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The sexual revolution encompasses the changes in social thought and codes of behaviour related to sexuality throughout the Western world. In general use, the term "sexual liberation" is used to describe a socio-political movement, witnessed from the 1960s into the 1970s. During the 1960s, shifts in regards to how society viewed sexuality began to take place, heralding a period of de-conditioning in some circles away from old world antecedents, and developing new codes of sexual behaviour, many of which are now integrated into the mainstream.
Celibate hippies were not critical of others who chose the paths of âfree loveâ and âsexual liberalisationâ. In the late 1970s and 1980s newly won sexual freedoms were exploited by big business looking to capitalise on a more open society, with the advent of public pornography and hardcore.
While the extent to which the sexual revolution involved major changes in sexual behaviour is debated, many observers suggest that the main change was not that people had more sex or different types of sex. It was simply that they talked about it more openly than previous generations had done - which in itself can be described as revolutionary by supportive historians.
The sexual revolution can be seen as an outgrowth of a process in recent history, though its roots may be traced back as far as the Enlightenment (Marquis de Sade) and the Victorian era (Algernon Charles Swinburne's scandalous Poems and Ballads of 1866). It was a development in the modern world which saw the significant loss of power by the values of a morality rooted in the Christian tradition and the rise of permissive societies, of attitudes that were accepting of greater sexual freedom and experimentation that spread all over the world and were captured in the phrase free love.
The period of Cold War puritanism, some say,[who?] led to a cultural rebellion in the form of the "sexual revolution". Despite this, however, before the 1920s the Victorian era was much more conservative than even the 1930s and 1950s. Due to the invention of TV and the increasingly wide use of it in the 1950s, a vast majority of Americans had television by the 1960s.
This mass communication device, along with other media outlets such as radio and magazines, could broadcast information in a matter of seconds to millions of people, while only a few wealthy people would control what millions of people would watch. Some have now theorised that perhaps these media outlets helped spread new ideas among the masses.
The mass media's broadcasting of new ideas to the population was radical, and during the late 1960s the counterculture was becoming well known on radio, newspapers, TV and other media outlets.
One suggested trigger for the modern revolution was the development of the birth control pill in 1960, which gave women access to easy and reliable contraception. Another likely factor was vast improvements in obstetrics, which greatly reduced the number of women who die in childbirth and thus increases the life expectancy of women.
Other data suggest[weasel words] the "revolution" was more directly influenced by the financial independence gained by many women who entered the workforce during and after World War II, making the revolution more about individual equality rather than biological independence. Many people[how many?], however, feel that one specific cause cannot be selected for this large phenomenon. One seminal feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, was particularly adamant that economical equality would play an integral part in a more positive relationship between the sexes.
The Industrial Revolution during the nineteenth century and the growth of science and technology, medicine and health care, resulted in better contraceptives being manufactured. Advances in the manufacture and production of rubber made possible the design and production of condoms that could be used by hundreds of millions of men and women to prevent pregnancy at little cost.
Advances in steel production and immunology made abortion readily available and less dangerous. Advances in chemistry, pharmacology, and knowledge of biology, and human physiology led to the discovery and perfection of the first oral contraceptives also known as "The Pill". Purchasing an aphrodisiac and various sex toys became "normal". Sado-masochism ("S&M") gained popularity, and "no-fault" unilateral divorce became legal and easier to obtain in many countries during the 1960s and 1970s.
All these developments took place alongside and combined with an increase in world literacy and decline in religious observances. Old values such as the biblical notion of "be fruitful and multiply" (thought to be applicable in modern times despite the opinion even of 1st millennium Church Fathers that it's already fulfilled) were cast aside as people continued to feel alienated from the past and adopted the life-styles of modernizing westernized cultures.
Another thing that helped bring about this more modern revolution of sexual freedom was the writing of Herbert Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich, who took the philosophy of Karl Marx and other such philosophers, and mixed together this chant for freedom of sexual rights and release in modern culture.
When speaking of sexual revolution, historians make a distinction between the first and the second sexual revolution. In the first sexual revolution (1870-1910), Victorian morality lost its universal appeal. However, it did not lead to the rise of a "permissive society". Exemplary for this period is the rise and differentiation in forms of regulating sexuality.
Doctor Sigmund Freud of Vienna believed human behavior was motivated by unconscious drives, primarily by the libido or "Sexual Energy". Freud proposed to study how these unconscious drives were repressed and found expression through other cultural outlets. He called his therapy Psychoanalysis.
While Freud's ideas were ignored and embarrassing to Viennese society, his work provoked a serious challenge to Victorian prudishness by providing the groundwork for the ideas of sex drive and infant sexuality. Freud's theory of psychosexual development proposed a model for the development of sexual orientations and desires; children emerged from the Oedipus complex, a sexual desire towards their parent of the opposite sex.
