A cultural, social, and historical journey of sexual expression in a time of individual freedom and loss...


Ever since Orwell we have been alive to the centrality of sexual freedom as a cornerstone of human liberation. Control of sexual expression has been a constant in societies where Authority seeks power over the Individual – from the reality of the two Millennia of Catholicism or more recent dictatorships characterised by Orwell in 1984.

But in the 1960s there was a flourishing of human liberation movements across the globe: whilst the "Third World" sought to end the yolk of imperialism, metropolitan states experienced their own internal movements, driven mainly by the rise of the post war baby boom generation.

Two great movements were sexual liberation and the rise of Feminism. Politics was personal, and sexual.

Each of these forces also found expression in the rise and commodification of sexual expression. The result was a blossoming of greater individual liberty – but it was to be a very short flowering.

By the early 1980s AIDS cast a dark shadow across all of society, especially the gay subculture.

The short lived sexual revolution faced a challenge that in many ways derailed other campaigns for freedom:

"A sexual revolution begins with the emancipation of women, who are the chief victims of patriarchy, and also with the ending of homosexual oppression." - Kate Millett, 1970

Today, as we live in a world of identity politics, but also one with an increasing loss of personal privacy, the personal is exposed to greater public judgment (#MeToo; the abuses of Facebook and data manipulation). 

The Personal is political and sexual in far more ways than could be imagined by the freedom movements of the 60s, but their experience and the debates they generated still resonate today and have profound implications around how we each navigate our freedoms in an overly "transparent" and commodified world. 

Sex as a mass commodity was very much a modern phenomenon of the post war consumer boom arising with both the new purchasing power of the "baby boomers" and their increased desire to challenge the mores and values of their parent’s generation.

Social movements for individual freedom, as well as political movements challenging orthodoxies from politics to war (the Moratorium movement, the rise of the Whitlam Opposition in Australia – think Don's Party and the near Whitlam win of 69, and the ultimate victory in 72) is the milieu in which we see the beginnings of the rise of more open approaches to sex (think The Pill – Australians were early adopters of new technologies, and the pill was no different) as well as the rise of the ‘Sex shop’  industry.

Because of their nature such shops were also located in precincts that had a back history for supporting the demi-monde and women engaged in the sex industry or were engaged close to it – often a class of women considered to be of doubtful social standing and morality.

St Kilda in Melbourne and Kings Cross in Sydney were notorious for these subcultures, providing shelter from the judgmental of the post-Victorian era. And this applied not merely to sex workers per se, but also to those whose sexual orientation forced them underground and into the more shadowy margins of society.

Yet ironically often the most elite of society embraced these precincts: St Kilda had many fine establishments, as did the Cross, catering for the upper and middle classes, cheek by jowl with the underclass and proletariat.

But even as the sex industry and their symbol, the Sex Shop, began to become more open, increasing changes in social relations, and their spatial expression, Embourgoisement and the rise of middle class property ownership was becoming a rising challenge.

This is seeing the end of many of these locales, and shops themselves are challenged by online purchasing of both visual products – with large women viewers, as well as purchases of sex aids and toys, again with a significant growth in women consumers (who may have never have visited a sex shop in the past).

Of course the parallel rise of Feminism alongside personal liberation also created a detailed critique of the sex and "porn" industry, and particularly their role in reinforcing patriarchy. (but yet again modern usage figures creates a more complex picture.)

Sex ‘69 is a project which will visually convey these themes and give them a human reality, including historical and contemporary images of shops, locales, habitués (a resident of or frequent visitor to a particular place), and the demi-monde.