SARA ASHEROFF
Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2000

“Take off your clothes, unless you’re cold, and touch each other—yes, even strangers.  Make love—not to one guy or chick who you grab onto and possess out of fear and loneliness—but to all beautiful people, all sexes, all ages.”
   -Ron Norman, Seventy-Nine Cent Spread, 5 November 1968

[1]    Free Love, a phrase synonymous with the sixties and hippies has often been thought of as the gateway to a world of sexual revolutions.  Assisting not only the “Sexual Revolution” and the burning-bras era, which our parents always speak of with such nostalgia, the practice of free love enabled the gay revolution to occur, along with aiding the Woman’s Movement.  This concept of free love, however, is often misunderstood as a tool for hippies to just have sex with as many people as possible. Misunderstood being the key word in that sentence.  It was rather a way for sense of community and love to be felt between groups of people.  This practice was not hippies conducting massive group orgies, nor was it some obscure cult; it was a belief that was physically carried out in order for people to see the beauty of their bodies and the art of loving everyone in the community.

[2]     “To the hippies, any special character that sex might have did not mean that it should be restricted; sex was, rather, a range of powerful and wonderful feelings and activities which one should feel free to enjoy at will.  No person was forced to engage in any sexual activity, but neither was any person required to restrain his or her sexual impulses” (Miller 53).  This ideology, if one should call it that, was at its prime at the Woodstock Festival of 1969.  Though sex was not openly rampant, and people were not “doing it” all over Yasgur’s Farm, sex was a major part of Woodstock.  Because the nudity was portrayed in the movie more than any other aspect of free love, the viewer is able to infer the sexual culture of those attending the festival not only by the nudity, but also through interviews and comments made by the filmmaker.

[3]    When examining free love occurrences at Woodstock, one must take into consideration the broad spectrum of activities that were taboo at the time.  When the public first viewed the film “Woodstock,” they actually began to better accept the hip culture into mainstream society.  Ranging from nudity, to skinny-dipping, all the way to group sex, free love shocked and rocked the nation.  Never before had Americans seen these hippies running around with their clothes off, bathing in lakes, and loving everyone.  To the ignorant, these “nymphomaniacs” were just adding to the spread of venereal disease and corruption of youth in America.  To those who attempted to understand what hippies were trying to do learned that, “As for sex—like eating, like walking in fresh air, like all human activity—it should help recreate us, help us to find one another, make us real, tangible as Earth.  It should put us together again, body and soul, male and female, in harmonious intercourse” (Miller 54).  Trying to overcome the social taboos set forth by the rigid fifties was only the first obstacle that the hippies had to conquer during the Sexual Revolution.

[4]    Their credo rang in the ears of America and was felt in the hearts of its followers;  “If it feels good, do it, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” Hippies had the task of altering the opinions of those who valued the marriage contract and the concept of monogamy.  Counterculture ideas saw this as irrelevant.  Why should sex between consenting adults be confined within the realms of marriage?  Why couldn’t different partners enhance one's sexual experience?  The answers to these questions, along with others, forced scrutiny amongst the older generation in America.  This new concept was almost too radical.

[5]    The rock and roll era was going with full-steam ahead, and the counterculture was becoming more and more dominant.  Because the two are so interrelated, it is no surprise that outraged parents were blaming the music, just as our parents do today.  In reality, however, the music was not preaching the message to have sex with everyone, nor was it telling its audience to take as many drugs as possible.  One must understand that the underlying message at this time was love everyone.  Each man on the street was your brother, and every woman was your sister.  Specifically, the music of Woodstock was preaching this message.  For example, in the film, one performer expresses to the audience that they need to love each other.  The sexual aspect of this message was not focusing on actual physical sex, but more so for people to embrace everyone’s beauty and differences in a loving manner.

[6]    A major aspect of the hippies and free love was nudity.  Probably the most obvious form of sexuality present in the counterculture, nudity sent a clear message of accepting the beauty of the human body.  Hippies felt that, “clothes hindered interpersonal communication, that going without clothing was natural, and that nudity was fun” (Miller 59).  Hippies did contend that the reason for nudity was not for any purpose other than appreciation of each other.  “Nudity was keeping with the counterculture’s love of bodily pleasure, as such, it was not so much exhibitionism and voyeurism as it was appreciation of the total body” (Miller 59).  Nudity was the prevalent form of sexuality in the film.  Its main focus was to make the public aware of the ideals that the hippies followed.  It showed that they were in touch with nature and their own bodies.  Scenes of bathing and skinny-dipping in the lake (Tape 2 31:02) were shown in one segment of the film in which people were interviewed on their feelings of the issue.  One man commented on nude swimming, “About a year ago I wouldn’t have believed that this was the way to swim, but this is the way to swim.  This is the way to go all the time.”  Another hippie felt that, “I think the body is beautiful.  I think skinny-dipping is just beautiful if you want to do it, if you can do it.  Some people can’t because their environment made them feel that it was wrong even though their subconscious knows that its right, that its good, normal and natural.”  When the public viewed these scenes and heard these comments, it made understanding this particular aspect of free love a little easier.

