History of the Sexual Revolution

The sexual revolution can be traced back to various points in history. However, an environment ripe for social change and sexual freedom was first created by the challenges to religion and traditional morality brought about by the Age of Enlightenment, as well as by the emancipatory politics of the French Revolution.

English intellectuals such as William Blake (1757 – 1827) developed ideas about feminism and ‘free love’ and he viewed marriage as akin to sexual slavery and rallied against notions of chastity as a virtue.

The Marquis de Sade (1750 – 1814), who became imprisoned during the French Revolution, wrote excessively on sexual freedom denouncing the church, state and family. He argued there were no immoral limits to any sexual variant and suggested adolescents should be educated in such practices.

Also influential was the writing of French philosopher Charles Fourier (1772–1837), who saw both monogamy and the nuclear family as selfish institutions that infringed upon social needs and sexual passions.

The 1920s, commonly known as the ‘Roaring 20s’, have also been cited as having the first sexual revolution with the wild antics of writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edna saint Vincent Millay.

The sexual revolution however, is widely referred to as the social movement that had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s with its promotion of free love and hedonistic lifestyle. The ground for this movement was prepared by influential thinkers from the fields of literature, philosophy and psychology in the first half of the 19th Century and by key developments that occurred in the 1940s and 1950s.

With the student rebellions in the late 1960s, that swept from California in the US across to Europe, the major forces of the sexual revolution came together with students being influenced and inspired by the thoughts of Marx, Engels, Freud, Reich, de Beavouir and so on. The Frankfurt School in Europe in turn, promulgated these ideas by merging Marxist theory with psychoanalysis and intended to transform society based on communist principles i.e. the abolition of private property and the destruction of religion and family.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s sex shops had already begun opening and sex films were promoted alongside the lifting of the porn ban in 1970s Europe. The hippy subculture was flourishing with the slogan ‘make love not war’. Feminists worked hard to convince society that men represented patriarchal machismo, women who chose to be wives and mothers were oppressed and inferior and they asserted that women could only find fulfilment by pursuing a career and through liberating their sexuality.

The mass media played its part by bringing the message of sexual liberation into every home with increasingly graphic sexual images, thus infiltrating the minds of the masses and shifting the sexual moral code.

Below is an overview of some of the key movements and thinkers who have played a seminal part in the sexual revolution’s influence on society in general and in the development of sexuality education for children in particular. It is not exhaustive or comprehensive but will give the reader an understanding of  the philosophy and thinking that influenced, and that underlies, the new compulsory sexuality education agenda in schools movement.

Mead was an American cultural anthropologist who believed in expanding he sexual mores that were present in western religious life. She studied the psychosexual development of adolescent children in the South Pacific island of Samoa and asserted that the sexual freedom they enjoyed as youth enabled them to make an easy transition from childhood to adulthood. This was contrary to other psychological theories of the time such as those by Erikson who posited adolescence was a time of ‘storm and stress’. In 1928 Mead published her ethnographic findings in Coming of Age. This publication played a key role in bringing the sexual revolution to the public arena as her thinking on sexual freedom pervaded academic circles.

Whilst her findings on Samoan adolescent promiscuity were later criticized, Mead was influential in challenging sexual repression in America at the time and her work had a direct influence in preparing the ground for and in advancing the sexual revolution.

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. He believed that human behavior was motivated by unconscious forces, the most primal of which was sexual energy or ‘libido’.

He proposed a theory of psychosexual development arguing that children were sexual from birth and that the child possessed a sexual desire towards the parent of the opposite sex which he termed the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls. Freud also claimed that sexual repression in childhood led to neuroses and mental illness in later life.

His theories in general have been extremely influential in modern psychology and his psychosexual theories have played a crucial part in preparing the ground for the sexual revolutionaries.

An explanation of the Oedipus Complex

Hirschfeld was a German Jew and physician. He was one of the initial activists to fight for the legitimisation of homosexuality and is seen as a pioneer of sexology. He believed that the male/female binary gender system must be abolished to allow radical individualism to emerge. People, he believed, contained a combination of male and female traits.

In 1919, in Berlin, Hirschfeld founded the Institute for Sexology which became an internationally recognized centre for sexology research. It is accredited with carrying out the first sex change operation and the concept of transgenderism is traced directly back to Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld has been extremely influential in the field of research and set up ‘The Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation’ which fights for the human rights of sexual minorities.

Reich was an Austrian medical doctor and psychoanalyst, whose teachings aimed to sexualize the masses in order to destroy man’s relationship with God, religious institutions, tradition, one’s parents as well as destroy the structural order of society.

Reich invented ‘orgasm theory’ and founded various sex clinics to carry out his sex work promoted by the motto “Free Sexuality Within an Egalitarian Society.” He joined the communist party and moved to Berlin in 1930 where he proceeded to open the German Association for Proletarian Sexual Politics (Sex-Pol), which was built on the premise that if you satisfy your sexual urges you will create paradise on earth. He gained many followers.

Reich was also a prominent member of the Frankfurt school. He fused the thinking of Marx with that of psychoanalysis and argued that the sexual repression of adolescents was a part of capitalist repression and could only be counteracted through a social revolution. In his mind, he saw children who were sexually active as important revolutionaries who could rebel against authority. Sexualisation was seen to liberate children and youth from the binds of family.

Reich was highly influential and one of the most important sexual revolutionaries. He had a direct influence on the ‘New Left’, and ‘counterculture’ and on the 1960s sexual revolution and is accredited with coining the term ‘Sexual Revolution’ in his 1936 publication of the same name.

Kinsey is seen as the father of sexology and boasts the biggest porn collection in the world! He is noted for achieving a breakthrough in the sexualisation of the western world. He was deeply psychologically disturbed and a sadomasochist who performed deviated acts on himself and with others in his attic.

