Travel Sex in the 1970s – Detroit: A Young Guide to the City

By Pickup Culture

Travel guides and PUA advice in the 1970s


Very few travel guides today will tell you how to pick up girls, let alone the best lines and approaches to help get into their pants.  That’s what the internet is for, after all.  You can do no worse than buying Roosh V’s travel guides, for instance, but you won’t discover the best pick up venues and customs of the local womenfolk from books in your local Borders or from reading magazines at the airport.

But if you were going on holiday back in the 1970s you might encounter advice on picking up girls in more ‘respectable’ travel guides, alongside information on holiday resorts, cheap places to eat and even how to get a job.  As I mentioned in my last post on the history of pick up and seduction, the practice of picking up women for casual sex became ‘a thing’ in itself – a cultural practice – in the 1970s.  Without the influence of feminism in the early part of the decade, there was considerably less judgement about how men and women could seduce each other at singles bars, swingers clubs or through chance encounters on the street.

Even a place like Detroit, now a shadow of a city made famous through motown and the once thriving automobile industry, was seen as a place where attractive women were abundant, and waiting to be picked up.  Sheldon Annis’ Detroit: A Young Guide to the City (1970) does a great job in selling Detroit as a destination full of culture, interesting places to go, societies and organisations to join, people to meet and women to seduce.

It’s an excellent example of the growing acceptability of pick up culture in the 1970s, an acceptability that developed with women’s liberation but without the moralising that later came with feminism.

The demographics and ‘The Ritual’

As a bustling destination on the rise, the book covers so many different facets of the city – the history, famous buildings, places to eat, and the many different migrant groups scattered across the suburbs.  These places and cultures are intended to appeal to an important ‘breed of cat’: the ‘young professionals’ such as engineers, managers, accountants, lawyers and the like, all ‘coming to the clutches of automobile land by the promise of a job with a “future” (spelled M-O-N-E-Y).’


No matter how middle-class, educated or uneducated these people were, The Guide tells us that they all had one thing in common – they liked to meet people of the opposite sex.  But where does the traveler find these people?  Bars are the obvious place to start:

You are […] a lean, hungry, horny, prowling bachelor of either sex.  Well, you’re not alone – unless you choose to be.  Every weekend thousands and thousands of young unpaired Detroiters celebrate en masse.  They come home from work about five o’clock, eat supper, and cleanse themselves.  They sprinkle oils, liquids, lotions, potions, salves, scents, and ointments on their bodies and then carefully select robes, scarves, banners, and ribbons to drape across their properly anointed limbs.  Then they cast themselves into the current that flows through the myriad of singles bars.

Pick up is more of a philosophy in the book, treated with the reverence and good humor it deserves.  Advice on meeting women is just a small section covered by The Guide, and if you already have good skills and a sense of style it’s a section you can just skip through:

Some people don’t need guidebooks.  They arrive on the scene with looks, manners, connections, and letters of credit augmented by a wardrobe tailored in European capitals.  They don’t practice one-liners or walk up to absolute strangers saying, “Pardon me, haven’t we met before.”  If that is you, you’ll have a good time in Detroit.

This is the mark of a good city – how well people dress, how well they talk, and how well they … well … pick up.

‘If the music make you move…’

Back in 1971 Isaac Hayes sang these famous words: ‘If the music make you move, ‘cus you can really groove, then groove on’.  The Guide captures this ‘do your thing’ sentiment nicely, and all that that entailed in terms of lifestyle – and not just the sexual side either.  It was advice given to swingers, liberals and conservatives, young and old, male and female.  If you have faith, go to church; if its politics that you enjoy then go off and join the Young Dems or Republicans.


Ever the lady’s man in the 70s, Isaac Hayes starring in the 1974 Blaxploitation film Truck Turner

The important thing was just getting out there and enjoying the city: ‘Go by yourself.  Go looking happy, interesting, friendly, mysterious alluring, rich, freaky, sensuous, your down-home self; but go.’  Pick up was a normal part of many young people’s lives, alongside politics, stamp collecting and any other hobby or pastime that interested the young:

Go to conferences.  Stop in any of the big hotels and see what’s conferring.  Detroit, in the throes of urban blight, is always conferring.  Become an expert.  Can you speak?  Give speeches.  Can you not speak?  Get on your feet and vigorously object to all that has been said.  It’s an outrage.  Someone will come over during the coffee hour to tell you how much (s)he (dis)agrees.

A great tongue-in-cheek swipe at the rising political activism of the day, going to a conference may have been the place to get your voice heard.  But it also could have been a place to pick up a hot, politically-minded young woman.  The two things weren’t mutually exclusive.

In the 1970s it was quite possible to meet women in a bar, just as much as it was (sometimes encouraged) to date a secretary from your work.  Sexual discrimination laws hadn’t come into such force then, but today any discussion of sexual opportunism outside of the sanctioned scripts of the nightclub one night stand or a Tinder hook-up might be considered dangerous to today’s single man.

Singles clubs, and ‘the rules’ of pick up

Singles clubs were a much more accepted part of public life, with The Guide advertising party lines and numbers for people to organise meet ups.  But this ‘pick up community’ did have its limitations, being that it was very white and middle class: ‘They live in suburbs or in downtown enclaves.  They tend to part their hair where they’re supposed to; they like to drink; and they take Hugh Hefner seriously.’

