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America’s Sexual Transformation: How the Sexual Revolution’s Legacy is Shaping Our Society, Our Youth, and Our Future by Gary F. Kelly is both a personal, historical and professional book about the transformation of sexuality stemming from the sexual revolution.
The book is personal in the sense that it embeds both the author’s individual stories about growing up during the sexual revolution, his work as a sexologist, the students and colleagues he worked with and the books he authored. At the same time, the book is filled with changing norms, new ideas, lessons learned, emerging theories and expanded mindsets from working over so many years.
Kelly begins the discussion discussing influences of the sexual revolution (starting in the 1950s), such as television and music. The influential work on sex by Kinsey and later by Masters and Johnson started opening doors for discussing the sexual behaviors and sexual preferences of American men and women. The sexual revolution along with improvements in technology contributed to greater contraceptive access, and increased acceptance of abortion. At the same time, pornography and erotica because more widespread and mainstream than ever before. The APA also depathologized homosexuality as a mental disorder, but the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s contributed to a backlash and uneasiness concerning the sexual revolution, while AIDS was often referred to as the “gay disease”. Even though research on sex and sexuality has increased, the youth of today still receive little sexual education and sexual information.
As part of the sexual revolution, Kelly discusses the many works and contributions of activist women to the study of sex and sexuality, including Margaret Sanger, Betty Friedan and Evelyn Hooker. Kelly also acknowledges the work of women in terms of transforming data and creating theories. Along with the research contributions, Kelly focus on sex counseling and theories concerning antimasturbation theories, same-gender attractions, sexual abuse and clinical tales based on some of his patients. The clinical tales shed light on the theories concerning diverse sexual behavior, sexual orientation and sexual identification. Kelly then turns his attention to lessons learned from writing and editing his sexuality textbooks, such as the inclusion of gay teens, adolescence sexual behavior, the difficulty of attaining reliable data, and emerging trends in terms of labels and definitions.
Kelly dedicates a chapter to discussing the beginning of his working career and how historical perspectives have shaped Americas views on sexuality. Kelly moves from explaining sexuality in colonial America, the Victorian period, urbanization, to movements who influences sexual views, such as the Comstock movement. Then Kelly moves through the most recent decades in American history discussing sex education as mostly preventive, the opposition to the pill and abortion and abstinence-only crusades of the 1980s, starting with Reagan’s sexual abstinence campaigns. Many schools adopted the abstinence-only campaigns even though Kelly states that these campaigns have little effect on adolescence sexual behavior. Instead, Kelly argues that comprehensive programs concerning sexuality work better.
Kelly then turns his attention to the shifts in thinking brought forward by the Millennials, adults and youth born since 1982. The Millennials believe that traditional views such as marriage and children are less important than their parents. As part of the recent trends in sexuality, Kelly includes discussions about youth, religion, sexual orientation and sex. Trends such as the disappearance of pubic hair, casual sex (swingers, nonmonogamists, among the younger generations and sexual differences are also discussed.
Kelly ends the book by discussing the influences of nature and nurture, and whether nurture is tacking a backseat to nature. In doing so, Kelly focuses on dissimilarities and similarities between women and men, as well as the subjectivity and objectivity of both nature and nurture theories. The influence of genetic predispositions, brain structures, proteins and hormones on sexual behavior and sexual orientation is also discussed and analyzed.
When mixing personal stories with historical events and research, Kelly manages to write in a manner that is easily understood and interesting. At the same time, the book sometimes comes of as unorganized as the chapters sometimes discuss many different aspects simultaneously. A more focused chronological discussion of historical events may reduce any confusion. What is very commendable about the book is the fact that Kelly seems very honest when discussing his own shortcomings, criticism concerning his books and what he has learned throughout the years.
The intended audience is foremost those interested in sexology and counseling. When discussing both historical, political, and cultural practices and implications of sexuality, the audience can also be extended to those interested in sociology, psychology, human sexuality, and women’s history.
© 2012 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master’s degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.