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Passing the Cultural Torch to the Next Generations: Sex

When I was in my early twenties in 1964, living in San Francisco, a woman named Carol Doda made worldwide headlines for dancing at the Condor Club in the North Beach area of the city with her breasts exposed.

She was the first woman to do that. There was a lot of tsk, tsking among the then-older and more conservative set but Doda kept dancing half naked and the topless craze was here to stay.

Three years earlier, comedian Lenny Bruce, who often performed at the Jazz Workshop, located on Broadway near Carol Doda's club, was arrested there for using the word “cocksucker.”

I can publish that word on this blog nowadays but that wasn't always so.

Case in point: Actually, I lived in Marin County and commuted by bus to work in the city. The morning after Bruce's arrest on obscenity charges, the story was front page news in The San Francisco Chronicle.

In the modesty of the times, the paper referred only to “a 10-letter word” for which he was arrested and I have been amused ever since to recall watching as one bus rider after another silently counted to 10 on his or her fingers to work out what Bruce had said. Of course, I was among the finger counters.

I recalled these two incidents last week when I read that Carol Doda died recently at age 78, reminding me how much American attitudes toward sex itself and representations thereof have changed in half a century.

When Doda first took off the top half of her costume, I was still wearing a girdle that together with a industrial-strength bra left everything to the imagination. “Nice” girls were not supposed to jiggle anywhere in those days.

Nice girls didn't have sex either until we were married. That is, we didn't admit to it except in whispers with our closest girl friends although “the pill” was about to change that.

In movies, sex was still only hinted at behind closed doors and on television, the bedroom set of such programs as Father Knows Best was always dressed with twin beds. No hinting about where those kids came from allowed.

And it goes without saying that even in San Francisco back then, homosexuality was the love that dare not speak its name, not out loud.

It's been different for a long time. Gays and lesbians can marry now and the few who still object are as much outliers as those who think they can repeal Obamacare.

Hookup culture is firmly established, at least among the young. Sexting is an accepted thing even, sometimes, with kids as young as 13 or 14. People of all ages email naked selfies to one another. And sex scenes in movies and certain television channels are only this much short of what we used to call pornography.

With the usual disclaimer for not harming anyone, I believe people should do whatever they want sexually. I really don't care although I will admit to sometimes being unsettled at what goes on publicly.

But people grow up now with much more relaxed sexual attitudes and beliefs than what prevailed in my youth. It's not my world anymore and generally, I think what has changed is a good idea compared to the widespread secrecy and ignorance in my generation back in the “olden days.”

Comments

I'm with Lady Astor (I believe she's the one who first said it), I don't care what people do as long as they don't do it in the streets and scare the horses.

As the cigarette ads used to say, "You've come a long way baby". However, as a person who has officially reached the status of "Dirty Old Man", even I admit that what goes on in public today may be a bit over the edge. I don't think we need to see public nudity to express ones new found sexual freedom. I am glad to see that we now can admit that humans are sexual beings and that nothing (within reason) is taboo. If this new attitude towards sexuality has made people who used to think that they were freaks more comfortable living in this world, than we really have come a long way, for the good.

While I mostly agree Bruce's comments, as far as more relaxed attitudes and acceptance regarding sexuality being healthier than those that prevailed in times when people were so prudish that some wouldn't even say the word "pregnant" and had to speak in code using "PG" (good lord). However, having said that, I am increasingly concerned about where things have come to, and are going, particularly among young people today. Just a few days ago a fifteen year old girl's dead, burned body was found in a semi-rural area of my community. Turns out she had been an occasional run-away, hanging out with much older men and friends who were into things not healthy for anyone, must less a fifteen year old girl. The police are now using social media to work this case, and what's coming out is pretty disturbing. A 28 year old man connected with the case was stopped over the past weekend on a traffic and shot himself to death in his vehicle. Another young woman is in custody and may or may not be spilling her guts. Sexual predators and human trafficking seem to have become much more of a 'thing' with the advent of social media and mobile communication devices.

I'm not sure whether it's a function of my own aging, or my own response, regardless of my age, to changes coming along with more relaxed attitudes about sex, but more and more I'm bothered about much of what I'm hearing. And I don't even subject myself to hearing about much of what's out there, only what makes it to our own local television news, a couple of local and regional newspapers, or an occasional public radio article.

