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Since the 1960s, San Francisco has been America's capital of sexual libertinism and a potent symbol in its culture wars. In this highly original book, Josh Sides explains how this happened, unearthing long-forgotten stories of the city's sexual revolutionaries, as well as the legions of longtime San Franciscans who tried to protect their vision of a moral metropolis. Erotic dancers, prostitutes, birth control advocates, pornographers, free lovers, and gay libbers transformed San Francisco's political landscape and its neighborhoods in ways seldom appreciated. But as sex radicals became more visible in the public spaces of the city, many San Franciscans reacted violently. The assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were but the most brazen acts in a city caught up in a battle over morality. Ultimately, Sides argues, one cannot understand the evolution of postwar American cities without recognizing the profound role that sex has played. More broadly, one cannot understand modern American politics without taking into account the postwar transformation of San Francisco and other cities into both real and imagined repositories of unfettered sexual desire.

Editorial Reviews

"A welcome addition to a rich historiography on the development of urban spaces in the postwar years. Sides's scope is comprehensive and provides a useful overview of the twentieth century's mnay different sexual revolutions and the men and women who participated in them and opposed them."--Journal of American History


"Sides...does for San Francisco what cultural historians like George Chauncey have done for New York: resurrect the semi-hidden antecedents to the flourishing of sexual expression in the 1960s in adult entertainment, prostitution and public performance of sexual desire including among homosexuals...Rather than emphasize the way the city shapes sexual identity, Sides is keen to emphasize how public displays of and trade in sexual desire as well as the reaction to them--by individuals, civic leaders, neighborhood organizations, churches and those in the political and legal systems--together fundamentally defined the physical and social shape of the metropolis. This measured, fascinating and politically timely study of sex radicals and their reactionary counterparts, in a city long considered (however accurately) as a haven for libertinism, will prove a vital and welcome addition to the study of urban culture in general and San Francisco history in particular."--Publishers Weekly Online


"Sides, an urban historian, argues that San Francisco's legacy has been shaped as much by sexual culture wars as it has been by class, ethnicity or earthquakes. For the scavenger-hunting neighborhood historian, his book is catnip for its footnotes, primary sources, the quick ride through police blotters and mayors' desks of a hundred sex scandals."--San Francisco Chronicle


"Sides has a knack for showing how the city's sexual and cultural evolution has not occurred linearly, but instead through an intense series of pendulum swings and other contrary movements...This being a history book, written by a professor and published by a university press, it might be seen by some San Franciscan aficionados of cities and erotica to lack intimacy. There is evidence throughout of a dry wit, and one chapter is called 'When the Streets Went Gay,' but beyond that, Sides' copiously researched, stylishly written report really doesn't try to be cute. Or hot. Or personal. There is no 'This reminds me of the time I ...' And that is very much for the best."--SF Weekly


"For readers looking to beef up their IQ in the ultimate sex ed course, this account of the sexual histories and revolutions that shaped the cultural and social dynamic of modern San Francisco reads like a gritty, no-nonsense textbook."--Sacramento News & Review


"Brilliantly researched."--San Francisco Book Review


"Josh Sides' Erotic City is a fascinating tour through the wide-open sexual history of a city that's never really gotten over its beginnings as a Gold Rush center of vice and high times, San Francisco. The Tenderloin, the Haight, the Castro, the Mission, and other colorful neighborhoods come alive. Most important, Sides examines the broad legacies of the sexual revolution from where it first flourished. The depth of scholarship, plus Sides' skill as an engaging writer, makes this necessary reading for anyone interested in how the sexual revolution has influenced urban life."--Bill Boyarsky, author of Big Daddy: Jesse Unruh and the Art of Power Politics


"Erotic City is a thrilling, page-turner about the sexual revolution in San Francisco. Digging deep into the very epicenter of the revolution, author Josh Sides reveals in fascinating detail the fault lines, the movers-and-shakers, and the survivors and victims of this profound social conflagration-and, through his lively prose and original research, sets off a few temblors of his own."--Martin Meeker, author of Contacts Desired: Gay and Lesbian Communications and Community, 1940s-1970s


"Challenging the idea that race relations alone explain postwar urban transformation, Josh Sides artfully and comprehensively explores San Francisco's vibrant but always contested history of sex radicalism. In doing so, Sides illustrates the integral role sexual politics played in the development of postwar US cities. With an eye to San Francisco's function as a potent and national symbol of sexual excess, Sides' insightfully argues that the emergent sexual cultures that underlie postwar urban transformations are not specific to San Francisco but, rather, part of every metropolitan city's claim to progressive and neoliberal cosmopolitanism."--Nan Alamilla Boyd, author of Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco


"Erotic City offers numerous fascinating anecdotes in clearprose with fun photographs, making it appropriate for undergraduate surveys, as well as specialists in urban and sexuality studies. From the Victorian vice district into the new century of the Internet, Sides chornicles a city where sexual desire marched on."--Pacific Historical Review


"Highly recommended." --GLBT Roundtable of the American Library Association


"With an engaging writing style and inherently interesting topic, Josh Sides takes on the question of how San Francisco 'became an internationally renowned bastion of sexual libertinism."--Contemporary Sociology


"A treasure trove of information and interpretation that contributes important new perspectives on the history of sexuality and marriage."--Journal of Social History

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