Exhibit: Sexploit | Sexplore

Sexuality -- or not?

What did Americans know about sex before the Sexual Revolution?[1]

This would seem to be a rather straightforward question, easily answerable by the available oral, written and evidentiary testimony. After all, the largest generation in American history was the generation raised in the aftermath of WWII, the Baby Boomers. They paint their and their parent’s eras as idyllic, innocent, and aspirational – a great few decades we should aspire to remake the country into. [2] As this storyline usually goes, the (white, male, cisgendered, heterosexual members of) Greatest Generation followed in their parents footsteps by beating the Germans, then the Japanese, and then returned home to found nuclear households with compliant women.[3] This great tradition would have been followed by their children—if it was not for Alfred Kinsey. As the pseudo-academic Journal of Creation, a publication of Creation Ministries International explains, Kinsey brought on the Sexual Revolution and the Gay Liberation Movement:

by convincing the public and the scientific world that what was widely regarded as deviant behaviour then, including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, sadomasochism and paedophilia [was acceptable]… Kinsey is honoured by some and condemned by others (especially in view of the increasing evidence that the modern sexual revolution has aggravated many social problems that have caused an enormous amount of misery and death). [4]

But as many of the items shown in this exibit attest to, this was not the case at all. Pornography has a much longer history


Histories of sexuality are difficult in any era, but they are especially so before the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. There are a number of reasons for this, the most significant of which is sourcing. Often, the only surviving records are in court records of indecency, immorality, prostitution, homosexuality or deviance. Although these archives are vast, numerous, and valuable, they are hardly representative of the larger population.

The other source that has proven valuable to historians are private diaries, recollection, and autobiography, but these have the exact opposite problem: they are too often sources of individual persons who are (in the case of autobiography) deliberately trying to shape the narrative of their lives or (in the case of a diary) too unreliable or limited. The above issues are compounded by the fact that the majority of the materials that do survive are those of cis/heterosexual WASP men, especially given that definitions of sexuality change rapidly in from generation to generation.  

One possible avenue of exploring popular understandings of sex, sexuality, and erotica lies in histories of popular media. This has been done successfully in explorations of gender, for example, in radio, film, and novels throughout this era. It has also been used  used successfully in studies of popular participation of pornography and obscenity. 

Few historians  have done this as well or more critically than Dr. David Church, in a pair of books. In the  first,  Grindhouse Nostalgia: Memory, Home Video and Exploitation Film Fandom (2015), Church

 explores how the history of drive-in theatres and urban grind houses has descended to the home video formats that keep these lurid movies fondly alive today. Arguing for the importance of cultural memory in contemporary fan practices, Church focuses on both the re-release of archival exploitation films on DVD and the recent cycle of retrosploitation films like Grindhouse, Machete, Viva, The Devils Rejects, and Black Dynamite. At a time when older ideas of subcultural belonging have become increasingly subject to nostalgia, Grindhouse Nostalgia presents an indispensable study of exploitation cinemas continuing allure, and is a bold contribution to our understanding of fandom, taste politics, film distribution, and home video.


In Disposable Passions: Vintage Pornography and the Material Legacies of Adult Cinema (2016),  written the year after, Church  draws

on media industry analysis, archival theory, and interviews with adult video personnel [to] argues that vintage pornography retains its retrospective fascination precisely because these culturally denigrated texts have been so poorly preserved on political and aesthetic grounds. Through these films' ongoing moves from cultural emergence to concealment to rediscovery, the archive itself performs a ?striptease,? permitting tangible contact with these corporeally stimulating forms at a moment when the overall physicality of media objects is undergoing rapid transformation. Disposable Passions explores the historiographic lessons that vintage pornography can teach us about which materials our society chooses to keep, and how a long-neglected genre is primed for serious rediscovery as more than mere autoerotic fodder

The material in the digitized tab above show a great variety of different manifestations and creations that this industry took and how it developed. Introductions will be written for each of these sections soon, but feel free to explore more!



[1] Sexual Behavior in the Human Male 1948; Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 1953

[2] With the exception of the horrors of fascism, genocide, looming nuclear annihilation, racial/gendered/social discrimination, the mire of foreign wars, and reckless expenditure of natural resources leading to the poisoning of the planet, they are arguably right!

[3] Indeed, Reumann, Miriam G. American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005 demonstrates that this ideal image was deliberately curated by American men and women in response to the anxieties of the atomic age—the fact that it was impressed upon their children is a demonstration of how effective the strategy was.

[4] Bergman, Jerry. “Kinsey, Darwin and the Sexual Revolution.” Journal of Creation 20, no. 3 (December 2006): 111–17.

[5]See further discussion and concerns in Freedman, Estelle B., and John D’Emilio. “Problems Encountered in Writing the History of Sexuality: Sources, Theory and Interpretation.” The Journal of Sex Research 27, no. 4 (1990): 481–95.

[6]See Apter, Emily. Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the Century France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018. Stoops, Jamie. The Thorny Path: Pornography in Early Twentieth-Century Britain. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018. Strub, Whitney. Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Colligan, Colette. The Traffic in Obscenity from Byron to Beardsley. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2006. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230595859. Schaffner, Anna Katharina, and Palgrave Macmillan. Modernism and Perversion: Sexual Deviance in Sexology and Literature, 1850–1930. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Sigel, Lisa Z., ed. International Exposure: Perspectives on Modern European Pornography, 1800-2000. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

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