PORNOGRAPHY

Book review: Psychedelic Sex - homage to '60s softcore porn

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 May, 2015, 10:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 May, 2015, 10:53pm

Wily American pornographers sniffed an opportunity in the late 1960s when the flower-power children of the counterculture revolution, liberated by the Pill, penicillin and LSD, shed their clothing along with their inhibitions.

The era of free love spawned scores of softcore porn magazines, with saucy names such as Nude Rebels, Naked Nomads, Fling, Groovers and Tempty. University students were more than willing to flash their flesh for kicks in these pages, which portrayed a swinging hippie fantasy life "where all was groovy and nooky was loose and free", Eric Godtland writes in Taschen's Psychedelic Sex, which pays homage to some of these titles.

Packed with page and cover samples from the carefree years of 1967 to 1972, the book contains more shots of open-legged young women than you can shake a meat stick at. There is simulated sex, groping and suggestive tongue popping. Yet shameless, smiling faces betray an innocence lost in today's multibillion-dollar hardcore porn industry.

Psychedelic Sex could be described as coffee table porn. It is also a tribute to psychedelic art, with its vivid, clashing colours and experimental graphics. Models were daubed in body paint, bathed in disco lights, and draped in beads or balloons.

With its vivid lime green and purple zig-zag cover, the book is beautifully presented. Its modern design uses bright, clashing colours that tastefully complement the era's radiant palette without being jarring.

Godtland, who provides the main narrative, mentions two pornographers of note. There was Ed Lange of Elysium, whose titles were staffed by hipsters at the leading edge of the fledgling southern California porn empire, and were more authentic. Pendulum Publications, on the other hand, was owned by reputed thug Michael Thevis. Pendulum's Heads Up appeared to be run by hipsters run amok, Godtland writes.

Its zany, puerile humour features widely in Psychedelic Sex. Think talking penises, penises wearing glasses, and cartoon characters skiing down breasts, with text bubbles such as: "I think I see a slick spot down there!" On one page, a woman sits on a fence, legs spread, above a sign that reads: "Did you ever think heaven was this close."

In one chapter, Godtland dubiously asserts that porn contributed to the civil rights movement. Against a socio-political backdrop of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, interracial porn helped middle-aged racists confront and overcome the last taboo in America, he writes. Psychedelic erotica treated blacks and whites as equals enjoying a new sexual freedom. This changed in the '80s, he says; black males in porn have since been stereotyped as dominating wielders of the "big black snake".

By the end of 1972, the magazines had largely disappeared from the top shelf. The book's editor, Dian Hanson, speculates that the Manson murders may have taken the bloom off the flower power youngsters. The magazines' buyers had never been hippies themselves, but their hardworking, sexually frustrated fathers.

Maybe it was evolution. Landmark legal decisions had been chipping away at the concept of obscenity in America, and pornographers pushed the envelope into harder depictions of graphic sex. The innocence was lost.

Psychedelic Sex edited by Dian Hanson (Taschen)