America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction Paperback – Dec 30 2008
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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.
“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.”
"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.”
“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?”
“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."
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
AMERICA UNZIPPED is Alexander’s year-long romp through the sexual (yet often secret) playground of our nation. He takes us through the worlds of BDSM, porn and sex shops, and swingers. The internet plays a big role, from providers to consumers to those just looking for a quick whapping-off with some stranger on the other end.
The problem is not that Alexander inserted himself into the world he was examining. The problem is that he focuses way too much on himself and his reactions, perceptions and explanations of what he observes. On top of that, he feels the need to remind us over and over again just how dog-gone much of a square he is, and how out of place he feels. Perhaps Alexander thought that this would make him more real to the reader, someone with whom they could connect. Instead, it had the effect of making large chunks of this book remarkably dull.
That is unfortunate. AMERICA UNZIPPED could have been a fun and titillating read. Certainly the people profiled are interesting enough, with many crossing the line into genuine characters. But by trying to delve into some deeper meaning, reading the book instead becomes a bit of a trudge.