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Plays Well in Groups

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About the Author

Katherine Frank is scholar-in-residence in the Department of Sociology at American University. She is the author of G-Strings and Sympathy and has been interviewed in publications ranging from The Washington Post to Cosmopolitan.


Frank (G-Strings and Sympathy) views the history of and cultural fixation on group sex through the dual binoculars of outsider-curiosity and insider-experience. A sometime anthropologically-minded stripper, sex party attendee, and convention-goer, Frank provides a lively, extensively researched overview of the stigmatization of group sex across societies and years, thanks not only to the piquant material but to her crisp voice and scene-building prowess. Amid case studies and interviews are well-evidenced, stark observations, such as hers that transgression-up to and including orgies-"is ultimately conservative in its social effects." Frank's section covering socially-reinforced shame strikes relevant chords from its focus on victim-blaming in gang rapes to its spotlight on the media's routine portrayal of swingers as frumpy, unwanted, and untouchable. Along with the psychological and cultural, she delves into the biological with a rousing discussion of "sperm competition" and more. Establishing herself as a passionate yet rational voice in the literature of sex, she handles some of our culture's most flinch-inducing topics without sensationalizing or abandoning her academic neutrality. From her examination of swingers' theme parties to her dissection of The Bachelor, Frank takes readers through an anthropological tour de force on a subject that remains controversial, fascinating, and complex. * Publishers Weekly, Starred Review * Frank (scholar-in-residence, American Univ.; G-Strings and Sympathy) examines group sex from a sociological approach to discover "who has it, how they do it, and why." Covering (what seems like) every possible subject related to the topic, Frank shares experiences that range from the Burning Man festival to the Playboy Mansion; discusses swinging, gay bathhouse orgies, bachelor parties, rock star groupies, and gang rape; and explores the realm of sex addiction, sperm competition, the mythology of orgies, cross-cultural practices, sexually transmitted diseases, urban myths of group sex, as well as contemporary codes and practices in today's culture. The author's research extends to ethnographic observations, interviews with professionals, primary sources, and individual stories to weave together contrasting opinions and observations with acumen and fairness. Frank's comprehensive study deftly addresses the controversial subject of group sex and its many components, contributing to our overall understanding of human behavior. Highly recommended for those interested in human sexuality, behavior, and culture. * Library Journal * Sociologist Frank (American Univ.; G-Strings and Sympathy, 2002) examines the history and cultural fixation on group sex, which she defines as 'erotic or sexual activity that implicates more than two people.' The author provides much food for thought as she looks at the symbolism of orgies and contemporary manifestations, such as group sex in public sex venues and swinging parties. The book investigates multiple fields of study, including anthropology, biology, psychology, and sociology, in an attempt to explain participation in group sex and the varied reactions to it. Frank is both observer and participant as she explores various group sex situations. Interspersed among the ethnographic research, history, case studies, and interviews, Frank offers glimpses of her own experiences with group sex. Writing well and intelligently without sensationalizing the topic, Frank, maintaining academic neutrality, is the layperson's Virgil, using her intellect and research to illuminate the dimly lit world of group sex. Notes and an extensive bibliography make up the rest of the book, which student researchers will find especially useful. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers to undergraduates through researchers/faculty. * CHOICE * Katherine Frank, nodding to her own ethnographic training as she scrutinizes such events and situations, argues that seasoned initiates tend towards the banal. Frank notes 'even libertines who try to harness the power of the orgy, believing that participation is a route to social transformation or that it leads to an experiences of the sublime, can find a sudden stray foot to the face or accidentally falling off the bed are the most immediate sources of jeopardy to be faced.' As this passage demonstrates, the author often takes an affectionate or wry stance toward the theme, while never minimizing the danger and degradation certain forms of capitulation to power or coercion may exact. Disgust, shame, and guilt receive in-depth investigation. Media coverage, which persists in pursuing the more attractive of those involved in group sex, denigrates those who do not fit the youthful, voluptuous, buff, or preening figures idolized. Ultimately, Frank avers that risk taking, danger, and addiction may compete within the drives and psyches of a comparative few who must find release in group sex. Dr. Frank carefully concludes this evocative work on a provocative subject. She acknowledges that 'transgressive sex'-as with any other sexual practice-might ease ennui or affirm one's belonging with another or others. Yet, as