THE SEX EFFECT by Ross Benes


Baring Our Complicated Relationship with Sex
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A witty discussion of the indirect role sex plays across political, economic, religious, and cultural landscapes.

Veteran pop-culture journalist Benes, who has worked for Esquire and Deadspin, first addresses the sordid history of monogamy and its pervasiveness in Western society as more than just a social construct but rather a conditioned and normalized mating system. The author presents the argument that devotion as a kind of “sexual conditioning” has both contentment consequences (i.e., divorce via infidelity) and social benefits. Benes then examines the public perception of political sex scandals throughout history (including our “Founding Fornicators”) and what he considers the “true significance” of pornography, and he discusses uproarious case studies on the hidden sex-related histories of products like corn flakes and graham crackers. Having snarkily documented a visit to a Scientology center for Esquire, Benes is no stranger to immersion journalism, but he digs freely and critically into more scandalous territory in chapters detailing the failure of the condom initiative in Uganda in stemming AIDS infections, veiled homosexuality in the military, and the “prevalence of gay priests” in the Catholic church. Throughout the narrative, the author provides generous, often entertaining footnotes—e.g., “law scholar Richard Posner theorized Catholic rituals might attract homosexuals. The adornment, theatrical expression, music, incense, and lavish garb might appeal more to a gay man than a straight man.” As a probing, multifaceted commentary on the social science of sex and society, Benes’ book succeeds in corralling a litany of ideas and opinions that may ruffle some readers’ feathers. Regardless of the possible unpopularity of his conclusions, however, the author consistently makes salient points: “The only thing perplexing about a powerful person using their traits and resources to obtain sex is that people are surprised whenever it happens.” Benes ably explores society’s perceptions and applications of sex in ways that are “worth studying, rather than sensationalizing.”

A book marinated in provocative assertions that are certain to instigate debate and productive discussion.

Pub Date: April 4th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4926-4742-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2017


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