At the same time, artists like Lou Reed, Blondie, and the Ramones were exploring taboo sides of sexuality, with lyrics about turning tricks and gay sex to BDSM-themed odes. But it wasn’t just their lyrical content that offered an alternative to the heteronormative encounters shown in mainstream porn, then reaching its peak chic phase. Sexuality penetrated every aspect of punk, from its messaging to its lifestyle. Punk stars modeled for centerfolds; others worked as phone-sex operators, or, like Dee Dee Ramone, hustled on street corners. Sex work allowed punks to live on society’s margins, which, in turn, granted them the freedom to be punks.
“They’d rather give or receive a blowjob than go work in an accountant’s office,” Goldman said. Sex was about “really trying to own your life.”
Among many examples of titillating artwork included in the show is a blown-up cover of the Slits’s debut album, Cut. It features the three female band members sans shirts and smiles, their breasts covered in mud. It’s sexual but not sexy, running counter to the marketing of much promotional material for women artists of the time. An Adam Ant concert poster features pictures of genitals cut from medical books, turning the maxim “sex sells” on its head. Instead of objectifying the band, they objectify the viewer’s base instincts.