This book provides a fascinating history of sexuality in twentieth-century Europe and North America. Angus McLaren draws upon legal, medical and literary sources to demonstrate how modern sexuality has been shaped by race, class, gender and generational preoccupations.
In the past three decades, historians and sociologists have increasingly used sex and sexuality as a vehicle to explain and interpret society, politics and human behavior. McLaren's ambitious book surveys nearly 100 years of sexual practices, attitudes and social policies in an attempt to construct a cohesive history of the ebb and flow of periods of relative sexual freedom followed by the backlash of repression. Using this model of "sexual panics," he discusses such issues as masturbation, race eugenics, the invention of psychoanalysis, sexology and the rise of feminism; the influence of marriage manuals, and of Kinsey's sexual research; the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and the response of the media and government to AIDS; feminist debates about pornography and the rise of a politics of "family values." Writing in clear, well-organized prose, he is mindful of the influences of popular culture and media on sexual attitudes, and draws widely and informatively upon such diverse sources as Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal, Antonioni's 1966 film Blowup and the television show Ellen. The book succeeds best as a broad-ranging survey of Western European and Anglo-American attitudes. But while his narrative of the dialectic between freedom and repression is very convincing, his survey of sexual and political trends in nearly 10 countries over 100 years misses volumes of specific detail that could have made this chronicle more gripping. (June)