email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshZen Sex
As Alexander notes at the end of America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction, "American sexual hypocrisy is a cliché, and an old one at that" (295). And yet we continue to be fascinated with that hypocrisy, hackneyed and clichéd though it may be, perhaps particularly when someone like Ted Haggard or Eliot Spitzer, known as anti-sex crusaders, get caught with their pants down. Alexander doesn't focus on the sex lives of famous people, however. His aim is directed instead towards regular folks, often from America's heartland. From his background as a sex columnist, first at Glamour magazine, and nofw at MSNBC.com, Alexander became convinced that there existed a large percentage of Americans who were engaging in a variety of rather unconventional sexual practices, at least according to the mores of his childhood. "So," he says, "I wanted to know who these sexual explorers were; if the scene had really changed as much as I thought, and if so, why so many people were doing what they were doing; what influences were inspiring them; and most important, if they were finding any happiness by doing it" (13).
In a series of chapters that follow Alexander around the country doing various jobs, and attending different events, he does just this. In Chapter 1, for example, he describes his time working in an Adam and Eve sex shop, one of the new breed of such shops that have moved out of the sleazier parts of town into the big box store suburbs, in clean, well lighted shops that market themselves primarily towards women looking for everything from lubricants to vibrators and pornographic movies. They see themselves as in the business of "permission giving," (22) allowing people to explore and expand their sexual desires. In this, they have been tremendously successful. According to Phil Harvey, who owns and runs a $106 million/year pornography and sex toy business, "There are now fifty thousand porn titles cranked out of Southern California every year. The national sexual dialogue has changed. Like the appetite for sex toys" (36).
How do we square this fact, however, with the increasingly fundamentalist turn America has undergone in the past decades? Indeed, folks like Jerry Falwell and his "Moral Majority" believed they had changed the sexual climate of America away from the secular obsession with sex, and "joined hands and hearts to reclaim America for God" (291). But according to Alexander, while America has retained its religious heritage, many Christian Americans, including fundamentalists, have found ways to couple their religious beliefs with more liberal attitudes towards sex. Consider, for example, the case of Pastor Joe Beam who travels around the country giving sex seminars to fundamentalist Christians. In essence, he argues, through what many would say is a selective reading of the Bible and a heavy reliance upon the Song of Solomon, that "the secular world has nothing to offer you that you cannot have within the bonds of your marriage" (53). So while adultery may be out, performing cunnilingus on your wife, for example, is, he claims, actually endorsed in the Bible: "I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate" (53).
Clearly, however, current sexual activity in America has extended far beyond married folks having oral sex together, or even of them including porn movies and the occasional vibrator or butt plug in their sex lives. Many Americans have now moved on to different paraphilias and/or fetishes, both within and without the parameters of marriage. Alexander explores this over several chapters, concentrating particularly on bondage and sado-masochism (BDSM). Here, he introduces the notion that part of the appeal of these practices may well be that they promote the idea amongst it practitioners that they are rebellious individualists unsusceptible to the pressures placed upon them by mainstream (or 'vanilla') society, a theme as American of course as apple pie or its basis in Puritanism and evangelical religion. As an example, Alexander describes a group of fetish conventioneers at the end of a long night of revelry, waiting outside for a ride being heckled by some passersby: "Freaks! What a bunch of fuckin' freaks!" To which the assembled group replied proudly: "'Yeah! We're freaks! Betchur ass!' and they remained enlivened, standing outside the Hyatt hotel in downtown Tampa, their sin reaffirmed…" (261). On this picture, not only does 'non-conformist' sex occur in America despite the country's evangelical anti-sex attitudes, it occurs because of it as a rebellious backlash against it. In other words, America's current sexual 'deviance' could not exist without its anti-sex attitudes. Poor Jerry Falwell would be rolling over in his grave.
In the final chapter, Alexander considers directly the issue referred to in his book's sub-title. Namely, has America's new sexuality brought about increased satisfaction? Has it made them happy? To answer this question properly, he thinks, requires that we ask what current Americans are really looking for in their pursuit of sex. His answer is that they are really looking for an escape from American (or more broadly, 'Western') culture, which is increasingly characterized by bewildering technology and increased loss of community, leading to a sense of personal isolation. Sex, then, provides them with a way in which they can connect with others and escape their loneliness. Hence, though many practicing 'unconventional' sex would deny it, they are still looking for intimacy and indeed for love, regardless what sexual package it is found in.
Having said that, however, Alexander claims that many within and indeed at the forefront of the sexual revolution in America are increasingly bored with it. "That is why I think the sex explosion is just about over. People will still watch porn, and we will certainly still have sex, and some people will still want to be tied up as some people always have, but the hypersaturation of it all is about to fizzle" (302). Whether he is right in his prediction depends on a lot of things, including whether he is correct in his description of what Americans are truly seeking. Luckily, however, his claim can be empirically tested and time will ultimately tell.
© 2009 Robert Scott Stewart
Robert Scott Stewart, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Philosophy & Religious Studies, Cape Breton University