According to Freud's theory, in the earliest stage in a child's psychosexual development, the oral stage, the mother's breast became the formative source of all later erotic sensation. This new philosophy was the new intellectual and cultural underpinning ideology of the new age of sexual frankness. Nonetheless, much of his research is widely discredited by professionals in the field.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Alfred C. Kinsey published two surveys of modern sexual behaviour. In 1948, Alfred C. Kinsey and his co-workers, responding to a request by female students at Indiana University for more information on human sexual behaviour, published the book Sexual behaviour in the Human Male. They followed this five years later with Sexual behaviour in the Human Female. These books began a revolution in social awareness of, and public attention given to, human sexuality.
It is said that at the time, public morality severely restricted open discussion of sexuality as a human characteristic, and specific sexual practices, especially sexual behaviours that did not lead to procreation. Kinsey's books contained studies about controversial topics such as the frequency of homosexuality, and the sexuality of minors ages two weeks to thirteen years. Scientists working for Kinsey reported data which led to the conclusion that people are capable of sexual stimulation from birth.
In the United States in the years 1959 through 1966, bans on three books with explicit erotic content were challenged and overturned. (also in the United Kingdom starting with the 1959 Obscene Publications act and reaching a peak with the LCL court case)
Prior to this time, a patchwork of regulations (as well as local customs and vigilante actions) governed what could and could not be published. For example the United States Customs Service "banned" James Joyce's Ulysses by refusing its importation into the USA. The Roman Catholic Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum carried great weight among Catholics and amounted to an effective and instant boycott of any book appearing on it. Boston's Watch and Ward Society, a largely Protestant creation inspired by Anthony Comstock, made "banned in Boston" a national by-word.
Lawyer Charles Rembar sued the New York city postmaster, and won in New York and then on federal appeal. In 1965, Tom Lehrer was to celebrate the erotic appeal of the novel in his cheerfully satirical song "Smut" with the couplet "Who needs a hobby like tennis or philately?/I've got a hobby: rereading Lady Chatterley."
Henry Miller's 1934 novel, Tropic of Cancer, had explicit sexual passages and could not be published in the United States; an edition was printed by the Obelisk Press in Paris and copies were smuggled into the United States. (As of 2003[update], used book dealers asked $7500 and up for copies of this edition.)
In 1961, Grove Press issued a copy of the work, and lawsuits were brought against dozens of individual booksellers in many states for selling it. The issue was ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Miller v. California. In this decision, the court defined obscenity by what is now called the Miller test.
In 1965, Putnam published John Cleland's 1750 novel Fanny Hill. This was the turning point, because Charles Rembar appealed a restraining order against it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. In Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U.S. 413, the court ruled that sex was "a great and mysterious motive force in human life", and that its expression in literature was protected by the First Amendment.
Only books primarily appealing to "prurient interest" could be banned. In a famous phrase, the court said that obscenity is "utterly without redeeming social importance" â meaning that, conversely, any work with redeeming social importance was not obscene, even if it contained isolated passages that could "deprave and corrupt" some readers.
This decision was especially significant, because, of the three books mentioned, Fanny Hill has by far the largest measure of content that seems to appeal to prurient interest, and the smallest measures of literary merit and "redeeming social importance". Whereas an expurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover had actually once been published, no expurgated version of Fanny Hill has ever been (and it is difficult even to imagine what such a work could possibly consist of). By permitting the publication of Fanny Hill, the Supreme Court set the bar for any ban so high that Rembar himself called the 1966 decision "the end of obscenity."
The publication of renowned anthropologist and student of Franz Boas, Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa brought the sexual revolution to the public scene, as her thoughts concerning sexual freedom pervaded academia. Published in 1928, Mead's ethnography focused on the psychosexual development of adolescent children on the island of Samoa.
She recorded that their adolescence was not in fact a time of "storm and stress" as Erikson's stages of development suggest, but that the sexual freedom experienced by the adolescents actually permitted them an easy transition from childhood to adulthood.
Her findings were later criticized by anthropologist Derek Freeman who later investigated her claims of promiscuity and conducted his own ethnography of Samoan society. Mead called for a change in suppression of sexuality in America and her work directly resulted in the advancement of the sexual revolution in the 1930s.
The court decisions that legalised the publication of Fanny Hill had an even more important effect: freed from fears of legal action, nonfiction works about sex and sexuality started to appear.
In 1962, Helen Gurley Brown published Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman's Guide to Men, Careers, the Apartment, Diet, Fashion, Money and Men. The title itself would have been unthinkable a decade earlier. (In 1965 she went on to transform Cosmopolitan magazine into a life manual for young career women.)
