Just about half a century ago, The Kinsey Report, the runaway primer “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask,” and the Free Love movement all brought sex from its hiding place in the bedroom out into the open. Ricky and Lucy slept in separate beds, but the Brady Bunch parents cheerfully shared a queen-sized bed and were often filmed cuddling in it. Two decades later, Jerry Seinfeld and his friends struggled to retain control as “masters of their domain” — and mistress, in Elaine’s case. They’d laid odds on which of them would emerge the winner, or perhaps the loser, considering the nature of the bet.
Today, we have Brad Benson blathering at us during drive time. In case you’ve been living in a cave, Mr. Benson is the guy who thinks that airing his sexual activities to the public — or alleged lack thereof — is the just impetus needed to drive his dealership’s sales in a lagging economy. The only thing it makes me drive is the knob on the radio, right into the Off position.
Sex can be intimate, profound, procreative, tender, sobering, terrifying, intimidating, a helluva lot of fun, and downright hilarious. Ultimately, it’s a private act usually entered into between two people. If the literature and mores of the ’60s, ’70s, and pre-AIDS ’80s flung sexual convention out the window, did they give rise to the disturbing trend of strangers discussing sex, out of the blue, with other strangers and thus intruding upon very private territory?
A veteran of a career spent in customer service leaves me pondering this question. Recently while at work, I was waiting on a man purchasing lottery tickets. After we’d conducted the transaction, I found him staring at me. When I asked if he needed something else, his astounding reply was, “How is your love life?” Stunned, I could only stammer out, “I-It’s okay.” He just nodded and left the store. I can’t fathom whether he was looking for a hot date or just using me as the guinea pig in some shock value experiment. Talking to a cashier in this manner is not only inappropriate, it can be downright frightening if you are the cashier!
Another incident occurred several years ago, in another customer service position. I used to talk to a certain customer on a regular basis. Throughout our many conversations, it came to light that his sister was gay. She used to stop by with him once in awhile but had never made any advances toward me. Then one day, her brother said, “My sister really likes you and wants to have a relationship with you.” More than a little freaked out, I just said, “That’s not the way that I fly, so no thanks!” Things were never really the same afterward, as I was nervous around that particular customer.
Sometimes, it goes beyond words. Some folks uninhibited by their bodies, and I suppose by sex in general, join nudist colonies. Europeans seem to do a better job of accepting this way of life than do Americans (our Puritanical roots must be showing). While nude beaches are no big deal in European cultures, it’s not usual to find such beaches in the U.S. The idea of exposing our bodies for all to see does not sit well with the majority of us. As teenagers, the most risqué proposition my friends and I received and made were dares to go skinny-dipping in the local swimming hole. In the cities, I understand that Strip Poker was the expedient equivalent for curious adolescents.
Of course, there was always streaking. This bygone craze is the art of running as fast as you can, buck-naked, in a public place; fast enough to evade The Man, that is, waiting to slap a pair of handcuffs on you and read you your rights. Streaking always seemed obscene to me. I was nervous about a man seeing me naked in the appropriate situation, let alone running down the street, presenting my wares to the general public! I do recall once that my more outgoing sister did it. She proceeded to run down an alley one moonlit night in her birthday suit. I don’t know for sure if anyone saw her, but if it had been me, I’d have been mortified wondering if I were the talk of the town the next morning. Streaking began innocently enough as a way of garnering attention at a public event, such as college sports game. Nowadays, the act might earn you a stay in the slammer as a sex offender. PeeWee Herman may have faired better had he simply streaked!
But nothing stops Hollywood. I blush to even think of some of the titles of current and recent films, including Spanking the Monkey and Mr. Woodcock. And let’s not forget the small screen. Sex and the City sealed and then pushed the envelope that daytime soap operas merely licked. Oh, to return to the days of innocence when the title of a sit-com like Leave it to Beaver had but one connotation.
The public’s fascination with sex, and how it expresses that fascination, has certainly evolved. Elvis was shot from the waist up for his debut on the Ed Sullivan show. His well-oiled hips were deemed too risqué for a family oriented show. Decades later, when Tom Cruise left his initial mark upon Hollywood by dancing around in his tighty whities for the movie Risky Business, it was a bit of a shock. America wasn’t used to seeing young men shimmy-shimmy-shake their bits and pieces on the silver screen.
Nudity for women, however, or partial nudity, was much more widely accepted, but it did take a while. Once we got over the hurdle of a little thing like two centuries standing between the original design of the bikini and its glorification in the song, Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, we were home free and so were our belly buttons! But it wasn’t always so.
In one of the episodes in the original Star Trek series, the censors had a conniption over a pink, gilt-edged toga worn by the beautiful Leslie Parrish, who played Engineer Scotty’s love interest. As Gene Roddenberry stated, “there was only girl under that toga.” To placate the censors, he’d directed the show’s costume designers to sew fishing weights into the hem of that part of the toga that was tossed over Lesley’s otherwise bare back. And Major Nelson may have liberated Barbara Eden’s Genie, but the censors forbade the actress to bare her navel on the small screen.
Modern-day musical singers such as Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry, Lady GaGa, Madonna, and Rhianna, not to mention the aptly named Pussycat Dolls, would laugh at this modesty of days not so long gone by. Although some of these ladies are talented singers, they still use the sex angle in a blatant and unoriginal attempt to pump up their sales. Even Miley Cyrus of Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana fame has gotten into the act. During this past season of American Idol, Lady Gaga performed her new song Alejandro. It was a mini porn show. So much for family entertainment, huh? Aguilera unveiled her new song Woo Hoo at the MTV Awards, wearing a neon heart over her own woo hoo. Too bad she’d left that heart at home when she sang at the American Idol finale this past May. Her panties and their contents (hind end) were on full display and the cameras did nothing to pan away from those contents. Katy Perry’s new video California Gurls focuses on two plumes of smoke wafting up from the area of her breasts. Katy is the daughter of two pastors and Lady GaGa had a strict Catholic upbringing.
Sex may sell, titillate, and shock us. But will we ever reach the point of saturation? Have we already reached that point? What do you think? Is there a happy medium when dealing with the subject of sex in public forums, or is it simply a matter of anything goes?