Among historians of sexuality, it is customary to stress that there was never just one sexual revolution, but many. There were the pop-culture versions, the countercultural expressions and perhaps most momentously, but least discussed, the everyday or ‘ordinary’ sexual revolution. Or conversely, as French philosopher Michel Foucault so influentially argued in The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: The will to knowledge – first published in French in 1976 and in English in 1978, in the very thick of the so-called sexual revolution – there was no liberating sex from the disciplinary and regulatory effects of modern sexuality, already by then at least three centuries old. One of the delusions of the age was that, as we put sexual repression behind us (by saying yes to sex, for instance), ‘tomorrow sex will be good again’.
On Getting Off is an attempt to think about sex philosophically, through the lens of personal, literary, and artistic experience. Damon Young, a Melbourne philosopher, is keen on reflective sex and legitimises this fetish with a carrot and stick, seducing readers by arguing for its superior pleasures and threatening us by implying that the alternatives are morally dubious or diminishing. He considers a wide variety of subjects and circumstances along the way, including the power and peculiarity of sexual attraction, the place of humour in sex, ‘teasing’ and suspended pleasure, the bounties and pitfalls of beauty, the stigma of prostitution, the complexities of sexual fantasy, the function of sex robots, and the importance of meaningfulness. He approaches these matters with fluency and an impressive variety of references – literary, artistic, and philosophical – but the insights are often dull.