I don't care what other people do in private. Never have. But my aging values about modesty, propriety, and manners in public remain unchanged, which means they are being constantly offended. That's just something I have to deal with. Part of becoming a little old lady, I suppose.

It's funny [not ha-ha; odd] about that word "obscenity." When I was growing up, I think it was certainly in common usage, but always connected in some way with sex. There were obscene actions, like baring one's breast; obscene books, like those by Henry Miller or James Joyce, that got banned. But somehow it was always always connected with sex.

But now? At least when I use the word "obscenity," I am in every instance referring to something like the obscenity of "the war against terror"; people like Cheney; most of G.W. Bush's term in office; or more recently, the obscenity of those who decided to wreak havoc in Paris--at the same time claiming, by the way, that they were striking a blow against the obscenity of young Parisians out for a Saturday night on the town. Or, for that matter, the obscenity of the governor of Alabama who wants no Syrians admitted to his hallowed state, or - was it he or someone else who said only Christian Syrians could be admitted. Or whatever Republican candidate for president - Rubio, perhaps? [I was hearing all this on NPR at 5 this morning on my way to the Y, so forgive my fuzziness] - saying we should ban them all. Whoever "them" might refer to..

I may share the opinions in the responses above in terms of my discomfort at various turns in the sexual behavior in our country today --- but "obscenity"? That is a different matter altogether.

What I feel coming on, although probably only in my head, is a letter to the editor commenting on greater vs. smaller thinking: the smaller thinking of those I have already referred to -- over against the greater thinking of those gathering in various cities around the world in great diversity to mourn the losses wreaked by the obscenities of this past weekend.

This post brings back a lot of memories, most of which are absurd.

Ronnie, I also remember the concern that women's bodies would "jiggle," eliciting uncontrollable sexual urges in any males over the age of 12 or so. Even women who were young and rather thin were to be bound up tightly in girdles when out in public.

@Janet, Loved your quote from Lady Astor. I've seen it before, and it's right on!

I do think the much greater public acceptance and legalization of same sex relationships and marriage--especially for men--is an enormous step forward from the days of former furtive encounters in men's bathrooms.

I, too, read with a nod to memory lane that Carol Doda had died--at my age! I lived in what has since become Silicon Valley then, and I well remember my elders commenting on her "outrageous and scandalous" behavior. Being recently divorced (which was pretty scandalous, too, back then) and quite the party girl, I partook of San Francisco's night life with great enthusiasm. As Ronni notes, in the early-60s many women, including me, were still firmly encased in "Merry Widow" bras and boned girdles. No, we didn't jiggle--even taking a deep breath was challenging! (I have no idea how we managed to dance + breathe.)

It's very different now. Most underwear is considerably more comfortable, and almost nothing related to sex is scandalous anymore. That's O.K. by me but, like Cathy, I also worry about relatively unsophisticated young women. They may think they know how to stay safe, but daily headlines prove that far too many end up as victims one way or another. If I were young in today's supercharged, Tinder and Facebook-driven world, I wonder how long my luck would hold.

I agree that the state of the world as far as how humans relate to each other NON-sexually is often "obscene".

Ronnie-I have figured out that we are the same age within months so that many of the topics you discuss bring back many memories.
I love the quote attributed to Lady Astor; sure brought a rare chuckle from me, as I am going through a very stressful time.
Although I appreciate more honesty about sex today, I can't help be concerned about two things: first I fear for the vulnerability of my grand-daughter as she grows into adolescence. Secondly, I can't help but feel that for many, something has been lost as a result of casual sex and that is the wonderful intensity of true love for a lucky pair who somehow find each other. I treasure that experience, even though I lost the love of my life after only 3 years together.

Ronni,

When my husband and I were young and adventurous, we went to San Francisco on vacation and, throwing aside (because we were 3,000 miles from home),our Philadelphia Quaker heritage, we visited the Condor Club to see Carol Doda.

Before the show actually started, the Emcee came over to our table on a low balcony and handed me a paper. I took it from him and as we read it we began to chuckle and then roar with laughter.

It was an application to enter the WET T SHIRT CONTEST.

We thought that was very funny, and Carol Doda was great...
It was a really fun night and a great memory..

