Believe it or not, you could go see pornography at your local cinema during the 1970s. The so-called "Golden Age of Porn," a 15-year period during which porn was shown in mainstream cinemas, brought adult films to national audiences, upping the profitability and popularity of the taboo genre. Some of the most famous porno flicks – like Debbie Does Dallas and Deep Throat – were conversation pieces on television and in print media, further increasing the fascination with their content.
Films from this "Golden Age" brought together plot and sex with a real "movie" feel. A lot of the films made during the "Golden Age of Porn" in the US remain classics in the adult film industry – and they set a new bar on what it took to make a crowd-pleasing, quality porno.
The Sexual Revolution Bred A New Kind Of Movie Viewer, Which Set The Foundation For The Golden Age
The 1960s and '70s were marked by a remarkable shifting of attitudes regarding sex, sexuality, and sexual mores in the US. Known as the "sexual revolution," the period spawned "a new breed of viewer," according to writer Rod Bastanmehr. Scholar Jeffrey Escoffier writes: "the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was... marked by profound shifts in the mores and attitudes towards women's sexuality, homosexuality, and freedom of sexual expression."
This major cultural shift also meant growing opposition to and questioning of what constituted "obscenity." What was obscene in art? What was artistic in the obscene? These kinds of questions – along with the shifiting attitudes that created them – set the scene for the Golden Age of adult films.
"Mona: The Virgin Nymph" Was One Of The First Films To Blow Up Nationally, And It Was Reviewed In Variety
Some people identify Andy Warhol's 1969 film Blue Movie as the ushering in of the "Golden Age," and it did have sex in it, but the first movie to show explicit sex acts was Mona: The Virgin Nymph. Released in 1970, Mona wants to remain a virgin until she's married but enjoys – and is good at – fellatio, so her fiancé arranges a party for her to share her skills.
Mona was released nationally and called by Variety magazine "the long awaited link between stag loops and conventional theater fare." The movie is estimated to have earned $2 million after being produced in three days on a $7,000 budget, paving the way for future films by directors Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm. The profits were used to make 1974's Flesh Gordon.
"Golden Age" Films Opened Up Conversations On Sexual Mores That Those In The Liberated '70s Wanted To Have
Mona didn't have a whole lot of dialogue, but the success of the film spurred the adult movie industry on the whole. Boys in the Band, released in 1971, was rated R by the MPAA and wasn't technically pornographic. It did, however, tackle gay culture and relationships, seizing upon the shifting boundaries of sex and sexuality on film.
"Deep Throat" Brought The Genre To The Mainstream
The 1972 release of Deep Throat had everyone from Johnny Carson to Bob Hope talking. It premiered at the World Theater in New York, and it officially brought porn to the mainstream. The plot, in some ways similar to Mona, involved Linda Lovelace's use of her mouth. Due to a birth defect, Lovelace's lady parts were in the back of her throat. When a doctor reveals this to her – by way of demonstration – it changes how she approaches sex, over and over again.
The hottest ticket in town was soon a porn movie. Jackie Onassis and other celebrities were known to attend the movie, and it became a cult phenomenon. It was released to 70 theaters across the US. It was the seventh highest-grossing movie of 1972.