The depiction of sexual intercourse in comics has changed somewhat over the years during the development of the medium. Comics can be said to derive some of their format from many earlier forms of fiction, one of which was the Tijuana Bible. The Bibles often took the same format as newspaper strips but usually dealt with the sexual escapades of its main characters. As these were not published above ground, the creators were not concerned with copyrights and often incorporated some real comic strip characters. Tijuana Bibles were popular from the 1920s until the 1960s.
Although Superman is widely considered to be the first superhero, comics existed before his introduction and many of them dealt with sexual themes. When Superman came on the scene, along with (Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Captain America) the popularity of these characters resulted in a market saturation of superhero comics, ushering in what is commonly known as the golden age of comics. These comics were generally aimed at a youthful audience and thus the depiction of sex was all but gone.
Despite the relatively innocent aspect of these early years, Dr. Fredric Wertham published The Seduction of the Innocent, which made a number of mostly groundless assertions against the comic industry. Wertham claimed that the depravity depicted in some of the crime and horror comics published during the late 40s and early 50s had the ability to warp the minds of youngsters which directly resulted in high incidences of youth crime. Included among this depravity was Wertham's insinuation that certain characters were promoting abnormal sexual lifestyles. Batman and Robin were depicted as homosexuals, Wonder Woman was both a symbol for bondage and a promoter of lesbian relationships (due to her connection with the Holliday Girls.) The Seduction of the Innocent turned out to have wide ranging effects on the comics industry as concerned parents and panicky legislators sought to investigate the alleged problems associated with the medium. The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings in 1954 which focused directly on comic books caused a panic with the major comics publishers of the time, and they decided to form a regulatory board themselves rather than face government censorship.
This resulted in the Comics Code Authority which came into effect in 1954. This dealt with sex under various articles:
- Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
- Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
- Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
- All characters shall be depicted in dress reasonably acceptable to society.
- Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
Marriage and sex
- Divorce shall not be treated humorously nor represented as desirable.
- Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
- Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honorable behavior shall be fostered. A sympathetic understanding of the problems of love is not a license for morbid distortion.
- The treatment of live-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage.
- Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.
- Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
- Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
This code was generally adhered to by the major comics publishers during the years which it was in place (it finally fell completely out of use in 2011). In the era of these comics sex became much more taboo. Even with the rise of romance comics in the 1950s, references to sex were never made. Instead they focused on more traditional concepts of love and relationships. During the 1960s some comics creators came to challenge popular notions of sex and relationships. Drawing from a burgeoning readership on college campuses and within the counter culture creators such as Howard Cruze and Robert Crumb dealt explicitly with sex and challenged then current notions of what constituted a "normal" relationship. Cracks began to appear in the mainstream comics too as creators began to push the boundaries of what they could get away with under the Comics Code. In the 1970s Frank Miller depicted Black Widow and Daredevil about to have sex by showing them go into a room with the lights off after some suggestive dialogue. This type of circumvention of the code became more commonplace as more creators pushed against its restrictive bylaws.
Over time the comics code became less and less adhered to, and sex gradually became an acceptable act to depict, especially as comics veered more towards an adult fan base. Unlike the other illicit acts which the Comics Code had made illegal (such as the depiction of drug use), sex in comics was rarely depicted with an underlying message or a caveat against it. Instead it was generally used to advance a plot or create tension among characters.
The loss of virginity is a common theme for teenage characters.