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America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction [Paperback]

Brian Alexander

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Book Description

Dec 30 2008
Welcome to the America we don’t usually talk about, a place where that nice couple down the street could be saddling up for “pony play,” making and selling their own porn DVDs, or hosting other couples for a little flogging. As award-winning journalist Brian Alexander uncovers, fringe experimentation has gone suburban. Soccer moms, your accountant, even your own parents could be turning kinky.

Stunned by the uninhibited questions from ordinary people on his msnbc.com column, “Sexploration” (“My wife and I have heard that a lot of couples in their thirties are playing strip poker . . . as well as skinny-dipping with other couples/friends. Any idea if this is a fashionable trend or has it been going on for some time and we never knew it?” or “I am interested in bondage and hear that there are secret bondage clubs someplace. Can you help me find them?”), Brian Alexander was driven to understand Americans’ desire to get down and dirty—especially in an era where conservative family values dominate.

To find out what people are really doing—and why a country that suffered a national freak- out over Janet Jackson’s breast was enthusiastically getting in touch with its inner perv—Alexander set out on a sexual safari in modern America. Whether mixing it up at a convention of fetishists, struggling into his own pair of PVC pants for a wild night at a sex club, being tutored on dildos by a nineteen-year-old supervisor while working in an adult store, or learning the surprising ways of Biblical sex from an evangelical preacher, Alexander uses humor and insight to reveal a sexual world that is quickly redefining the phrase “polite society.”

Gonzo journalism at its funniest and kinkiest, America Unzipped is a fascinating cultural study and an eye-popping peek into the lives of people you’d least expect to find tied up and wearing latex.


One Dozen Things to Avoid When Exploring American Sex

1. Asking an enthusiastic devotee to explain cock-and-ball torture while standing within arm’s length.

2. Assuming an evangelical Christian will not be familiar with the term “69.”

3. Incredibly tight PVC pants.

4. Trying to become the first male sex toy home party salesman in Missouri.

5. Standing too close to bondage models without wearing overalls and safety goggles.

6. Insisting that Dan Quayle would never invest in porn.

7. Displaying a look of surprise when a grandmother discusses the risk of removing a dildo from a microwave oven.

8. Admitting your sex vocabulary is smaller than an eighth grader’s.

9. Explaining the difference between “cream pie” and “gonzo” to a suburban mom shopping for her son’s birthday sex DVDs.

10. Trying to interview a naked submissive locked on a cage.

11. Expecting answers about sex from a six-foot-tall pink rabbit.

12. Thinking that porn kings could not possibly have Ivy League degrees and run charitable foundations.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details


Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Alexander, a Glamour contributing editor and author of MSNBC's "Sexploration" column, seeks to pin down American sexuality by investigating the tension between America's "hypersexual culture" and the persistent, sexually conservative traditions which oppose it. Arguing that Americans of all kinds are embracing sexual exploration, Alexander wonders "why there is so much sexual experimentation now and if anybody is finding any happiness doing it." To find out, he sets off on a cross-country trek to interview average (and otherwise) Americans about their love lives. The journey's highlights include a talk with Phil Harvey, founder of his own "porn and sex product empire"; preacher Joe Beam's sex class for married Christian couples; Alexander selling sex toys at a "romance superstore" in Arizona; Passion Party women in the Midwest; and a fetish convention in Florida. Most of Alexander's subjects have a rather permissive view of sexuality, so the book feels slightly weighted against social conservatives (though, according to his research, Alexander's focus mirrors the trend). Still, for anyone curious about the state of sexuality in America, this smart, intriguing tour will scratch your (intellectual) itch.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“Part Andy Rooney, part Kerouac, part de Tocqueville, Alexander has traveled America from end to end, reporting on what our sexuality is really like: the lust, the embarrassment, the fear of God, the unending question of what’s ‘normal.’ If you want to know what’s really going on these days, read America Unzipped.”
—Marty Klein, Ph.D., sex therapist and author of America’s War on Sex


“Eye-openingly smart . . . Picking up where Sallie Tisdale’s Talk Dirty to Me left off in the ’90s, Brian Alexander’s America Unzipped appreciatively unpacks our culture’s last remaining sexual taboos. (Apparently, we’ve still got a few!)”
—Genevieve Field, cofounder of Nerve.com


“Alexander has written a book that reflects our next sexual revolution and goes behind the scenes to put a human face on this most recent development in our journey toward sexual enlightenment.”
—Barbara Keesling, Ph.D., author of The Good Girls’ Guide to Bad Girl Sex and Sexual Healing


“Entertaining, funny, shocking, smart, provocative, and extremely thoughtful . . . Alexander gains entry into some of the most bizarre worlds—think Alice in Wonderland meets Dante’s ‘Inferno’—and takes us along for the ride.”
—Candida Royalle, erotic film director and author of How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do


