I reached out for the book, after watching the film biography of its author. The cult Polish “manual” of human sexuality has had several editions, I have come by the most recent one, with up-to-date preface and supplemented with a chapter on contemporary contraception methods.
Some chapters of the book were edited or complemented by Mrs Wisłocka over her lifetime, as she worked on consecutive, improved editions, but all in all it can be felt Sztuka Kochania was written 40 years ago. The three central characteristics that prove how the world has moved on during the last four decades are:
1) the emergence and advance of Internet, taking place of papers and video cassettes as a source of skewed knowledge of sex and carrier of pornographic content,
2) the demise of taboos; sex-related stuff has become a topic of shame-free conversations within families and among friends,
3) fading traditional roles ascribed to specific sexes, in terms of behaviours, sharing duties and responsibilities (this has given rise to research on gender identity).
Since 1970 a huge stride in terms of culture of sex life and its understanding has been made, nevertheless progress has not rendered the book useless.
Socially, awareness of sexuality has improved, shame no longer accompanies deliberations on it, yet much still needs to be done. The main channels through which youngsters gain education are the Web and other easily accessible media. Needless to say contents young people familiarise with are far from professional substantive education they should receive at school and at homes (if parents are prepared and not to afraid to pass such knowledge).
Scientifically, biggest step forward has been made in contraception. Today, withdrawal method is widely criticised because of its high failure rate (not to mention practical aspects), while 40 years ago was a generally accepted contraception method. In 1970s contraceptive pills, nascent and imperfect, were believed to cause detrimental side effects to women’s bodies, while today, though gynaecologists remain aware of the pills’ shortcomings, they are recognised as practical and effective birth control method.
There are passages in the book I have mixed feelings about. The author several times stresses it is not a coincidence woman is female, while man is male. A woman’s role is to give birth, a man’s role to initiate mating rituals. While we cannot and I believe should not play with biology, decisions who wears pants in a relationship, how responsibilities are shared and who takes matters into their hands should belong to a couple. As I observe marriages and non-formalised long-term relationships, they function as partnerships with large degree of autonomy and commonly shared responsibility for household duties and bringing up offspring.
Mrs Wisłocka dedicates part of a chapter of contraception to abortion, permitted before 1989 in Poland. She decidedly underlines pregnancy termination is evil and ought to be avoided (therefore she advocates access to birth control), however claims the decision whether to have it performed it should be left to a woman only and a would-be father has nothing to say. While I know a man will not spend nine months pregnant and may make away leaving a woman and an infant out in the cold, if he stays by her side, he should be allowed to have his say (unless he brutally forces a woman to terminate pregnancy).
When the book was first published, youngsters began to live together under one roof usually after getting married. In the twenty-first century mass migration from provincial areas to large cities, availability of rented dwellings and mortgages and social changes accelerated the moment a youngster flies the nest. This translates into earlier start of learning the life together – couples begin to live under one roof well before tying the knot (if at all) and earlier begin to discover each other.
The purport of Sztuka kochania which remains always up-to-date is that relationships should be based on empathy and mutual respect, no matter if in bed, in running a house, raising children or elsewhere. This universal credo should be instilled at home and odds to shape an adult who has not been taught empathy and respect at home are tiny, yet it is never too late to make efforts.
Those who expect a guide or an instruction how to make love, should not waste time going through the book, though it contains several priceless hints what to pay attention to. I believe Sztuka Kochania is worthwhile, as it enriches one’s grasp of sexuality, particularly how it is embedded in emotionality and how it intertwines with other spheres of human life. A driver who skilfully operates a vehicle and whose passengers enjoy a safe and comfortable ride, must not necessarily be familiar with how engine, transmission and other parts of vehicle work, though they gently but firmly steer a vehicle. It would never hurt, however, if they improved their grasp of mechanics ;-)