Instead, hit songs of the past few years are more likely to refer to physical exhaustion, fitting the mellow, vulnerable phase of the cultural excitement cycle that we've entered, which is like a refractory period after the previous manic phase of the cycle during the first half of the decade.
But we still have memories of pop music being really salacious -- when was that, exactly? Not during the manic phase, as it turns out, but during the restless, warm-up phase just before it. That is when people are no longer in the refractory stage of being incapable of stimulation, and are again able to get excited -- but they're just getting warmed up and doing exercises, not really taking off into the next spike of the manic phase just yet.
Overt sexual references are part of the effort to shock people into activity as they're emerging from the vulnerable refractory phase. We noted in that overview post on the warm-up phase that dance crazes take over, as people want to get their bodies moving again, but are still getting used to not being mellow and emo. So they need color-by-numbers dance motions that everybody can learn easily, and all take part collectively in without standing out as an awkward individual. The Twist, the Hustle, the Running Man, the Cupid Shuffle, and so on.
Something similar is going on with these provocative references -- they're more like a pep rally well in advance of the actual game, to get people in the right mood. Innuendo would not really shock people awake -- they need unambiguous, highly charged slogans to take them out of their ordinary mindset, and put them into a more pumped-up mindset, in preparation for the upcoming manic phase. The cheerleaders at the pep rally don't say, "We're better than we were last time," but "We're number one!" They don't say, "Let's play our best," but "Fight fight fight, kill kill kill!"
One last observation before getting to the history: these overtly sexual songs are generally not what you would put on a "doing it" mix tape or playlist. Since they're mostly from the warm-up phase of the cycle, there's a mismatch between the highly charged lyrics and the just-waking-up vibe that the song gives off. It's understandable given the role they play in the cycle -- trying to shock people awake after they're coming out of a slumber. Still, when you go back and listen to them again, and you're not in that warm-up phase yourself, they sound more cheesy and goofy than they did at the time -- like, what was all the scandal about? Wait until you're in the warm-up phase again, and then they'll resonate more.
In looking over the history of the Billboard Year-end Hot 100 charts, I noted the titles that had a clear reference to sexual activity. It didn't have to refer to full-on intercourse, just physical intimacy -- and something beyond ordinary kissing. That excludes innuendo like using "loving" or "love" to refer to physical activity, since it has a plausible main reading of "feeling love toward someone". I included titles with pronouns whose meaning is unambiguous, like "Touch It". And I included figurative language if there was no ambiguity or double-entendre -- "Ring My Bell" is obviously not about a literal bell that she wants you to ring. But "I Was Made for Lovin' You," for example, allows plausible deniability, and was excluded.
The cultural excitement cycle lasts 15 years, with three phases of five years each, and those five-year chunks match up well with the first half and second half of the decades. The warm-up phases are the early '60s, late '70s, early '90s, and late '00s. Following them are the manic phases of the late '60s, early '80s, late '90s, and early '10s. Then the vulnerable refractory phases of the early '70s, late '80s, early '00s, and late '10s.
Here are the on-the-nose sexual song titles for each five-year period, listed by the first year of the period. The chart conveys the rise-and-fall pattern over time, with the titles legible if you click the image. An appendix at the end of this post lists them all in an easier-to-read text format, if you're curious what all the examples are. Two entries in the chart have "..." to keep the columns from getting too wide; see the Appendix for the full titles.
The first warm-up phase was the early '60s, but did not have any examples because before the '70s, overtly sexual pop culture was largely absent. That was the Great Compression norm of "reining it in" rather than the laissez-faire norm that replaced it in the '70s. If the performers themselves did not refrain from overt references, the censors would have stepped in -- they censored movies, comic books, and TV, why not also music?
Even when the Midcentury censorship began to give way in the late '60s, there still aren't many overt song titles -- only "Hanky Panky" -- because they were already in the mood by that time, being in the manic phase, and didn't need to get whacked over the head to wake up from their slumber.
Then after the refractory phase of the early '70s, overt titles hit a local peak in the late '70s. It was not only disco songs like "Ring My Bell" but soft rock songs like "Kiss You All Over". The '80s had few overtly sexual titles. We understand why not in the emo late '80s, but during the early '80s manic phase, they didn't need provocative lyrics to get them excited -- they already were "So Excited".
Coming out of the late '80s slump, the early '90s had the most sexual song titles of all. But then just as fast as everyone began complaining about these scandalous songs these days, salacious titles fell off a cliff during the late '90s and hit a nadir during the emo early '00s. During the next manic phase of the late '90s, everyone was already in a bouncy mood and didn't need waking up like they did in the early '90s.
There was another "Sexual Eruption" during the "Promiscuous" warm-up phase of the late '00s, the most recent of these peaks. The Britney Spears song "If U Seek Amy" is spoken as "F-U-C-K Me". It's not a clever double-entendre, since the context only allows one reading: "All the boys and all the girls want to If U Seek Amy". During the next manic phase of the early '10s, we see again the lack of need to wake people up -- they already are at that point -- and the continued absence during today's refractory phase. There are still two years left in this period, but we won't see a surge by then. Starting around 2020, though, these on-the-nose references will ramp up again.
Aside from the 15-year excitement cycle, we also see the 30-some year cycle of outgoing vs. cocooning social behavior, which closely tracks the rising vs. falling-crime cycle. So the peaks get higher from the late '70s to the early '90s, and then a lower peak in the late '00s. Generally the outgoing and rising-crime climate is more intense and sexualized than the cocooning and falling-crime climate. The crime rate is bound to start its long rise again circa 2020, but it will only be beginning. So I don't think the next peak will be as big as the one from the early '90s, or perhaps even from the late '00s.
Related phenomenon from the original post on the warm-up phase, dance song titles with salacious body part references:
Before the laissez-faire era of "if it feels good, do it" that began in the 1970s, the dance craze period of the early '60s didn't have salacious body part references, but there was "Finger Poppin' Time," "Snap Your Fingers," and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (not specifically about dancing, but that's the most likely context). By late '70s, there were more direct references: "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty," "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," and "Shake Your Groove Thing". From the early '90s, "Baby Got Back" and "Rump Shaker". And from the late 2000s, "My Humps," "Hips Don't Lie," and "Ms. New Booty".
Feel Like Makin' Love
Let's Get It On
Ring My Bell
Kiss You All Over
Do You Wanna Make Love
Feel Like Makin' Love
Making Love Out of Nothing at All
Touch Me (I Want Your Body)
Like a Virgin
I Want Your Sex
I'll Make Love to You
Your Body's Callin'
Stroke You Up
Bump n' Grind
Knockin' da Boots
I Touch Myself
Touch Me (All Night Long)
Rub You the Right Way
All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You
I Wanna Sex You Up
Touch Me, Tease Me
Sex and Candy
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Get It On Tonite
If U Seek Amy
Bust It Baby
Touch My Body
Get It Shawty
I Wanna Fuck You
Grind with Me
Love Me Harder