by William Dean
It still happens, sometimes in very unlikely places, among very
unlikely people. You know what I mean. "Well, but, how did you even
know these things were going on?" It's always about kinky sex stuff.
And it's always about "the old days."
In the mid-to-late 1950s, now almost a half-century ago, Americans
began being exposed to the hanky-panky and hi-jinks of their neighbors
and the people in the next town in ways that rocked their placid, "We
Like Ike" Pleasantville sensibilities. In 1953, Playboy
appeared. In 1956, a young mother and housewife of 32, named Grace
Metalious ripped the lid off small town sexiness with a best seller
called Peyton Place. That was the same year that home grown
American sex sociologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey died, but his studies had
prompted literate and intellectual people to look at things
differently. Sly and leering reports -- couched in the "we can't say
this" language of the day -- of wife-swapping parties started filtering
into the media. While Middle America lounged by pools, sipping their
prerequisite pre-dinner cocktails and rebellious youth necked and
petted (and more!) in the nation's drive-ins and at local lover's
lanes, a few, very few, people started to reveal that, indeed, there
was kink happening in the same world.
Among the underground, so to speak, which included the new Beat and
Hip Generations and young teens sneaking girlie mags (not
Playboy, by the way, but the raunchy ones), there was ready
acknowledgment that leather, whips, being tied up, tied down, and so
forth was pretty edgy and exciting sexual stuff. Semi-blurry copycats
of Bettie Page and many unnamed models posed in bustiers of black
leather, sporting whips and riding crops, wearing stockings and
lingerie or grinned at the camera lens while artfully trussed in loops
and knots of rope. Those who'd done their historical homework
discussed everything from Sacher von Masoch's Venus in Furs
to the legendary tales of modern Nazi sex orgies and "depraved
behavior." As Americans and Europeans slid euphorically into the Free
Love 60s, sexual liaisons became casual, immediate, and, yet, "no big
deal." And the kinks came out of the closet more and more.
Thirty years ago, as the 1970s lurched unsteadily into being, the
swinging lifestyle seemed everywhere. Discos, key parties, and group
sex were what was happening, not just among the Jet Set, but out in
Mom and Pop America, too. Singles Only apartment buildings promised
nude pool parties, open apartment doors, and open relationships that
smiled a lot. Even greeting cards appeared that invited friends and
neighbors: "Let's Have an Orgy! BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze or Babes
or Bachelors)." It wasn't just heterosexual, vanilla sex going on, either.
Those days, it was Pickup City, and you never really knew what you
were getting into until you got right down to the nitty and the
gritty. The stranger who'd become your new (probably very temporary)
lover might take you back to their place and say "Let me slip into
something more comfortable" and then re-appear in tight black leather
corset and high boots, flicking a nasty-looking whip and giving you
the then-famous Bridget Bardot pout. Or you might be struck by the
intentional pun when you saw the real swing in the living room, ropes
knotted into overhead beam hooks. Or the new "friend" might present
you suddenly with a handful of silk scarves, look up through
heavily-fringed eyelashes, and whisper "I like to be tied up, baby."
Before the hysteria and tragedies of AIDS, we hung loose sexually --
some of us. We'd messed around in Kinksville from somber, pre-Gothic
black, Beatnik explorations and then dug the scenes in the
free-wheeling Hippie chaos where freaking was cool as long as you
"maintained." Many of us were "on the road," some around the
globe -- from Viet Nam to Turkey, and we took our new sexual freedoms
with us. The response to kinks was "outtasight" or "groovy" or simply
"I can dig it."
A lot of people today think kink simply started when the Internet got
popular. The D/s and BDSM folks, the Tie 'Em Up crowd, the Leather
Boys and Girls have their websites, their online shopping malls and
their archives and the newbies shyly exchange URLs like enthusiastic
explorers bound for new worlds they'd barely dreamed of. It's a good
thing. This new openness, this new urge by men and women to examine
what turns them on and on and on. But the various kinks aren't newly
invented. They didn't just spring forth full-blown from the Web.
So when people ask me today "How did you know these things were even
going on?" I have to answer, "Well, I was there. And the kinks were
there, too, so..."