SM Chic: The Emergence and Growth of the SM Community in the 1970s

Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center)
Stephen K. Stein, University of Memphis
Americans were aware of SM (or BDSM in today's parlance) activities long before the 2011 publication of Fifty Shades of Grey. Comedian Stephen Colbert regularly joked sadomasochistic sex. Popular television shows ranging from CSI to Will and Grace featured SM-centered episodes. SM activities first captured popular attention in the 1970s, portrayed in the media with a blend of alarm and arousal epitomized in William Friedkin's 1980 film Cruising. This paper will explore the emergence and growth of the SM community in the 1970s, and the popular reaction to its increasing visibility.

Bars and clubs that catered to SM activity proliferated, and the first guides to SM sex, such as Larry Townsend's Leatherman's Handbook (1972) and Gerald and Caroline Greene's SM the Last Taboo (1974), were published. The first public SM organizations launched, New York's Eulenspiegel Society and San Francisco's Society of Janus, as did magazines aimed at this community, including Drummer and DungeonMaster. The foundation of the SM community was laid in these years, particularly its emphasis on consent and keeping SM activities "safe and sane," a phrase popularized in DungeonMaster.

Discussion of SM activities spread quickly to the mainstream. The Joy of Sex (1972) discussed SM activities, as did Penthouse magazine, which published its first SM pictorial (1976). Numerous films capitalized on growing interest in SM and SM imagery became increasingly common, showcased in 1976 when the Rolling Stones promoted their Black and Blue album with a billboard of model Anita Russell in bondage proclaiming: “I’m Black and Blue from the Rolling Stones and I Love It!”

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