Leathermen, Deep Throats, and the Best of Both Worlds: The 1970s and Sexual Chic in the United States

AHA Session 81
Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Christopher L. Agee, University of Colorado Denver
Buy the Bi: Selling Bisexual Chic in the 1970s
Joel Edward Baehler, Kent State University
The Audience

Session Abstract

If sexuality emerged in the 1960s as a viable subject for discussion within the mass media in the United States, the 1970s witnessed debates centered on how once hidden form of sexual expression could be transmitted through a national cultural framework.

Much in the same way that advertising agencies and corporations absorbed aspects of the 1960s counterculture and repackaged them for public consumption, a similar process occurred in 1970s discourses about sexuality. This panel contributes to the recent wave of scholarship that examines the cultural and political ramifications relating to the normalization of previously covert sexual practices. This negotiation between covert and overt sexuality drew national attention as advocates of sexual freedom battled against traditional forms of American sexuality.

The urban areas of New York City and San Francisco offered the most conspicuous settings of these newly public forms of commodified sexuality. The exclusive and heterosexual sex club Plato’s Retreat welcomed celebrities and notable public figures to participate in their wildest fantasies (all in the same building that the gay Continental Baths formerly occupied), sadism-masochism clubs sprung up in New York City and San Francisco, and numerous pornography theaters crowded into Times Square. 

However, the political climate of the era resulted in significant struggles over the extent to which sexuality might seep into mainstream American culture. The development of law-and-order politics under the aegis of President Richard Nixon, and adopted by a number of big-city mayors thereafter, legitimized the shuttering of sex clubs and adult theaters and a partial return to a more contained sexual regime.

See more of: AHA Sessions