Not everyone fitted the bill for these discrete meet ups.  ‘But let’s say you’re not a joiner.  You don’t like classical music, you’re not a Maltese-American, you don’t like motorcycles, and political activity bores you’.  Whoever you were, as a traveler in Detroit, you could still meet, date and have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.  But to do so, you needed to know the rules.  This included not just understanding the best places to take your date, but also the more universal ‘principles’ of female attraction.  This includes knowing when to ask a girl out:

It is the rules that give the game its respectability.  For example: a girl, appropriately accompanied by a female friend would be considered perfectly within bounds of singles morality to give out her phone number to a young gentleman on a Friday night – but never on a Tuesday.  A good girl just wouldn’t. After all, NO ONE goes to singles bars on a Tuesday.  And certainly, for God sakes, not on a Monday.  Wednesday, however, is almost as good a night as Friday, which is the best.  Thursday is a so-so night, and no self-respecting girl would be caught out alone on a Saturday night.  She’ll watch television, write a letter to her mother, bite her nails, or order a pizza and talk to her room-mate; but she won’t go out without a date.

As many a PUA knows, dating a girl – whether it is in New York, Dallas or Detroit – is all about timing.  Once the rituals of the workaday week are understood, the next important step in The Guide’s PUA advice is deciding on where to take her.  To avoid worrying about being mugged, avoid Saturday night first dates in the city:

Defuse the strain of the situation by going out during the day instead.  She’ll less likely be tired, have a headache, be frightened of crime in the streets, aggressive first dates, and drunk drivers.  Saturday morning is the best time.  You can get things rolling with a breakfast steak at Butcher’s Inn or fried matzoh at Samuel Brothers followed by shopping at Eastern Market.  You’d be surprised how fast you get to know someone while haggling with a farmer over a bushel of pomegranates.  And after you’ve packed all your pomegranates, cantaloupes, honeycombs, and cabbages into your car, drive over to the Taj Perfume Company, which is a bit to the right on Gratiot.  For about $2 apiece you can cover yourselves with enough lotions, scents, aphrodisiacs, oils, and body powders.

Bookstores in the city, going for a swim, betting on the horses, visiting the zoo or ice fishing on Anchor Bay are some more very creative suggestions for first dates in Detroit.


The Eastern Market was the place to take your girl in the 1970s

It’s important to remember that Detroit: A Young Guide to the City was not a book about dating per se, but was a guide book that contained advice about picking up girls because that was a normal part of enjoying life in a big city.  Pick up advice was a way of promoting the city for the 1970s tour guide.  It’s difficult to imagine today’s lavishly-created booklets for Chinese tourists, backpackers and visitors on how to meet girls (and boys) from your local library.

Advice for boys, and girls

As I mentioned in my last post about sexual behavior in the 1970s, attitudes towards pick up culture were much more egalitarian in the 1970s than they are today.  Advice could be given to both men and women, and men weren’t demonised if they acted like playboys or PUAs.  The Guide rightly assumes that most of the picking up is done by the young men, but that doesn’t mean to say that young women are excluded from getting good pick up advice either.

Adams encourages them to go out and have a good time, even though they might face a different set of challenges than men in the sexual market place.  If women were to get used to the idea of getting picked up by a stranger, as they were increasingly asked to do in the 1970s, then they needed a little encouragement:

For women: If this is all unfamiliar to you but you’re game, it will still be tough.  In addition to the usual raking yourself over the coals in front of the mirror, there are a million What If? propositions that present themselves.  What if some sleazy creep starts talking to me?  A lech, a leech, or a leper?  What about a drunk or a kook or a clod?  What if Mr. Wonderful does walk in?  Is he sincere?  Is he really married?  Is he interested in the real me … or my body … or my money … or my friend who I came with?  Or what if NO ONE EVER TRIES TO PICK ME UP?

It is difficult.  But of course you always have the option of a firm but polite No.

And this is all very sensible advice, but not something that you’d read today’s mass market guides – for travel or lifestyle.   Despite how accurate that scenario might be portrayed in women’s magazines and rom-coms, of women’s hypergamous doubt when dating a man, it would be seen as patronising and sexist in the context of mainstream advice for women today.  From this example, it’s clear that by the early 1970s feminism hadn’t yet created a space for the Modern Independent Woman to strike out against the more feminine forms of power that some women still enjoyed.  The fact that women can just say ‘no’ is an irony lost on those Modern Independent Women we call feminists today.

Travel, pick up and self-growth

In many ways, narratives of travel entail an element of personal growth.  This is certainly conveyed through the Eat Pray Love paradigm for women, just as it might have been in the Western or action movies for men.

Separation from home is a defining part of masculinity – being separated from the maternal caregiver, exploring the world, whether it is through Aboriginal walkabout or business trips overseas, men grow through exploration, challenge and engagement with the world.

Sheldon Adams’ Detroit: A Young Guide to the City shows how travel and sex were an ordinary part of masculine identity in the 1970s.  Partly bathing in the baby boomer prosperity of the 1960s, the book is a great illustration of how pick up culture was just another part of society, a so-called ‘cultured’ society at that.

Alongside the joys of eating out, exploring the town and meeting women, the advice is simple and timeless: ‘Do the things you like, not the things you think you’re supposed to do on a date.  Detroit – at times – can be a joy.’


Now that’s a philosophy worth taking anywhere, particularly when you consider what can happen to a place in just 40 years!

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