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by Beth Bailey

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-80278-0
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

A refreshingly unorthodox examination of the sexual revolution that began in the US in the early 1960s. Bailey’s (American Studies/Univ. of New Mexico) argument proceeds from two main contentions: 1) the term —revolution— conflates many different impulses and outcomes and thus obscures the origins and effects of multiple shifting attitudes towards sexuality; 2) the preponderance of those changing attitudes did not arise on the urban fringe (Greenwich Village, Haight-Ashbury) and percolate across to the cultural mainstream; many of the important changes were actually forged in the heartland by everyday, small-town Americans going about the normal business of living their lives. Bailey employs Lawrence, Kans., as her representative site for the American heartland and traces how changes in attitudes concerning such disparate trends as official government policies toward sexually transmitted disease, the creation and dissemination of the birth-control pill, college administrators— efforts to control “panty raids” at the state university, and the rights of women and homosexuals all contributed to what could eventually be recognized as a “sexual revolution” on a national level. She pays particular attention to unintended consequences, such as the manner in which the deployment of the birth-control pill to stop the “population explosion” contributed to the liberation of heterosexual sexual relations, and how reform of the curfew system in the state universities led to greater opportunity for sexual relations among college students. Bailey reminds us of what was at stake in the sexual revolution for many of those caught up in it; she details the story of one young male student threatened with expulsion due to a report of homosexual activity, and a young woman branded a whore in newspapers across the country for living with her boyfriend. An extremely grounded look at an often controversial topic. (22 b&w photos, not seen)