In her 1985 essay 'The Virginity of Astronauts', Vivian Sobchack argues that science fiction film has persistently refused to deal with human eroticism, exiling sexuality to the extent that it manifests only as unconscious pathology. The classic icons of the genre – monsters and mutants, alien invasion and possession, technological mastery or impotence – emerge in her analysis as neurotic symptoms, materializations of the forces of repression that lurk beneath the antiseptic surfaces of its futuristic sets and the Ken-doll banality of its space-jockey heroes. Her study is devoted largely to classic sf films of the 1950s, and one wonders how she might apply her psychoanalytic methods to the more risqué movies of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Barbarella (1968) and Flesh Gordon (1974). Perhaps she would view such films as an epochal 'return of the repressed', an explosion into conscious awareness of the hidden libidinal energies that have always animated the genre. Capitalizing on the freer climate for sexual expression within contemporary popular culture, such Space Age sex farces might be seen as traducing the chasteness and moral seriousness of traditional sf cinema, deriving much of their comic charge precisely from a counterpoint between the puritanical rectitude of 1950s-era sf and the decadent excesses of the youth counterculture.
In a review of the comic-book version of Barbarella in the March 1967 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Judith Merril playfully defended the 'valid modern phenomenon' of the sexy single girl, as incarnated in the eponymous heroine, over against the 'under-sexed high-minded Boy Scout of the space patrol' one might normally expect to find in similar sf stories ('Books' 3/67, 25). Yet she acknowledged that hers was probably a minority taste, at least among traditional fans, for whom Barbarella's cheerful ribaldry might seem dreadfully unserious – or, as Merril winkingly implied, vaguely threatening to the adolescent