The Birth of “Elvis the Pelvis”: Reflections on Sex & Sexuality

On June 5th 1956 a young relatively unknown singer named Elvis Presley appeared on ‘The Milton Berle Show’ at NBC’s Hollywood studio. This wasn’t his first appearance on TV, but his performance would become legendary. During this appearance he sang, ‘I Want You, I Need You, I Love You’ before slowing the tempo down for ‘Hound Dog’, gyrating his hips outrageously with accentuated energetic, body movements. Presley’s gyrations created a storm of controversy and newspaper critics were outraged.  Ben Gross of the ‘New York Daily News’ said “…popular music has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley … Elvis, who rotates his pelvis … gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos”.  It was these comments that led to the moniker “Elvis the Pelvis” a term he disliked yet lived with for the rest of his career.

The following year Elvis appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and this was a huge deal.  It was America’s favourite family variety show and it was during this show a bizarre act of censorship was introduced. Elvis was deliberately filmed only from waist up only. The idea being that if the American public did not see his pelvis moving, they would be safe from any indecency.

Reflecting on this story we may initially wonder what all the fuss was about.  We could argue that we live in a media dominated world, fed on a diet of sex scandals, online pornography and Miley Cyrus swinging on her wrecking ball suggestively licking lump hammers therefore little shocks us anymore. However, in conservative post-war 1950s, where the world’s top singers were Bing Crosby and Dean Martin, Elvis moving and dancing in a sensuous manner was seen as very shocking.

I felt within this story there was a deeper theme emerging towards our relationship to sex and sexuality. The area of the pelvis in the body is a key intersection that connects our legs and lower body to our spine and upper body.  The pelvic region is also the home for our reproductive organs. When Elvis gyrated his hips and moved his pelvis in a sensuous manner he symbolically expressed his sexuality and drew focus to the area of his genitals.

Society’s views on sexuality have changed throughout history and are continuously evolving. Each society has different norms about sex, the age of sexual consent, homosexuality and other sexual behaviours. Depending on family and cultural upbringing, from an early age we have received messages about what is acceptable in relation to sex and our sexuality and what is not.

I have made a conscious choice when in my role as a yoga teacher, when leading practices such as savasana and body scan meditations to include the area of the genitals when bringing people’s awareness to their bodies. I do this to acknowledge in a holistic context that we are sexual beings. Often in spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation there can be a tendency towards transcendence that can lead to a desire to repress or cut off from aspects of ourselves such as our sexuality and our relationship to our bodies. This can lead to a kind of censorship as seen on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in which we take on the view that certain aspects of our bodies are offensive to our morality or decency. We can then become bound by the conditioned beliefs of the culture we live in and we are not free. What we do on an external level as a society or culture is a mirrored reflection of how we might view ourselves on an inner level.

We may have certain thoughts, feelings and images that arise in our experience that we deem unacceptable and this may leave us feeling uncomfortable. By coming into relationship to the whole of ourselves and allowing for a healthy and positive view of bodies and our sexuality we are able to experience a greater sense of freedom in our lives and in our relationship to the world.