San Francisco was the city that started the sexual revolution. While other cities followed, such as Los Angeles, the “city by the bay” was the first “sexually radical” city. And it’s still a rad city that remains judgement free.
The local NBC affiliate recently ran a documentary just made available to watch for free here. The doc, called Bay Area Revelations, Sexual Revolutionaries, tells the story of San Francisco’s radical sexual past, from the gold rush days to today. It’s sextastic!
Narrated by actor Peter Coyote, who seems to narrate every cool documentary ever made, the city’s wild history starts with the 1895 gold rush, a “lawless, wild west town with no judgement”, says historian Amy Sueyoshi. “Some say that this might have been the beginning of what one might imagine San Francisco being today, a place of carefree sexuality.” The Downtown neighborhood was filled with saloons, brothels, music halls, and opium dens. Locals called the area “Terrific Street.”
One interesting question the doc answers is the reason why San Francisco became a gay mecca. During WWII there was a sudden purge of soldiers in the Navy and Army who were kicked out of the military once they were found out to be gay. Since San Francisco was the last port they were shipped out of, they were shipped back there. Many of them loved it so much they just stayed there.
And in the 1950’s, the “Daughters of Bilitis”, a secret lesbian organization formed and once word got around, many lesbians from around the country moved to SF.
In 1958, The Condor opened, a Las Vegas style nightclub where a waitress named Carol Doda injected her flat chest with silicone, for probably the world’s first boob job, and began dancing on a piano that lifted up and town. It became the first topless club in the country.
The beatnicks are also mentioned, as the original hipsters who pre-dated the hippies, who were part of the city’s counter-cultural history.
The “Summer of Love” in 1967 is also mentioned, the year thousands of hippies flocked to the Haight Ashbury neighborhood to experiment with sex, drugs and “free love.” Good times.
The porn industry in 1969 also gets a mention with Jim and Artie Mitchell’s O’Farrell Theatre, and the first porn movie Behind the Green Door, which ushered in “The Golden Age of Porn.”
On a more poignant note, the doc covers gay activist Harvey Milk’s election and assassination in 1978, and the city’s saddest era, in the early 1980’s, when AIDS suddenly ravaged the city. Sister Roma and her “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” who dressed up as nuns started out as entertainment, but during the AIDS crisis the “sisters” found their purpose and visited dying men in the hospital, hugging them when everyone else was afraid to.
The episode ends with a segment about the sexual revolution and women, and features our buddy, sexologist Dr. Carol Queen, who traces the radical way Good Vibrations opened the first sex shop. The store focused on women’s pleasure, which was a radical concept in itself.
Photo of the infamous hippie Haight Street by Arjun Sarup/ WikimediaCommons
(The legs remain to this day.)