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01 Sep Sex And Love In The Early 20th Century

In 1930 the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America announced the adoption of the “Motion Picture Code,” which was designed to clean up the movie business. The Code forbade the use of words such as virgin, seduce, pregnant, chippy, broad and even such innocuous words as damn and hell. In 1934 the Catholic Church announced the formation of “The Legion of Decency,” and promised to boycott films it found offensive. Each week churches gave parishioners a copy of what was commonly called “The X list,” which forbade Catholics to see movies that were on it.

One film on this list was “The Moon is Blue,” made in 1953, starring William Holden and Maggie McNamara. This movie was forbidden because the heroine told her date she was still a virgin. Such intimate revelations weren’t allowed then; after all, every unmarried female was supposed to be a virgin, so it was unnecessary to verbalize it. This was also the first movie to use the words “virgin,” “seduce” and “mistress,” after a long battle with censors.

The ’40s and ’50s were so puritanical even married people couldn’t be shown in bed together in movies, they had to be side-by-side in twin beds, usually with a nightstand separating them. And they could never kiss in bed, unless they were dying and it was obvious they weren’t about to have sex.

DRESS CODE

A female had to wear a full slip in a movie, she could never appear in a half-slip and bra. A bare-midriff was shocking! Modesty in dress began to erode in 1946 when the bikini bathing suit was introduced, to loud cries of “obscene.” Many parents forbid their daughters to wear such skimpy attire on the beach. Another blow to modesty occurred in 1964 when the mini-skirt came into fashion. This was followed by “hot pants,” and then the micro-mini, but nothing shocked the sensibilities of many people as much as the “thong” bathing suit. Once again, loud cries of “obscene,” and “it should be banned as immoral,” were heard. Some thought it was the end of civilization as we knew it, and it was, compared to the decades before.

FULL FRONTAL NUDITY

Playboy magazine, whose trademark was photographs of nude and semi-nude women, was first published in 1952, featuring Marilyn Monroe on the cover, and photos of her sans clothing inside. There were strident objections that it was immoral and contributed to the demise of refined society.

In the ’60s, Elvis’ display of gyrating hips while singing, garnered the same reaction.

LIVING IN SIN

Couples didn’t openly live together before the so-called “hippie revolution” of the ’60s. This arrangement was called “living in sin,” or “shacking up,” and was considered immoral and disgraceful, and was usually hidden from people.

Lovers who wanted to spend the night together had to get a hotel room, pretending to married. This usually involved getting a dime-store wedding ring and filling a suitcase or two with books or newspapers so as not to arouse the suspicions of the registration clerk.

There were few apartment buildings before the late ’50s and most single people who didn’t live at home, rented a room or a flat in someone’s house. They were never allowed to have overnight visitors of the opposite sex, so those planning to skirt the rules had to be sure their partner left before the homeowner awakened in the morning. Getting caught meant getting evicted.

SINGLE MOTHERS

Pregnant women who were unmarried, were not called “single mothers,” but “unwed mothers,” and their babies were termed “illegitimate,” or even the more crude appellation: “bastards.” By the ’60s so-called “shotgun weddings,” became laughable relics of the past. No longer did parents demand that the man who impregnated their daughter marry her and take financial responsibility for the baby. The father often walked away and the mother went on welfare, often supported by tax dollars. But, during the ’60s unwed motherhood came out of the closet, was accepted and became epidemic, even on high-school campuses.

The flower children of the ’60s introduced dramatic changes in what was considered permissible behavior. As world events affected people’s status and roles, these ideas were paralleled by changes in their concepts of morality.



Marta Hiatt

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