On the surface, Dr. Strangelove is totally PG. There aren't any steamy sex scenes, no gratuitous shower scenes, and the closest thing to a side boob is Miss Scott's brief bikini scene. Compared to what we see on network TV these days, Dr. Strangelove is about as sexy as an episode of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood".
But think symbolism, Shmoopers. Strangelove has been seen as an allegory of sex "from foreplay to explosion" (source). One critic sums it up by suggesting that the film implies that:
[…] global military power rests in the hands of a group of overgrown adolescent males who are both motivated and inhibited by their sexual insecurities. For these men, the hydrogen bomb becomes a symbol of orgasmic potency and sexual release).(Source)
Strangelove is loaded with sexual imagery, mostly phallic symbols. You know, those cylindrical things that penetrate and explode. The opening sequence of B-52s being fueled in midair looks an awful lot like planes having sex.
And notice the background song? "Try a Little Tenderness."
Then, of course, there's the famous image of Kong riding the bomb. We figure it's no coincidence that the bomb looks an awful lot like a giant penis sticking between Kong's legs. (The airmen have written "Dear John" and "Hi there" on those bombs.) And we can't forget the series of massive explosions that destroy the earth, which, in a certain light, seem about as orgasmic as a thing can be (too bad they're orgasms of death).
It's easy to see the sexual imagery, but what's it supposed to mean? Is there more to this, or is it the filmmaking equivalent to drawing dirty pictures on bathroom walls? Well, some critics think that the film is trying to show all this Cold War posturing and build up of nuclear arms as a massive case of (to use the popular term) a penis-measuring contest. The whole thing is about males not feeling sexually potent or virile, and generally trying to prove how tough they are. Can't get more stereotypically masculine than blowing stuff up, right?
The scene where Gen. Ripper explains to Mandrake the first time he ever became aware of the "Commies" draining his precious bodily fluids seems to support that idea. Check this out:
RIPPER: Well, I ah...I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love. Yes, a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily, I was able to interpret these feelings correctly: loss of essence.
Seems like a lot of trouble could've been avoided if somebody had just told Ripper that it's totally natural to feel a little tired after sex. Instead of dealing with this in a rational way, however, Ripper develops a crazy theory about communists draining out "precious bodily fluids" and decides they have to be destroyed. It's also probably no coincidence that Ripper is named after Jack the Ripper, the infamous murderer of prostitutes who had some weird sexual proclivities. Like murdering prostitutes.
Ripper's main antagonists, according to this theory, have to be viewed as unmanly. So we have President Merkin Muffley, who's opposed to the war and portrayed as unmanly; he's named after a slang term for female pubic hair. And here's Mandrake, whose name refers to a plant that has sexual significance in folklore and who's been symbolically castrated:
MANDRAKE: I've got a gammy leg. Oh dear. Gone. Shot off.
Let's not even get started on "Turgidson." Or the fact that Laputa, the target of the bomb, means "the whore" in Spanish. Or all the cigar smoking and gum chewing. Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar. Sounds like sexual allegory to us.