San Francisco arrived as a global sex mecca back in the 1970s, when polyamory was called “swinging,” marijuana was called “grass,” and waterbeds were the sexual status symbol. The new book Perfect Strangers: A Memoir of the Swinging ’70s captures this era in great detail through author Dorothy Freed’s firsthand accounts of casual sex with more than 100 disco-era San Francisco swingers from 1974-78.
SF Weekly caught up with Freed, now 73, to talk about a book that recalls graphic sex scenes from her early 30s in explicit detail.
“It’s primarily a memoir,” Freed says. “In the big orgy scene, there may or may not have been 86 people there. I didn’t do a head count.”
But Freed does detail a head count of the penises and the men attached to them in her conquest memoir, recalling each by name, astrological sign, cock shape, and the exact technique by which she’d fellated them. She was on a mission.
“I had sex with more than 100 men in four years, in an attempt to have a vaginal orgasm,” Freed admits, as the product of 1950s-era sex education that didn’t prepare her for the cock sizes she’d encounter, or the sexual workings of her own vagina.
“Only 25 percent of women can come from penile thrusting alone,” she says. “I was being asked to do something that very few women could do at all.”
Freed got up to speed quickly.
“I became a woman who could basically see a man’s cock through his clothes. I could see if it was curved, if it was small, if it was large,” she says, adding, “Fire signs are the largest, as a rule.”
This was a time when San Franciscans sought sexual guidance from astrology charts, the New Age movement, and big annual events like “Harmony’s Summer Solstice Party in the Castro.”
Many of the book’s details unwind at still-familiar locations, like the Cliff House, SFMOMA, and Cafe Flore, others at extinct spots from yesteryear, such as SoMA’s only co-ed bathhouse, Sutro Baths.
Good Vibes staff sexologist Dr. Carol Queen, who wrote the forward to Perfect Strangers, reminisces over this early-’70s era when the sexual freedoms of the gay freedom and LGBT movements spread into straight culture.
“Heterosexuals were getting in on free love and the ‘love the one you’re with’ culture, partly thanks to large advances in the technologies of contraception,” Queen tells SF Weekly. “Swinging, sometimes in those days known as ‘wife swapping,’ was one lifestyle available to anyone in a male-female couple. In fact, the overarching description of the swing community became The Lifestyle. That way you could discreetly check in about whether another couple knew about it without having to blurt out, ‘Hey, do you swing?’ ”
Freed’s book remembers all her 1970s partners — the nylons-under-the-pants fetish guy, the one who was obsessed with Herbal Fresh douching, and the fellow who realized he was a light angel after accidentally ingesting 60 hits of acid.
This memoir is still a moving, engaging litany of anecdotes that anyone who sleeps around can relate to, like hooking up as a single parent, explaining your late-night comings and goings to your kids, and the uncomfortable workplace ramifications of being known to have an extremely active sex life.
These uncomfortable side effects of sexual extracurriculars show that the trials and tribulations of the whole polyamory game are really nothing new. Swinging grandmas and grandpas went through the same things back in their day. But this was a different time, when your kids might answer your booty calls on the rotary phone and the two parties would actually have to make small talk.
Perfect Strangers: A Memoir of the Swinging ’70s is a fun, sexy, and compellingly readable romp you can bang out in two nights. The cultural details of 1970s San Francisco will arouse history buffs, and the blow-by-blow accounts of orgies make for solid literary smut. But what really hits close to home is seeing how our fair city still had that kinky and corrupting influence on new arrivals, even before many of us had arrived on this earth.
Perfect Strangers: A Memoir of the Swinging ’70s, available on Amazon on Kindle e-reader and in paperback.