[7]    Many common misinterpretations can be inferred from this practice of mass nudity.  For instance, many felt that wild orgies were major part of free love.  This was not the case.  “Most hippies did not condemn orgies, but neither were they attracted to organized sex, since the hip spirit of liberated sex was one of spontaneity, not sex with as many partners as possible” (Miller 65).  Group nudity is a means of expression, not an invitation for all to come and have sex.  Nudity allowed people to lose inhibitions about themselves and see that God created all humans beautiful.  As for sex, hippies embraced the pleasure it gave but did not force the issue of actually doing it on anyone.  Orgies did, however, occur, much as they do today, in private and with consenting parties.  An article entitled “Om” printed in the Berkeley Barb newspaper stated, “We do not announce the true spirit of the high holy act of fucking.  People must be free to fuck without molestation, without fear, without guilt.”

[8]    The concept of free love also gave exposure and slight tolerance for the gay movement.  “Important components of the hip-era sexual revolution was the rise of public gay consciousness, and the underground press gave considerable publicity and support to that phenomenon.  Although one cannot exactly argue that the hippies spawned the gay movement, it is fair to say that hip tolerance of sexual activity contributed to the atmosphere in which the gay revolution could emerge” (Miller 56).  Lesbians were also able to “come out of the closet” at this more opportune time.  Because of the very “accepting” nature of the hippies, it made it a much easier transition for the gay community.  The five main ideas of hip tolerance of the gays were, “(1) Homosexuality is natural and good; (2) a person has a right to free sexual choice; (3) one should not have to hide his or her sexual preferences; (4) all private acts between consenting adults should be legal; (5) social discrimination against homosexuals should end” (Miller 57).  The Woodstock film did not show any homosexuality; however, it is apparent that the hip-culture which attended the festival was accepting of this lifestyle.

[9]    The practice of free love, while adding a new appreciation of each other within America also produced many problems that can still be felt today.  The practice of sex with a multitude of partners caused venereal disease to spread like wildfire.  “The counterculture’s reaction to the problem did not involve any renunciation of free and widespread sex, but generally reflected the obvious wisdom that pertained to it: get treatment immediately, tell any person who might be infected, and take reasonable precautionary measures where that is possible” (Miller 63).  The laid back nature of the hippie may have sunk too deep into the minds of the counterculture.  Or could it possibly be that the sexual education of the times was not as prevalent as it is today?  It is apparent that free love did increase the number of STD cases in the country.  Relating to other sexual dilemmas, unwanted pregnancy caused the most controversy.  Woodstock was prior to the Roe vs. Wade decision; thus abortion was very taboo within society.  “Hip literature on the subject mainly discussed relative efficacy and safety of various methods, not rightness or wrongness of birth control itself.  Generally abortion was regarded as the most logical solution to unwanted pregnancy, but the hippies, like just about everyone else, found it the least attractive form of birth control” (Miller 64).

[10]    A small portion of the hippie culture helped push the Women’s Movement into the fact of society.  “It can be argued that hip culture itself played an important role in the rise of the new feminism.  Hip topics were addressed from a feminist perspective in many of the feminist papers” (Miller 68).  Thus the two countercultures became more related than one might have originally guessed.  At the time, the underlying sexual message was male dominance.  Women had a difficult time of gaining attention.  Many felt that “withdrawing from the sexual revolution “ was the only answer.  A hip southern woman commented on free sexuality, “it carries with it an unwarranted domination by the man, of the woman.”  Another commented, “the talk of love is profuse but the quality of relationships is otherwise…The idea of sexual liberation for the woman means she is not so much to fuck as to get fucked over…Our mothers could get a home and security, a prostitute-money, but a hippie woman is bereft of all that.”  These two “movements” helped each other’s ideas all over the country, thus producing a larger following.  The film did not focus on any of this part of the Sexual Revolution, but it is important for us to realize how accepting the hippies were of new ideas and cultures.  This ideology was a major focus in the film

[11]    Obviously free love is often thought of as a faux pas in today’s society, but we must not discredit its abilities in the Hippie Era.  Woodstock was the main event that catapulted the ways of the Hippie into the mainstream but also spread the message of free love throughout the country.  The hippie generation was at its prime, but this festival was the first opportunity that the public had to see these foreign ways with such a large following.  Never before had the young generation shocked the country in such a way.  Luckily, the festival was peaceful, and the hippies were able to prove to America that kids could get together for three days and do basically whatever they wanted, and, most importantly, be peaceful.  Woodstock allowed the young generation to be completely boundless.  Freedom was the main objective that was promoted through nudity and the sexual revolution.  The lenient authority figures at Woodstock allowed these children the opportunity to rule the world, just for a moment.  Headlines on the New York Times during the festival were filled spreading the message about the concert and hip culture, thus impacting and influencing the world.  Woodstock and sex are very interrelated, but it was the music, drugs, and sense of community that made the picture complete.  All of these factors were major contributors to the hippie culture, but sex and free love, had the most extreme effect on the nation.  This argument can still be debated today because of the spread of STD’s, especially AIDS.  Woodstock, however, cannot be to blame.  It was just a small, yet very significant event that changed the way the world thought.