarian socialism. A student of Eric Hobsbawm, Goodway specialised in the history of Chartism in London and his work London Chartism is an acknowledged classic work on the subject. He has also written widely about writers in the British left libertarian tradition, such as William Morris, John Cowper Powys, Alex Comfort, Herbert Read, George Orwell, Colin Ward and Maurice Brinton.
Christian pacifism is the theological and ethical position that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith. Christian pacifists state that Jesus himself was a pacifist who taught and practiced pacifism and that his followers must do likewise. Notable Christian pacifists include Martin Luther King, Jr., Leo Tolstoy, and Ammon Hennacy. Hennacy believed that adherence to Christianity required not just pacifism but, because governments inevitably threatened or used force to resolve conflicts, anarchism. However, most Christian pacifists, including the peace churches, Christian Peacemaker Teams and individuals such as John Howard Yoder, make no claim to be anarchists.
Mark Plowman, generally known as Max Plowman, was a British writer and pacifist.
Anarchism is a political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful. However, others argue that while anti-statism is central, it is inadequate to define anarchism solely on this basis. Therefore, they argue instead that anarchism entails opposing authority or hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations, including, but not limited to, the state system. Proponents of this form of anarchism advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical free associations.
The "London Letters" were a series of fifteen articles written by George Orwell when invasion by Nazi Germany seemed imminent, and published in the American left-wing literary magazine Partisan Review. As well as these "London Letters", PR also published other articles by Orwell.
Norman Whitehead (1915–1983) was a landscape painter, working chiefly around his hometown Alfreton, Derbyshire. Active mainly in the 1930s he was greatly influenced by the works of Paul Nash and the Vorticism movement, experimenting with form and developing a style which was very much his own.
Major male anarchist thinkers generally supported women's equality. Free love advocates sometimes traced their roots back to Josiah Warren and to experimental communities, viewing sexual freedom as an expression of an individual's self-ownership. Free love particularly stressed women's rights. In New York's Greenwich Village, "bohemian" feminists and socialists advocated self-realisation and pleasure for both men and women. In Europe and North America, the free love movement combined ideas revived from utopian socialism with anarchism and feminism to attack the "hypocritical" sexual morality of the Victorian era.
NOW was a political and literary periodical founded in 1940 by George Woodcock, its first editor, from 1940 to 1941, and by Freedom Press from 1943 to 1947.