“With humor and curiosity, Alexander creates a powerful and entertaining look at what is really going on in the American bedroom—and sex club and adult store and even church—and demands we think about how to move ahead to create a sexually healthier society."
—Eli Coleman, Ph.D., editor of the International Journal of Sexual Health


“A clearheaded and open-minded look at the sexual revolution’s final stage.”
Kirkus Reviews 

"A swift, smooth, contemplative and frequently hilarious travelogue through America's surprisingly mainstream nether regions."
—Arthur Salm, Books Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune

“[Alexander’s] voice is sensible, humorous and largely unbiased, even when he is aghast.”
—Bookgasm.com

“Navigating each episode with both humor and reflection, Alexander see exhilarating liberation but also a kind of ‘kitschy banality’: Where’s the excitement when our thrills are no longer taboo?”
—Psychology Today

“Scintillating…The author's thoughtful observations on the need for contact at all costs in an increasingly virtual society ring true.” —The Washington Post

“For anyone curious about the state of sexuality in America, this smart, intriguing tour will scratch your (intellectual) itch.” —Publishers Weekly

“Engaging….The point Alexander…drive[s] home is that sexual repression and explosions of sexual ‘deviance’ need each other to exist, and tend to flourish in society simultaneously. While adult sex shops are undergoing a Costco-style corporate homogenization in order to better seduce mainstream suburbia, right-wing social policies are ostensibly trying to stuff the post-Goldwater sexual revolution back into its girdle.” —San Diego Union-Tribune

"Alexander himself is at least as interesting as the people he observed and interviewed...America Unzipped is entertaining. Alexander has a gift for narrative, and he' s not afraid to put himself in the story."
—Houston Press


From the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tripping Through Sexual America Jan. 14 2008
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
America has been conflicted about sexuality for a long while. Europeans for decades have been amused by how we can be sending titillating movies over there, but remain shy about, say, discussing condoms in school. According to Brian Alexander, although we are currently a "hypersexual culture", we are "also supposed to be in the middle of a new Great Awakening" with the Bible, canon law, and "traditional values" triumphing over the past few decades of hedonism. Alexander has looked at the contradiction from a unique vantage. He had a column at _Glamour_ magazine answering letters from readers, and the letters were often about sex, and the letters about sex were often about unusual practices. "I am interested in bondage," asked one, "and hear that there are secret bondage clubs." "I hear Paris Hilton is into fisting," said another; "How do you do it?" Alexander tried to make sense out of the dissonance. Wild sex seemed to be a common interest among regular people, but at the same time it was happening within a country that had experienced what he calls "a freak-out over the possible baring of Janet Jackson's nipple. (I still can't make it out, and believe me, I've tried.)." So rather than merely reading about what people were doing, Alexander set out to see for himself, resulting in an online series and now a book, _America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction_ (Harmony Books). "I have been preoccupied with sex since I was a boy," he says in a confession that will surprise no one. Everyone is interested in sex, and everyone is curious about what those other people are doing, the curiosity coming from either healthy inquisitiveness or prurient nosiness or puritan eagerness to put an end to it. Readers will be pleased to find lots of sex in Alexander's book, but not much of the "vanilla" kind. There is an appropriate tone of wide-eyed amusement throughout, and a thoughtful examination of America's current version of sexual paradox.

To start out with, the "traditional values" as promulgated by the Bible crowd don't turn out always to be so traditional. Alexander interviews Joe Beam, a Christian preacher who is determined to tell every conservative evangelical group who will have him just how delightful and important sex needs to be. Of course, he means sex between husband and wife, but it is news to his hearers, for instance, that God condones oral sex, even though it must be within marriage. Beam can cite verses from the Song of Solomon as affirmation. He gets asked sometimes, "What does the Bible say about vibrators?" Not much, it seems, so Beam endorses their use, and even has a recommended model. Perhaps Beam isn't changing a lot of minds, but the internet surely is. A woman with a spanking fetish had no idea that's what she had until she typed "spanking" into a search engine. "I knew then I was not the only one," she says. Beyond watching porn, there are internet support groups for any sexual activity you can think of, and many you will find in _America Unzipped_ that you would never have thought of. The support might come from enthusiasts over the internet, but it also means that via Craig's List or AdultFriendFinder you can easily hook up physically with those who want to do what you want to be done. Again and again as Alexander visits dungeons or porn studios, he finds that there may be metal hooks in the ceiling, cattle prods being charged, and plenty of rope at the ready, but the atmosphere is friendly, congenial, even "family". A woman who talks about a meeting called Fetish Con sounds as if she is "talking up a small-town bowling league, just a bunch of people with a common interest getting together for good clean fun, a little knot-tying, and some dress-up."

