Youth and Sexuality in the Twentieth-Century United States

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 8.51.24 AM

When did the sexual revolution happen? Most Americans would probably say the 1960s. In reality, young couples were changing the rules of public and private life for decades before. By the early years of the twentieth century, teenagers were increasingly free of adult supervision, and taking control of their sexuality in many ways. Dating, going steady, necking, petting, and cohabiting all provoked adult hand-wringing and advice, most of it ignored. By the time the media began announcing the arrival of a ‘sexual revolution,’ it had been going on for half a century.

Youth and Sexuality in the Twentieth-Century United States tells this story with fascinating revelations from both personal writings and scientific sex research. John C. Spurlock follows the major changes in the sex lives of American youth across the entire century, considering how dramatic revolutions in the culture of sex affected not only heterosexual relationships, but also gay and lesbian youth, and same-sex friendships. The dark side of sex is also covered, with discussion of the painful realities of sexual violence and coercion in the lives of many young people. Full of details from first-person accounts, this lively and accessible history is essential for anyone interested in American youth and sexuality.

John C. Spurlock is Professor of History at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He is the author of New and Improved: The Transformation of American Women’s Emotional Culture, and Free Love: Marriage and Middle-Class Radicalism in America, 1825-1860.

The Three Body Problem

I don’t read much fiction these days, and I don’t think I’ve written about a fiction work online since … the Internet began. But I can heartily recommend The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Liu offers science fiction on a grand scale, but he sets in in a time and place that we can readily recognize. The book begins in the Cultural Revolution, and introduces the most complex character right at the beginning, Ye Wenjie, who loses everything in a few short hours and must learn to survive in a hostile China. The Chinese ambience continues throughout, with most of the later action of the work taking place in and around Beijing. The book’s male protagonist, Wang Miao, comes across as a successful, 21st century modern Chinese.

One other character that you will meet early in the book is the tough cop, Da Shi. He contrasts sharply with Wang, who is a physicist. Da Shi smokes, drinks, and swears, and he doesn’t have any noticeable social skills. “I’m a simple man without a lot of twists and turns,” he tells Wang. “Look down my throat and you can see out my ass.” As you can readily imagine, when Da Shi shows up some heads are likely going to get punched.

One element of this work that I especially like is that Liu takes his science seriously.51fGDeB1DWL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_ Unlike a lot of science fiction, Liu does not simply invent “science” for the convenience of his fiction (think of the movie Interstellar if you need an example). For instance, space travel takes a long, long time in Three Body Problem—he doesn’t finesse it with some convenient new technology. And he uses contemporary physics pretty aggressively—when characters talk about string theory or nanotechnology or astrophysics, pay attention! That might become important later in the book.

I won’t say anything about the plot. The book sets up a kind of mystery early on, and talking about the action in the book would only spoil it. But the themes of the book include a critical discussion of Communism and of religion (never explicit, in fact, the latter is hardly mentioned) and the scientific outlook on life.