America Unzipped: Brian Alexander pulls off the covers

Brian Alexander’s America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction (Harmony, 2008), is one of the most informative and entertaining books about sex that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Alexander,’s “Sexploration” columnist, set out on a journey to explore the sexual mores and activities of middle America. Do “normal” Americans behave conservatively in the bedroom, or do they indulge in wild sexual expressions — even activities their neighbors and pastors might brand as “deviant” or “perverted”?

Alexander frequented sex parties, worked in a sex shop, explored kink, interviewed porn producers and actresses, attended rope bondage and fire play seminars, and thoroughly immersed himself in the world of non-vanilla sex (while still keeping his clothes on and his marriage vows intact). The result is a book filled with descriptions of the erotic lifestyles of people who might be your nurse, your librarian, a singer in your church choir, or your grandkid’s teacher.

And yes, the people enjoying kinky sex aren’t just the young ones. Alexander doesn’t make a big deal of it when a person he interviews or observes is silver-haired, and that’s one of the pleasures of this book — Boomers and elders who are enthusiastic about sex in any or all of its variations are mingled with all the other sex-positive folks. Kitty, age 50+, poses with her nightie on, then off, her behind to the camera, and posts her photos to a Web site. Don, 49, describes his “magnificent eruptions of bodily fluids” in chat rooms. Debra and Craig, 56, are unmarried swingers “reinventing ourselves” after their divorces. A man and woman, about 70, study elaborate rope-tying techniques at a seminar at the Hyatt. An elderly woman looks through her reading glasses as she uses a kitchen whisk to transmit electricity from a violet wand over the body of her husband. “Then she shocks the bald spot on the back of his head with the attentiveness of a grandmother knitting.”

Personally, I have vanilla and monogamous taste in sex these days (I got what I needed from earlier experimentation), but I support everyone’s right to do whatever they please with other consenting adults. And, I must admit, I find it fun to read about! I did feel a bit queasy at times: Goddess Heather (a bulked-up female bodybuilder dominatrix) “has a junkyard hanging from her cooter. Every one of her fifteen labia piercings holds a chain that reaches the floor, or an old, heavy lock.” A woman (willingly) cowers in a cage at a fetish party. And all that violet wand shocking stuff was, well, shocking. But one of the wonderful things about books and imagination is that we can take magic trips into other people’s experiences and emerge understanding more about the complexity of passion.

The Internet has done a lot to normalize sexual behavior previously thought of as weird or perverse, Alexander points out, whether it’s watching or acting in porn online, hooking up with like-minded folks for fetish parties, discovering where you can buy rubberwear, or whatever you might be seeking.

That leads me to wonder, has the Internet freed you to explore some erotic attraction? What have you done, or considered doing, that wouldn’t have been possible before we all had computers and online access? I invite your comments!


  1. Ron on December 21, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Well, we weren't in that book, but not long ago four friends, a man in his late 40s, two ladies in their late 50s, and me then in my early 60s met for dinner. While we ate we talked about what we planned to do for desert. We went to one lady's home, set up candles in the living room, passed around lube, got nude, and watched each other slowly and sensually masturbate – a Jack and Jill party. It was extremely erotic and loving since we were already friends. But after a while the lady nearest to me stopped masturbating and started giving me oral sex, then mounted me on the couch we shared. We wound up making love on the couch, then on the floor, while the other two continued to pleasure themselves while watching us. We're all middle class professionals. No one would ever guess our erotic secret. But we were unashamed of being unashamed and of sharing sexuality. Its very liberating to masturbate and make love in front of friends. Yes, I do this, its wonderful, we're friends, lets share a joyful experience. I think its basic, primal, rather than kink.

  2. Granny B on June 9, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Hi Joan,
    Your book just arrived at my doorstep and I am so excited to begin reading. I am a 69 year old widow who has just began to explore the world of online dating and at the request of my friends, blogging about it. My blog is
    I plan to take my near and dear along with me on this journey and have no doubt that at a point in time, I will be referring them to your book and this blog. Thank you be being out there!
    Light and love,
    Evan Hyde aka Granny B

  3. paula on May 9, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Wow, people write in to MSNBC, our place for politics (mine for sure!) to ask about sexual problems?! Proof that things are changing I guess.

    If you want an expert on aging and sexuality, Joan is your person.

    My taste I describe as “chocolate” (that has nothing necessarily to do with race) but this stuff sounds off the wall to me too. Still I’m for whatever floats your boat! No harm is being done by kinky sex.

    It’s heartening to read about anything which reveals the complexity and variety in human sexual expression.

  4. Anonymous on May 8, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Joan — I just want to mention that I cited your book on our blog at I’m reading it right now — thanks a lot.

  5. Brian Alexander on May 8, 2008 at 1:07 am

    Hi Joan…
    Thank you very much for the kind words. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. It looks like you are doing some pretty important work of your own. I can’t tell you how many emails MSNBC receives from people over 40 asking about how they can renew their sex lives or what to do about a partner who has lost interest. I may well contact you sometime as a source!

    Brian Alexander

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