Alexander has lots of adventures. He trains to be a salesman in a sex shop, the sort that is no longer dark and seedy. He accompanies a top saleswoman for Passion Parties, the Tupperware-style parties for vibrators, oils, and lubricants. He takes a bondage class. He watches porn being made. It's a wild sex world out there, and he has talked at length to the inhabitants, some of whom are very strange indeed. But in an important summary he says, "None of these people were scary. They are you and me and our neighbors." Young people involved are getting information from plenty of sources, including the ubiquitous internet, and are finding that schools and churches do not give useful or accurate information about sex. For them and their elders interviewed here, "Sex is not a moral issue, a religious issue, or a political issue. It is a personal issue." No one here expressed any shame about being different; "No one else's business" is the simple and practical attitude. There is a great deal of trust within the play groups, and lots of careful communication about what's wanted and what's permitted, and this can be no bad thing. Maybe, as Alexander contemplates at the end, taboos become mainstream and then kitschy, and thus lose their rebellious transgressiveness, and so maybe the explosion of kink he has explored has gone as far as it can. It is clear, though, that people are not about to give up these particular sources of entertainment and satisfaction. Even if you aren't a participant, you can find entertainment and satisfaction throughout the chapters of Alexander's recounting of a unique and amusing journey.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Subject Matter Marred By Mediocre Writing March 30 2009
By Chris Luallen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book is divided into 9 chapters, each focused on a different aspect of non-conventional sexuality, such as BDSM and swinging. It's not suprising that Brian Alexander is a contributing editor for "Glamour" magazine because his chapters seem more like extended magazine articles than top quality non-fiction writing.

Part of the problem is the writer's own reluctance to embrace the sexual communities that he is coming into contact with. He is constantly making references to his days as a Catholic altar boy and the guilt about sex that he continues to experience. This might have been interesting in the hands of a more capable writer. But Alexander's comments aren't insightful enough to make him seem anything besides confused when it comes to sex and the people he is meeting.

Any comparisions to Sallie Tisdale's groundbeaking "Talk Dirty To Me" are way off the mark. Tisdale clearly had a sex-positive perspective while writing about America's hypocritical and puritanical approach to sexuality. Meanwhile, Alexander just seems bewildered and with nothing new to say. Of course, the subject matter will be inherently interesting to those curious about sexual experimentation. But I would look for a better written book instead.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable Feb. 26 2008
By S. A. Wegner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm a sometime reader of Brian Alexander's Sexploration column on MSNBC, which I've always found to be pleasantly playful and frank--a welcome departure from the moralizing and sidelining of sex one sees so frequently. When I saw that Alexander had written a book on his sexual odessey across the United States, my interest was piqued. I'm pleased to say that he lived up to my expectations with America Unzipped. It is clear that the author attempted to provide a truthful portrait of sex in this country: a broad sampling of erotic tastes and cultural groups are represented and Alexander succeeds in remaining largely unbiased in his depiction, barring a few pointed quips.

While I expect many readers will find certain aspects of the book a bit shocking, sensationalism is (thankfully) not the spirit of this work. For my part, I was already familiar with the majority of the sexual penchants and activities discussed, but still the book was highly engaging for me. Alexander's biggest success is in revealing the human side of all things sexual, from the commonplace to the esoteric, and ultimately showing that people--whatever floats their respective boats--are more alike than they are different. The characters portrayed in the book are vibrant and generally sympathetic, regardless of the reader's views on their erotic undertakings. Fans of adult media (especially BDSM) will be treated to a candid glimpse at some of the men and women of the industry, although a majority of the characters in America Unzipped are everyday people.

The author also goes beyond simple illustration and offers his analysis and insight into the sexual climate of American culture: where we are, where we're headed, and why. He places public perception of sex in America alongside the reality, with interesting results. Alexander delivers his observations with admirable honesty and refreshing humor. If you're interested in sex and American culture, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to pass up this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What is "normal"? Jan. 19 2009
By Ryan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
America Unzipped is the story of one man's cross-country travels in search of America's sex culture. What he finds may surprise some, but most likely it will sound normal to most. And that is the point of the book. What used to be America's sex sub-culture, is now mainstream and practiced by folks of all walks of life. It's interesting how people describe themselves, in that most are proud republicans who attend church regularly, but still frequent sex toy shops and engage in less-than-monogamous relationships. This book is an exploration to determine just how widespread this former sub-culture really is. Has it expanded so much that it is now considered the norm? What brought about this sudden change...the internet? The people the author meets have opinions of their own, but its the collection of their experiences that helps shed light on the subject and may offer some answers to these questions.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting read Feb. 18 2008
By M. Hyman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting read that takes a look at sex in America through the view point of many different ordinary people. The book crosses the country, so it doesn't convey a regional bias, and the author stays mostly impartial, so doesn't pass judgement on either the religious preachers with whom he meets or the sex club participants. Don't expect to be shocked by the book, nor learn any amazing secrets or facts. It looks at ordinary people (for the most part) doing what is ordinary to them (but perhaps not for all readers), that are involved in various aspects of expression of sexuality. But it covers a mix of situations and how people react to them, and that is the heart of what is interesting about the book.

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