Book Review: ‘Sexplosion’ by Robert Holfer

Written by Allison Lips

Once upon a time, celebrities and regular people alike went to see porn in respectable movie theaters and made books portraying graphic sex top the New York Times Best Seller list. Those years were 1968 to 1973. Those are the years Robert Hofler’s Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange- How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos covers.

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Sexplosion is an easy read, but at its core the book isn’t much more than a history book that chronicles what Andy Warhol, Gore Vidal, Mike Nichols, and others were doing during the sexual revolutions crucial years. Unsurprisingly, a lot of gay men were instrumental in changing society’s view of sex and relationships. Disappointingly, it’s revealed that women had an extremely limited role because it was still a man’s world. Unless they were taking off their clothes in the movies and proclaiming how liberated they felt, women were confined to the publishing world where they wrote about their experiences and hoped someone read their work.

As interesting and well written as Sexplosion is, the content doesn’t provide any surprises. The early-1970s were a weird time. Andy Warhol was an odd influential artist, whose work is now displayed in museums around the world. In hindsight, his movies are also incredibly boring. Deep Throat and other pornographic films were not only mainstream, the who’s who of the day were photographed seeing them. Then, Caligula bombed and everyone realized porn is porn. It’s nearly impossible to turn it into art.

The books of the time period provided the only surprise, not because they were sexually explicit, but because many successful books focused on gay relationships. Why everyone was fascinated with gay men and transvestites, I’ll never understand. It just goes to show you that we’ve come a long when other people’s sexual preferences are not salacious. Instead, they’re actually a bit mundane.

In the end, it’s quite clear that 1968 to 1973 changed the way society looked at sex and what was acceptable. Because of Lance Loud, who was the first gay man on American television to be featured in more than one episode of a series, few people have problems with Glee’s or Modern Family’s portrayals of gay couples. Thanks to the works of Gore Vidal, most people weren’t offended when Fifty Shades of Grey started taking over the world; they were just horrified their moms were reading porn.

At times, Sexplosion is a little hard to follow. Hofler has each chapter highlight a year, not a topic. This means you can go 10 pages before a play is brought up again, which makes you wonder, “Who are these people again?” It would have made more sense to focus on an influential play or book and then mentioned others like it. By giving people the chance to forget names and projects before bringing them up again, the book ends up being more textbook-like then intended. If I have to go digging to remember what other projects Oliver Reed was in, there better be a test on this.

Despite having an eyebrow-raising name, Sexplosion is an informative commentary, albeit one with a pro-sexual freedom agenda, on how Hollywood shaped our view of sex as entertainment. If you have a strong interest in the sexual revolution, Sexplosion is a worthwhile read. Everyone else will feel like they are reading their high school history textbook’s naughty cousin.

Anglophile, Rockabilly, Pompadour lover, TV and Music Critic