In 1969, Joan Garrity, identifying herself only as "J.", published The Way to Become the Sensuous Woman, replete with everything from exercises for improving the dexterity of the tongue, to how to have anal sex.
The same year saw the appearance of Dr. David Reuben's book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). Despite the dignity of Reuben's medical credentials, this book was light-hearted in tone. For many readers, it delivered quite literally on its promise. Despite the book's one-sided and prejudiced statements about gay men, one middle-aged matron from a small town in Wisconsin was heard to say "Until I read this book, I never actually knew precisely what it was that homosexuals did".
In 1970, the Boston Women's Health Collective published Women and their Bodies (which became far better known a year later under its subsequent title, Our Bodies, Ourselves). Not an erotic treatise or sex manual, the book nevertheless included frank descriptions of sexuality, and contained illustrations that could have caused legal problems just a few years earlier.
In 1975 Will McBride's Zeig Mal!, Show Me!, written with psychologist Helga Fleichhauer-Hardt for children and their parents, appeared in bookstores on both sides of the Atlantic. Appreciated by many parents for its frank depiction of pre-adolescents discovering and exploring their sexuality, it scandalised others and eventually it was pulled from circulation in the United States and some other countries. It was followed up in 1989 by Zeig Mal Mehr! ("Show Me More!").
These books had a number of things in common. They were factual and, in fact, educational. They were available to a mainstream readership. They were stacked high on the tables of discount bookstores, they were book club selections, and their authors were guests on late-night talk shows. People were seen reading them in public.
In a respectable middle-class home, Playboy magazine and Fanny Hill might be present but would usually be kept out of sight. But at least some of these books might well be on the coffee table. Most important, all of these books acknowledged and celebrated the conscious cultivation of erotic pleasure.
The contribution of such books to the sexual revolution cannot be overstated. Earlier books such as What Every Girl Should Know (Margaret Sanger, 1920) and A Marriage Manual (Hannah and Abraham Stone, 1939) had broken the utter silence in which many people, women in particular, had grown up.
By the 1950s, in the United States, it had finally become rare for women to go into their wedding nights literally not knowing what to expect. But the open discussion of sex as pleasure, and descriptions of sexual practices and techniques, was truly revolutionary. There were practices which, perhaps, some had heard of. But many adults did not know for sure whether they were realities, or fantasies found only in pornographic books.
Were they "normal", or were they examples of psychopathology? (When we use words such as fellatio we are still using the terminology of Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis). Did married ladies do these things, or only prostitutes? The Kinsey report revealed that these practices were, at the very least, surprisingly frequent. These other books asserted, in the words of a 1980 book by Dr. Irene Kassorla, that Nice Girls Do â And Now You Can Too.
As birth control become more available, men and women gained unprecedented control of their reproductive capabilities. The 1916 invention of thin, disposable latex condoms for men led to widespread affordable condoms by the 1930s; the demise of the Comstock laws in 1936 set the stage for promotion of available effective contraceptives such as the diaphragm and cervical cap; the 1960s introduction of the IUD and oral contraceptives for women gave a sense of freedom from barrier contraception. Opposition of Churches (e.g. Humanae Vitae) led parallel movement of secularization and exile from religion.
In the United Kingdom the new generation growing up after the Second World War had grown tired of the rationing and austerity of the 1940s and 1950s and the Victorian values of their elders, so the 1960s were a time of rebellion against the fashions and social mores of the previous generation.
An early inkling of changing attitudes came in 1960, when the government of the day tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Penguin Books for obscenity, for publishing the D. H. Lawrence novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, which had been banned since the 1920s for its racy (for the time) content. The prosecution counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones famously stood in front of the jury and asked, in his closing statement: "Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?".
When the case collapsed, the novel went on to become a best seller, selling 2 million copies. The Pill became available free of charge on the National Health Service in the 1960s, at first restricted to married women, but early in the 1970s its availability was extended to all women.
Beginning in San Francisco in the mid 1960s, a new culture of "free love" emerged, with thousands of young people becoming "hippies" who preached the power of love and the beauty of sex as part of ordinary student life. This is part of a counterculture that exists to the present. By the 1970s it was acceptable for colleges to allow co-educational housing where male and female students mingled freely.
Free love continued in different forms throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, but its more assertive manifestations ended abruptly (or disappeared from public view) in the mid 1980s when the public first became aware of AIDS, a deadly sexually transmitted disease.
