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Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through the World of Group Sex [Kindle Edition]

Katherine Frank
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From tribal religious rituals to the Playboy mansion, and from ancient Rome to Burning Man, Plays Well in Groups explores the phenomenon of group sex. Author Katherine Frank draws on surveys, ethnographic research, participant interviews, and more to provide explanations for both participation in group sex and our complex reactions to it, from fascination to fear. The book looks at group sex across cultures—who has it, and why.

Group sex is almost always taboo and often criminalized, and yet it persists across cultures throughout history. Plays Well in Groups looks at the symbolism of orgies, as well as contemporary manifestations of group sex in bathhouses and public sex venues, at BDSM and swinging parties, on Craigslist, and in political scandals, Tantra classes, reality television, and more. Frank explores the many reasons people participate in group sex, from arousal to spiritual transcendence, in this bold study of subversive sexuality.

Editorial Reviews


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 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)

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)

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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 859 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 1 edition (August 8, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,065 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Plays Well in Groups is the definitive work on group sex, pulling together a wide range of reference materials, ethnographic work, participant-observation, interviews and historical examples from across geographic and cultural lines.

There are many aspects of this book that make it impressive. First, right away, the reader enjoys a full timeline history of group sex practices - which serves to give important context to practices that might seem aberrant or recent. The inclusion of this history across cultural groups immediately cuts through any impression the reader might have that only "certain types" of people engage in group sex practices - which Frank later develops even further by debunking stereotypes of "swingers" as unattractive, aging perverts. She takes on the characterization of "orgies" as "free for alls" (when in fact, any group sex scenario has rules and boundaries to contain it - even if unstated). And, while porn may help us expand our sexual imagination, group sex formats expose us to the visceral realities of human bodies and the actual doing of sex - which, as she points out, Western cultures are rarely so exposed to such variety simultaneously at any other time.

Second, while this work is well-researched and interdisciplinary, it is not weighed down with jargon. Regardless of your field, this book is a pleasure to read and Frank uses an accessible style - and she is even laugh-out-loud funny at times. She includes her own experiences doing her research without making it a memoir (although, I must admit, I would read that too should she ever decide to write that).

Third, alongside her own participant-observation, the voices of participants and the varied settings they are found to engage in group sex are seamlessly integrated.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lively Tour of Orgy Land September 4, 2013
"Why do some people have group sex?" That's the initial question that starts _Plays Well in Groups: A Journey through the World of Group Sex_ (Rowman & Littlefield) by Katherine Frank. 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. 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. She has the credentials to do it; she has her doctorate in cultural anthropology, and is a scholar-in-residence at American University. Her writing credits include a previous book on the ethnography of strip clubs, a book for which she herself became a stripper as part of her research. She has not been able to get to every venue she writes about: "Whether or not I had firsthand knowledge of a particular setting, I sought interviews with experts and drew on published scholarly work, which is admittedly sparse." This time, yes, she's joined in, too, to one-night orgies, week-long events combined with sightseeing tours, house parties, lavish invitation-only events, and more. She says that walking into an orgy sent her to intellectual rather than sexual exploration. The academic tone of her book confirms this, but at the same time, she is a good-humored guide with a wry style; perhaps someone could manage to write a dry tome on this topic, but this isn't one.

The big lesson from all the facets of Frank's study, and it might be an obvious one, is that group sex is always transgressive.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
In her work, Dr. Frank has decided to dedicate a very long period of research - or has found a strong talent for adapting earlier findings - to furthering the understanding of an underanalyzed topic, group sex. Her work takes us from lifestyle swingers to sexual violence to gay bathhouses, all in well study-grounded forms, with multiple examples from other scholars and with, when possible, intimate testimonies from practitioners.

The style ranges from journalistic and titillating to academic and distanced, depending on what facet the author is currently describing. This, and the switching from one subject to another, makes it occasionally seem as if Dr. Frank were digressing, but she always, without fault, shows how each foray elsewhere was necessary to the subject at hand. The only issue I had with the work was that while an academic like myself found the book entirely enticing, therapists and counselors who are not used to adapting abstract theory to practical issues may be left wanting hands-on guidance tips after reading it.

This is an exemplary work on how one combines autoethnography (with sufficient self-critique), existing data (with sufficient critique) and practitioner statements (always taken with a necessary pinch of salt). Dr. Frank, at the core, examines the lure of transgression in its various group-oriented forms, both the consensual and the very disturbing. So whether one is a scholar of sexual ethics, the social dynamics of swinger communities, or just interested in the whys and hows of consensual non-monogamy, this book is the place to start.
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More About the Author

Katherine Frank is a cultural anthropologist (Ph.D. Duke University, 1999) and sex researcher. She is the author of Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through the World of Group Sex (2013) and G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire (2002), and a co-editor of Flesh for Fantasy: Producing and Consuming Exotic Dance (2006).

Frank has published in numerous peer-reviewed journals--Archives of Sex Research, Deviant Behavior, Journal of Sex Research, Qualitative Inquiry, and Sexualities, for example--and her writing on strip clubs, marriage and monogamy, infidelity, reality television, swinging, sex tourism, eating disorders, and feminism appears in numerous anthologies. She has also published short fiction and non-fiction in magazines ranging from the prestigious Harvard Business Review to Spread Magazine (a publication for and by sex workers).

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