Emergency Sex

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures is a powerful book that explores many uncomfortable situations around the globe.  It follows Andrew Thomson, Kenneth Cain and Heidi Postlewait, all whom joined the UN and saw how their perception didn’t accurately reflect reality.  I’m going to discuss why, and to whom, I’d recommend this book.


The group of people I wouldn’t recommend this book to is anyone younger than a high school sophomore.  I think people this age and a little younger can handle the mature content, but this is the type of book that, to be truly effective, needs some contemplation and deeper understanding.  Younger kids can read the words on the pages, but they might not comprehend the message the authors want to convey. For example, Kenneth Cain writes “I’m not ready to let the youthful part of myself go yet. If maturity means becoming a cynic, if you have to kill the part of yourself that is naive and romantic and idealistic – the part of you that you treasure most – to claim maturity, is it not better to die young but with your humanity intact?” (Emergency Sex) I wouldn’t expect myself as a high school freshman to actually comprehend this passage.  However, I think that high school aged kids, and some adults, would benefit from having someone with world experience give their perspective.


Emergency Sex covers such a wide range of topics pertaining to the good and bad of international humanitarian work that I think a set of thoughtful questions could really help the authors’ message get through to readers.  I think it would help to have questions about the reader’s perception of the UN, handling conflict and what it means to mature into a global citizen before reading the book.  Emergency Sex, with no prior learning of the basics of the topics it spans, might not mean as much. The fact that we have written about many of these topics already certainly helped me gain a better perspective of the situation.  Completing these questions beforehand would encourage the reader to think critically about topics they may not have previously pondered.  The reader could reference these questions throughout reading, which may help them notice messages or themes they may have otherwise glossed over.  In addition, questions after reading would serve as a nice bookend to the entire process.  The reader would be able to put down what they have learned and how their perspectives have changed (or haven’t changed).


Encouraging the reader to complete questions and have someone with relevant experience guide them through the topics is all to foster learning.  What do I hope readers learn from this experience?  Take this passage from Cain as an example: “I was hell-bent on being an effective humanitarian in Cambodia and Somalia. But a naïve fog is finally lifting. Revealed is a train wreck of illusions, the depravity of someone else’s war, the futility of a competence stillborn there. To understand this you have to become this” (Emergency Sex). I want the readers to understand how something you believed to be one way may actually be closer to the opposite; how being thrust into an unfamiliar situation can broaden your world views and change you as a person.  Emergency Sex is a great tell-all read that explores the shortcomings of the UN and humanitarian aid, but it is also deeply personal.  These two combined make for a compelling, eye-opening read I don’t want others to miss.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures. London. 2004. Print.


Cain, Kenneth. How Many Must Die Before Kofi Quits? The Guardian. April 3, 2005. Web. June 18, 2013.


Shanzer, Jonathan. It’s Time to Add Syria to Kofi Annan’s Long List of Failures. New Republic. April 5 2012. Web. June 18, 2013.



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