1st Edition

Youth and Sexuality in the Twentieth-Century United States

ISBN 9781138817494
Published August 11, 2015 by Routledge
172 Pages

USD $45.95

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Work, Play, and Sex Play 2. The New Youth and the Domestication of Dating 3. Companionate Sexuality 4. The Sexual Evolution 5. Controlling Youthful Bodies Conclusion

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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.


"Youth and Sexuality in the Twentieth Century United States offers a sweeping narrative of how children and adolescents created modern heterosexuality. Beautifully written and provocative, this book offers a valuable new interpretation of how dating, ‘going steady,’ and companionate ideals reshaped adolescent sexuality in the United States."
— Rebecca L. Davis, author of More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss

"Popular imagination would have you believe that a sexual revolution in the 1960s freed us from a history of sexual inhibition and silence. Not true. John C. Spurlock shows that decades before the 1960s, youth relations settled into a form of ‘transitional sexuality.’ This book adds a new layer to our understanding of how sex and gender operate in modern youth and consumer cultures."
— Patrick J. Ryan, author of Master-Servant Childhood: A History of the Idea of Childhood in Medieval English Culture

"Drawing upon a vast scholarship as well as diaries, oral histories, and social science sex studies, this remarkably comprehensive narrative forcefully decenters dominant understandings of history makers by focusing on the historical agency of ordinary American teenagers. Spurlock’s lucidly-written synthesis gives voice to young Americans across lines of race, class, ethnicity, gender, region, sexual identities."
— Miriam Forman-Brunell, author of Babysitter: An American History

"In this highly accessible narrative, Spurlock (Seton Hall Univ.) details the history of the transformative process between childhood and adulthood when youthful autonomy leads to sexual awakening... Indispensable for any collection on the history of sexuality, childhood, and youth. Summing up: Essential."
— E. Jackson, Colorado Mesa University, Choice Reviews

"The book provides excellent context for those attempting to make sense of youth sexuality today. Overall, Youth and Sexuality is extraordinarily promising as a readable and rigorous undergraduate text."
Amanda H. Littauer, Northern Illinois University, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth