The collapse of the Production Code reflected the emergence of a "sexual revolution" in the United States and western Europe in the 1960s. Women's sexual freedom increased during the decade with the marketing of "the pill" to protect against pregnancy. Soon, a second wave of feminism began championing women's liberation from patriarchy. Beat culture in the late 1950s and the counterculture of the 1960s celebrated "free love," with many choosing simply to live together rather than join in conventional heterosexual matrimony. By the end of the 1960s, a modern gay rights movement had begun as well. Many people began favoring foreign films to Hollywood product—as well as the growing number of US films made outside the studio system.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision in 1953, exploitation films of burlesque strippers and nudist camps proliferated. As more and more obscenity laws were struck down during the 1960s, exploitation films began including shots of vaginas and flaccid penises. By the start of the 1970s, full on-screen coitus was being presented, and the Ratings System's X rating became synonymous with pornography. The 1960s also saw a growth of experimental filmmaking called "underground cinema" that usually contained explicit nudity and simulated sex acts. Andy Warhol's Kiss (1963), for example, is a series of close-ups of couples kissing, including a heterosexual interracial couple and two male couples. Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (1963) parodied the Biblical sex orgies of Cecil B. DeMille films by showing—in a bored, listless, campy fashion—full-frontal nudity of both men and women. In the wake of the women's liberation movement, independent feminist filmmakers, including Barbara Hammer (b. 1930) ( Superdyke , 1975), Michelle Citron ( Daughter Rite , 1978) and Lizzie Borden (b. 1958) ( Born in Flames , 1983), experimented with methods of picturing female sexuality without falling into patriarchal patterns of objectification.
By the end of the 1960s, exploitation pictures and underground cinema were exerting a tremendous influence on mainstream filmmaking throughout the United States and Europe. In Hollywood, films such as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) and Carnal Knowledge (1971) attempted to deal with the sexual revolution. Midnight Cowboy (1969), about a male hustler, won an Academy Award ® for Best Picture. In various parts of the world in the early 1970s, important films focused on sexual politics with no holds barred. WR: Mysterije Organizma (1971, Yugoslavia), Last Tango in Paris ( Ultimo tango a Paris; Le dernier tango à Paris ; 1972, Italy/France), The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant ( Die bitteren Trãnen der Petra von Kant , 1972, West Germany), In the Realm of the Senses ( Ai no corrida , 1976, Japan), and Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom ( Salò, o le 120 giornate di Sodoma , 1976, Italy)alldealt with sex in explicit yet complex and intricate ways. Many of these films, for example, showed how heterosexual patriarchal notions often still held sway, even within the so-called sexual revolution. Many exposed the power dynamics that often infuse sexual desire. Others pointed out the limits of sexual liberation without an accompanying change in the social and economic order. Though explicit attempts at a serious discussion of sexuality, these films were viewed by many as little more than smut masking as art. Salo was banned in many countries; In the Realm of the Senses and WR were often recut before they could be shown; the makers of Last Tango in Paris were charged with obscenity laws while the film was still in production, and director Bernardo Bertolucci (b. 1940) briefly lost his voting rights. It is thus perhaps not surprising that an ongoing cycle of similar films did not materialize.