WHAT WILD ECSTASY by John Heidenry


The Rise and Fall of the Sexual Revolution
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 A detailed and engrossing history of the sexual revolution, though at points marred by an uneven understanding of the landscape. Heidenry (Theirs Was the Kingdom, 1993), former editor of Penthouse Forum, chronicles some 30 years of our changing sexual culture--sexology and sex therapy; gay liberation; pornography and censorship; controversies over the female orgasm; swinging; sadomasochism, and much more. Heidenry has an eye for a good story, and there are plenty of stories here--including gossip about figures on the sexual landscape from author Gay Talese to porn star Annie Sprinkle to legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon. But Heidenry indulges in more than his share of wild exaggeration. He claims, for instance, that Andrea Dworkin and MacKinnon were, respectively, Marat and Robespierre ``in the radical feminist Reign of Terror against men that was to wash over the country.'' Similarly absurd is his claim that in the '80s the sexual revolution ``shut down altogether''; certainly there was and is conservative backlash, but the changes continue, and popular morality will never be the same again. Also, it is clear that Heidenry is an outsider--albeit generally sympathetic--to gay and feminist struggles; this leads him to some odd choices. He begins his gay liberation chapter, for instance, with a lengthy account of a transsexual's personal torment and eventual operation, even though he knows perfectly well (and states later) that transsexuals and gays have always been politically and socially separate, even at odds. Also, there is not always enough interpretation to lend shape to this rather sprawling narrative; at too many points he lets his anecdotes stand on their own, without speculating on their social significance. Plenty of pleasurable encounters, though not always satisfying.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-81037-9
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1997


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