When free love died: why the sexual revolution plays only in reruns.

Author:Cavanaugh, Tim


WHATEVER BECAME of the Frigid Woman? Along with the Infantile Paralytic and the Thalidomide Baby, the female eunuch once haunted the American dreamscape as a walking, joyless rebuke to our unhealthy, uncaring, uninteresting, and morally primitive society.

Unlike the other two medical archetypes, it's not clear the Frigid Woman, defined by her inability to attain orgasm, ever really existed. Or if so in what numbers, and suffering from which particular malady. It could have been hysteria, penis envy, or some form of psychosomatic vaginosis; or maybe it was just the accumulated guilt and uprightness brought on by tens of thousands of years of the whole hung-up, Apollonian, blue-nosed, Judeo-Christian, puritanical establishment.

The Frigid Woman's condition was treated with respectful attention in such Age of Aquarius texts as G.S. MacVaugh's Frigidity: Analysis and Treatment and Albert Ellis' New Cures for Frigidity. The prospect of healing the Frigid Woman figured centrally in art house classics such as Luis Bunuel's Belle de your and crossover porn hits like Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat.

Then suddenly, suspiciously close to the time that the sexual revolution peaked, the Frigid Woman just vanished. Along with nymphomania and the virgin/whore complex, her disease no longer existed, another relic from the ungroovy dark ages. Was she cured by the no-strings, gettin'-down, good-vibrating, out-front love fest of the late '60s and early '70s? Or did she cure herself by fighting off the open-shirted horn dog males unleashed by the Summer of Love?

Two recent entertainments try to recreate the complexity of that era of self-conscious sexual liberation. The CBS series Swingtown attempts to bring '70s suburban wife swapping to mainstream television. On a much smaller budget, Anna Biller's independent film Viva salutes classic soft-core cinema. Neither could be accused of making a big cultural splash. Swingtown, largely unwatched, appears headed for cancellation; Viva, despite its uncannily precise rendition of the look, sound, mood, and arch dialogue of its subject, made just a few film festival and theatrical appearances and earned mixed reviews.

But the relative daring of both pieces raises a question: In a world where amputee and plush-toy porn is as near as your Web browser, why does the cutting edge of fictionalized erotic exploration seem to be found in material that's more than three decades old?

Maybe it's simple style...

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