Book Reviews -- Embattled Eros: Sexual Politics and Ethics in Contemporary America by Steven Seidman

Article excerpt

The thesis of this book is easily stated: the heart of contemporary American sexual conflicts is a struggle between two sexual ideologies: 1) a libertarian sexual ideology which views sex as having multiple meanings and having positive, joyous and beneficial effects on personal health, self-fulfillment and social progress; and 2) a sexual romanticism which "believes that to harness the beneficial aspects of sex, eros must be connected to and kept intertwinged with emotional, social and spiritual intimacies." The author supports his thesis by a fairly objective, if not very deep, interpretation of American attitudinal changes over the past two decades and concludes with a proposal for a "pragmatic ethic that revolves around the concept of sexual and social responsibilities as a bridge concept between [sexual] libertarians and romanticists."

Seidman's conceptualization of the conflict is more useful than the old conceptualization of sex wars as conflicts between procreationists and recreationists. The old conceptualization was simply unable to explain the unholy alliance between the religious conservatives and the radical feminists in several areas, most notably pornography and bondage. The new formulation is useful if somewhat shallow.

The attempt to formulate a new pragmatic ethic is much less successful. …