Swedish filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and Vilgot Sjöman contributed to sexual liberation with sexually themed films that challenged conservative international standards. The 1951 film Hon dansade en sommar (She Danced a Summer AKA One Summer of Happiness) starring Ulla Jacobsson and Folke Sundquist depicted scenes that were at the time considered too sexual, but by today's standards would be fairly mild.
This film, as well as Bergman's Sommaren med Monika (The Summer with Monika), caused an international uproar, not least in the US where the films were charged with violating standards of decency. Vilgot Sjöman's film I Am Curious (Yellow), also created an international uproar, but it was very popular in the United States. Another of his films, 491, highlighted homosexuality among other things. Kärlekens språk (The Language of Love) was an informative documentary about sex and sexual techniques that featured the first real act of sex in a mainstream film, and inevitably it caused intense debate around the world, including in the US.
From these films the concept of "the Swedish sin" (licentiousness) developed, even though Swedish society was at the time still fairly conservative regarding sex, and the international concept of Swedish sexuality was and is largely exaggerated. The films caused debate there as well. The films eventually helped the public's attitude toward sex progress, especially in Sweden and other northern European countries, which today tend to be more sexually liberal than others.
Explicit sex on screen and frontal nudity of men and women on stage became acceptable in many American and European countries, as the twentieth century ended. Special places of entertainment offering striptease and lap dancing proliferated. The famous Playboy Bunnies set a trend. Men came to be entertained by topless women at night-clubs which also hosted "peep shows."
Once heavily stigmatised, pre-marital sex became more widespread during the sexual revolution. The increased availability of birth control (and the quasi-legalisation of abortion in some places) helped reduce the chance that pre-marital sex would result in unwanted children. By the mid 1970s the majority of newly married American couples had experienced sex before marriage.
Politics in the USA has become intertwined with sexually related issues, called the "politics of sex". A woman's desire for an abortion pitted traditionalist Pro-Life activists against Pro-Choice activists permitting abortions.
Women and men who lived with each other without marriage sought "palimony" equal to the alimony. Teenagers assumed their right to a sexual life with whomever they pleased, and bathers fought to be topless or nude at beaches.
The fact that pornography was no longer stigmatised by the end of the 1980s, and more mainstream movies depicted sexual intercourse as entertainment, was indicative of how normalised sexual revolution had become in society. Magazines depicting nudity, such as the popular Playboy and Penthouse magazine, won some acceptance as mainstream journals, in which public figures felt safe expressing their fantasies.
Feminists have had mixed responses to pornography. Some figures in the feminist movement, such as Andrea Dworkin, challenged the depiction of women as objects in these pornographic magazines. Other feminists such as Betty Dodson went on to found the pro sex feminist movement in response to anti-pornography campaigns.
Counter forces such as Fraenkel (1992) say that the "sexual revolution", that the West supposedly experienced in the late 60s, is indeed a misconception and that sex is not actually enjoyed freely, it is just observed in all the fields of culture; that's a kind of taboo behaviour technically called "repressive desublimation".
In his writing Marcuse explores the concept that Establishment sanctioned forms of sensual release, what he calls "repressive desublimation", complete our enslavement on the instinctual level. In order to move from that to an actual sexual liberation, it is necessary a change in our mental structures and our moral inhibitions; instead the Judeo-Christian morals still basically hold, and the small social changes are exaggerated because they are seen in that light. Even most of the self-claimed atheists, have just secularised and internalised the same old morals.
In the Americas, considered by many a part of the 'West', the indigenous peoples of the Americas were seen by the first European explorers such as Columbus with amazement: "although the slaves were 'naked as the day they were born,' they showed 'no more embarrassment than animals.'"  In the present, even though it is not acceptable to be publicly naked for many in countries of Latin America, some Western tourists go topless in public .
||This section may contain original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding references. Statements consisting only of original research may be removed. More details may be available on the talk page. (December 2009)|
Teenage sexual activity (as measured by age at first intercourse and current sexually active status) actually increased significantly from about 1984-1991, especially among females, but this was often overlooked since such changes were erroneously assumed to have already happened a decade before, and that the revolution was presumably over. Teen pregnancy also increased as a result. This was followed by a fairly steady decline in teen sexual activity (and teen pregnancy) from about 1991 to the present day, at a time when many presumed the opposite was occurring.
Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index
Alternative Lifestyles –
Alternative Sexual Lifestyles –
Free Love –
Group Marriage –
Lifestyle Alternatives –
Open Marriage –
Open Relationships –
Social Change –
Alternative Lifestyles – Alternatives – Alternative Sexual Lifestyles – Free Love – Group Marriage – Lifestyle Alternatives – Marriage/Sexually-Open – Non-monogamy – Open Marriage – Open Relationships – Polyamory – Polyfidelity – Polygamy – Social Change – Swingers
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