“The zipless fuck is absolutely pure”: Sexual liberation and 1970s american literature

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Abstract

This chapter traces the idea of “sexual liberation” – aka the “sexual revolution” – throughout 1970s American literature and spells out, year by year, what novels, plays, poems, and essays represent the new sort of sexual discourse of the decade. Each year shows another version of this sexual liberation – or the response to or rejection of it, from masturbation, single life, extramarital sex, and adultery to the trauma, rape, abuse, and sexual violence that emerged. Does sexual liberation lead to a corresponding sexual control as a result of the pill, the legalization of abortion, and the new visibility of homosexuality, especially after the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969? Partly due to the counterculture movement, free sex expression in the 1970s meant a new focus on premarital sexuality, with open marriages, sexual violence, and swinging displayed in movies such as Carnal Knowledge (1971), Taxi Driver (1976), Pretty Baby (1978), and Animal House (1978). (Twenty years later, a movie like The Ice Storm [1997], based on the 1994 Rick Moody novel, focused on a Connecticut family displaced in 1973 by restlessness and sexual greed in a counternostalgic film.) Erotic fantasies played out through movies such as the first mainstream pornography hit, Deep Throat (1972), which Linda Williams's Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” (1989) brilliantly analyzed against Catharine MacKinnon's complaint of the film’s “politically incorrect sexual practice” among other such erotica in this new sexual order. One of the major questions in the era concerned legal regulation of sexuality versus libertarian politics: being sexually liberated is a burden, too, for those who prefer their own celibacy or asexuality. How many of the major events of the 1970s are implicated in the sexual revolution of the decade? Some of them are obvious: the feminist revolution, with greater numbers of women in the workforce, along with the effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the early 1970s (and its defeat in 1979), as well as the passage of Title IX and Education Amendments – prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex – in 1972; the legalization of abortion with Roe v. Wade in 1973, followed by the explosion of pro-choice politics; the much-hyped “battle of the sexes” tennis match at which Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs, also in 1973; and the creation of the National Women's Studies Association in 1977.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAmerican Literature in Transition, 1970-1980
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages102-114
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781316584484
ISBN (Print)9781107150768
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

Cite this

Bauer, D. (2018). “The zipless fuck is absolutely pure”: Sexual liberation and 1970s american literature. In American Literature in Transition, 1970-1980 (pp. 102-114). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316584484.008