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.”