Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ROMANTIC LONGINGS by Steven Seidman

ROMANTIC LONGINGS

Love in America, 1830-1980

By Steven Seidman

Pub Date: May 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-415-90404-8
Publisher: Routledge

 A carefully structured and methodical study of an explosive topic: the history of ``intimate behavior'' in America, affirming contemporary diversity and choice as opposed to the post-AIDS stigmatization of sex. Drawing on advice manuals, surveys, medical textbooks, and popular literature, Seidman (Sociology/SUNY, Albany) offers a three-part history of the relationship between sexuality and love as expressed in middle-class white nonimmigrant largely northeastern literate society. From 1830-1890, legitimate sex, he shows, was confined to procreative and hygienic purposes within a marital context, although, curiously, a spiritualized sexuality between same-sex partners was tolerated. Between 1890 and 1960, love (and women) were sexualized as the exchange of pleasure and personal satisfaction became a condition of love--although homosexuality was considered pathological. From 1960-1980, pleasure and self-expression became sufficient conditions for sex, which, because it was liberated from the culture of romance, caused anxiety and unstable social relationships. Gay culture emerged with a new sense of community, legitimizing casual and recreational sex, supported by some feminists as well. The reaction appears in ``purity campaigns'' and the revival of romance. The material is familiar, the focus narrow, excluding such causes and symptoms of changes in intimate behavior as fashion (pantyhose and bras), technology (male and female birth control), and new kinds of families. It also seems to lack a sense of history, and an awareness of psychology (Freud), philosophy (Fromm), and politics. Neither interesting enough to be a popular history, then, nor informed enough to carry on the magisterial work of, say, Foucault's history of sexuality in Europe.