I'm sure I must be among the bigger prudes who regularly read this blog. I don't talk to my girlfriends about the details of my sex life, never have, never felt the need. I am a strong supporter of gay marriage, but I don't want to hear about ANYONE'S sex life -- gay, straight or anything in-between. LIke I said I'm a prude. I blame it on being raised Catholic, a religion I have long since left in the dust -- but I find that the sense of modesty I grew up with is very hard to shake. Having said that, while I would prefer that people were a bit more modest, I'm not for censorship. If I don't like it, I can tune out and turn away. And having said THAT, I do worry that the rise of immediately-available-on-the-internet hardcore pornography is a not a good thing for girls/women (and maybe not for boys/men, either). I have a teenage daughter, and I worry that the teenage boys (later men) in her future who have grown up on a diet of this stuff will have unrealistic expectations, leading to dissatisfaction on all sides.
But what do I know?

As a naive expat returning to the U.S. and spending a weekend in S.F. and eating at a family style Italian restaurant next door to the Carol Doda bar, I did wonder what all the hoopla was about, but too shy to ask. I have never been an "out there person" but very glad the pill was available when I was in college. Recently I did see a cartoon on FB from a gal friend of my sons and was a bit shocked as to me it was certainly porn, but to those 30-somethings it was about a joke.

I am 67. When I was about 17, one of my friend's mothers told us sex was fun. We were floored, because our parents had not said that, but it also gave us hope. WIthin a short time we found out she was right. It is always rather amusing to note many in the younger generation think they invented sex (or some new aspect) and that somehow it's better.

I am grateful I came of age during the advent of reliable, readily-available (in my country) female-controlled contraceptives. We had to be gradually introduced to a more sexual culture, but once we caught on....

Just keeping it real, I don't understand why we have so many teen pregnancies in 2015 when we have so many contraception methods! Why do teens keep having babies left and right? This has happened many times in my own family (nieces) and I confess, I've wondered if keeping our bras and girdles might have helped in this regard! (Metaphorically speaking) THEN of course I remember how 60's women were so step ford-wife-ish, and I am glad for the changes. I don't know. I realize each generation is kind of horrified by the new one. I still cringe a little at how the f word is everywhere and how rude people are. One of my relatives was so glad that her teen was having a baby. What is up with that?? Now the taxpayers have to provide for that child! (God, I sound like a tea-party person, but I am not). In some ways I long for the days when people still felt shame over getting pregnant before graduating high school. Thanks for listening.

It's good that the shaming of pregnant teens is over. (Where it is over, that is; there are many places where it isn't.) Once a baby is already on the way, shaming doesn't do any good and is likely to cause many bad things to happen. All you can do then is scramble as best you can to retrieve whatever you can. Grandparents being glad -- or saying they are -- is probably for the best. Let's hope they're also willing to love the child and pitch in to help.

What's much more helpful is prevention. Teach young people, "Bringing a new human being into the world before you're ready to be a parent is very cruel and unfair to the child. Also, you'll have to step up and take on responsibilities that will interfere with your own chances in life. Here's chapter and verse on how you can avoid doing that."

It's interesting that in and around 1964, Ronni was commuting to S.f. From the North Bay, and Elizabeth Rogers and I were both living in or near San Jose. Since all of us frequented San Francisco's North Beach on dates, I wonder if our paths ever crossed. I stood outside (with a date, of course) Carol Doda's nightclub many times without the courage to go in, but I did once see Lenny Bruce with the man who became my first husband. I have to admit to being naive and embarrassed but I certainly never wanted to see the guy jailed. Anyway, we were much more interested in the jazz clubs.

Of course I wore the required girdles etc (Spanx, where were you when I needed you?) but that never really kept sex from happening, even in those days. I was never a prude and I am really happy with today's more open society for gays and lesbians especially since I have a gay grandson and a gay nephew-in-law. But I am not as thrilled with all the explicit on-screen sex in films and TV. I guess that's why in my old age I have reverted to the classic black and white movies where sex is implied rather than in your face. The movies are better, too. There is no star today who can compare with Norma Shearer or Garbo.

It is great that the secrecy surrounding sex and our bodies has disappeared - however it doesn't seem to have made relationships - sexual or otherwise any easier. Sex has now been turned into a competitive performance art and many young (and not so young people) agonise about whether they are 'doing it right/cleverly enough/ excitingly enough or even often enough"! Years ago the problem was figuring out "how" to do it! Humans have a great capacity for complicating their lifes - one thing we do know - times will change.

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