she reminds us, this liberation does not have to depend only on sex. * New York Journal of Books * It's fair to say that anyone reading her extensive examination of stories from classical times, tribal rites, wartime rapes, bachelor parties, the Playboy Mansion, virtual worlds, group sex clubs, and more, is going to learn a thing or two. The big lesson from all the facets of Frank's study . . . is that group sex is always transgressive. . . . That she has found so many aspects of her subject surely indicates that group sex is a big deal and worthy of serious academic attention; that many of the aspects are liable to exaggeration and sensationalism only further indicates the pull of the topic. . . . Frank's wide-ranging book takes in a lot of territory. . . . There's a great deal of research here with case studies and interviews, but there is also good humor and a healthy sense of wonder at how diverse and funny our species is. * The Dispatch (Lexington, NC) * The author has tackled a multitude of taboos to help readers understand group sex, who has it, why they have it, and how it has solved over the years. Her use of sociology, biology, anthropology and psychology explain many fears, wonders, and worries behind group sex. Surveys, research, and interviews all add to Frank's truly interesting read. Regardless of whether you've had even the slightest interest in anything involving group sex, Plays Well in Groups will surely provoke thought and understanding of a world many of us will never step foot in. * Curve * Frank's research certainly has wider implications for anthropological thinking, and it relates a number of streams of thought about embodiment, social construction, boundaries and boundary-crossing, resistance, and such. Being not a single ethnography but a survey of literature, it brings together a lot of material that anthropologists should know. * Anthropology Review Database * Plays Well in Groups: A Journey through the World of Group Sex by Katherine Frank is an excellently researched collection of narratives-histories, current events, media studies, ethnographic works, and participant interviews-analyzed through a sex-positive and unifying anthropological lens. Frank's task is drawing parallels between different forms and practices of group sex in general, while exploring deeper social, political, economic, and historical contexts in order to contrast them. Much of the book is about who has group sex and why, as well as who fears group sex and why. An overarching theme of the book is thus one that appealed to my interests: an emphasis on sexual taboo and transgression. . . . If you're interested in an anthropological survey of group sex across geographies, times, and fields of study, be sure to pick up Plays Well in Groups. The wide variety of topics and perspectives that are discussed in this book make it a perfect reading material for any undergraduate social science course on sexual behavior and politics or even gender studies. * Savage Minds * Dr. Katherine Frank's book, Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through the World of Group Sex, is a fascinating look at the taboo of group sex. Her robust research spans historical references to modern day accounts throughout cultures around the world. Dr. Frank used surveys, interviews, and ethnographic research to uncover why people participate in group sex, and what it means to them. Her work also looks at group sex in a violent setting, such as gang rape, and examines the social, political and power structures involved. Her work on group sex and the complex reaction to it, allow a behind the scenes look at a world that is often portrayed differently than it is actually experienced. Plays Well In Groups provides social, anthropological and historical detail about a world that is both feared and fantasized about. Frank's work is bold and scary, but always engaging. It is an intriguing journey into the complexity of sex and the meaning that it holds for culture and society. * New Books Network * Group sex has been many things in many cultures, and author Katherine Frank treats us to a fantastic journey through the history of the orgy, and its accompanying mythology about what it all means. This is not a how-to book, but I think readers both for, against, and undecided will find food for thought and lubrication for the imagination in these pages, and perhaps a little permission to set forth on their own explorations of how to Play Well in Groups. -- Dossie Easton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist; co-author of The Ethical Slut This is a well researched, delightful to read book. Dip into it anywhere and learn something new about the human capacity for the erotic as a zone for pleasure and a site for moral outrage. -- William Jankowiak, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Piled high with historical and anthropological detail on the orgy in human history, this book is a must read for scholars and laypersons alike who seek an understanding of group sex and its various manifestations. Artfully written and meticulously researched and documented, it is a fascinating journey into the historically and culturally layered meanings of group sex articulated by those who engage in it. -- Curt Bergstrand, Bellarmine University, co-author of Swinging in America Fascinating and explores an important and overlooked aspect of human sexuality. -- Charles Moser, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality

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