The Century of Sex: Playboy's History of the Sexual Revolution, 1900-1999

James R. Petersen, Author, James R. Pattersen, Author, Hugh Heffner, Editor
James R. Petersen, Author, James R. Pattersen, Author, Hugh Heffner, Editor Grove/Atlantic $35 (576p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1652-9
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
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In an accessible survey of 100 years of sexual change in the U.S., Petersen, who wrote and edited the ""Playboy Advisor"" column for two decades, deftly demonstrates how deeply integral sex and sexuality have been to American society. More importantly, he charts how our endless conflicts over the regulation and representation of sexual activity have been emblematic of broader battles concerning the meaning of freedom and personal autonomy. Although some of Petersen's anecdotes are shopworn (e.g., Charlie Chaplin's lusty demands on his 15-year-old wife and J. Edgar Hoover's surveillance of Martin Luther King's sex life), he turns up some surprises, such as the sustained campaign by religious leaders against the circulation of pinups among G.I.s or the odd fact that such antithetical figures as Rev. Billy Graham and Margaret Mead both attacked the Kinsey Report. While Petersen gives some space to homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism, his focus is overwhelmingly heterosexual: for instance, when discussing I Was a Teenage Werewolf in the context of the eroticism of youth-oriented horror movies of the 1950s, he ignores the widely recognized gay male subtext. Lesbianism fares better here but, more often than not, is presented as titillating. By the end of the volume, Petersen's ""pro-sex"" discussion of the politics of rape, sexual harassment and porn takes on a strident, anti-feminist tone that becomes an unnuanced ""defense"" of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner's philosophy. 32 pages of photos. (Nov.)
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