In 1948 Kinsey published the infamous book ‘Sexual behavior in the human male’ which was followed in 1953 by the publication ‘Sexual behavior in the human female’. These books contained studies about highly controversial topics such as the frequency of homosexuality, and the sexuality of children aged two weeks to fourteen years. Kinsey argued children were sexually active from infancy, could have orgasms and should be encouraged to satisfy their sexual needs. 

One of charts in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male records the Kinsey Institute’s systematic sexual abuse of children.  Kinsey took Freud’s theories of child sexuality to the extreme by conducting highly unethical and criminal research that involved pedophiles sexually molesting countless children and then documenting the results in immense detail.

Despite this, his publications, also known as the Kinsey report, brought about a massive shift in social awareness towards sexuality and played a fundamental role in preparing the ground for he 1960s sexual revolution.

Kinsey was highly influential and his research (although now discredited) has influenced the legalisation of abortion, no-fault divorce, extra-marital sex, fornication, sodomy, homosexuality, prostitution – the effect of which includes the disintegration of family, absent fathers, the explosive spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and emotionally traumatised youth.

He had powerful allies including the Rockerfeller Foundation for funding, Playboy Hugh Hefner for media support through porn distribution, the American law institute for changing sex offense laws, SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) for pushing mandatory sex education in schools and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) for legalising and providing abortions.

In 1951 doubts into the reliability of his data emerged resulting in Rockerfeller withdrawing funding. However, this had no effect on the distribution of the Kinsey Report and the erosion of moral values that he had created.

US conservative author Judith Reisman later brought his criminal activities and extreme sexual perversions to light. Despite this, Kinsey’s philosophy underpins the global content of sex education in schools around the world today and he is viewed as the master architect of sexuality education.

The below video is an interview with Judith Reisman who bought Alfred Kinsey to Justice.

Marxist thinkers such as Antonia Gramsci and Georg Luckacs posited that religion and culture were the key factors behind the failure of the socialist revolution to materialize beyond the Soviet Union. These two factors suppressed people’s desire to revolt therefore the solution was that cultural values needed to be changed progressively from above through educational institutions such as universities and schools as well as through government and the media.

In 1923, The Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany, a Marxist-orientated research centre was founded. However, it was forced to shut a decade later when Hitler came to power. The members mostly fled to America and set up the Frankfurt School to resume their work at Columbia university, New York.

The Frankfurt School combined Marxist thought with psychoanalytical theory as believed people were socially and economically as well as sexually repressed. Religion, the family, marriage, heterosexuality and gender hierarchies, were all viewed as part of the problem. Key members include Max Horkheimer, Theodor, Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich amongst others.

The below video provides a useful account of the Frankfurt School and its influence on the sexual revolution. (Warning: As it is produced from an outside source we are unable to edit its content so please be warned that it contains some explicit/nude images between 20:50 – 21:58 and between 26:34 – 27:07 ).  

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7lhWp7G9rA

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The Frankfurt School developed Critical Theory (see video below for a brief explanation). 

Numerous ‘ theories’ surround the Frankfurt School regarding its alleged destruction of Western civilisation. It has also been associated with giving birth to political correctness and cultural marxism (see video below).

The intellectual pursuits of the Frankfurt School played an essential role in creating the intellectual seedbed in which the sexual revolution took root.

 

 

Herbert Marcuse was a German-American philosopher, sociologist and political theorist. He was a key member of the Frankfurt School and had the most direct influence on the sexual revolution. He was nicknamed the “Father of the New Left.” And for many young radicals of the time, Marcuse’s ‘Eros and Civilisation,’ published in 1955, formed the cornerstone of the sexual revolution.

He wrote excessively on sexual liberation and based his ideas on Freud’s theory of ‘polymorphous perversity’, which asserted that children were sexual from birth and receive sexual pleasure from all parts of their body until society represses them. However, whilst Freud believed sexual urges needed to be suppressed for the function of society, Marcuse thought that due to the level of affluence and civilization that society had reached, it could withstand the release of sexual passion. He espoused a sexual utopia based on sexual freedom and promoted individuals to fulfil their perverse sexual fantasies on the basis that such fantasies were grounded in childlike innocence.

 

Malthusianism derives its name and thought from the political and economic work of the Reverend Thomas Malthusis. Malthusis was concerned with population control and believed that population growth was potentially exponential to that of the food supply which he saw as linear. Thus, the needs and demands of the growing population were greater than the food being produced. His thinking has been linked to various social and political movements

The term Neo-Malthusianism was coined in 1877 by Dr Samuel Van Houten, a member of the Malthusian League. Neo-Malthusianism held a particular perspective on the effects of human behavior and stressed the importance of birth control. It located the problem of over population in the working classes and viewed their overcrowded slums as sites of moral degeneration, hence diverting issues of population from poverty to the need for birth control.

The elite, who felt threatened by the burgeoning numbers of working class saw birth control as a solution to protecting their property. Neo-Malthusianism thus promoted capitalist ideology alongside that of individualism and private property ownership.

Prevailing attitudes towards birth control were resistant until the 1920s, as it was considered as immoral and unhealthy. However, in 1921 British Medical Professionals made the Anglican Church reconsider its position on birth control and in 1929 a court ruling in America gave doctors the right to prescribe contraceptives. Subsequently birth control clinics were set up over America and Europe spurning a new stage of the birth control movement.

Later with the establishment of the United Nations, the reduction of the world’s population became a major priority. Examples of Neo-Malthusianism include China’s one child policy aimed at slowing China’a population rate and preventing overpopulation. A further example is the wide use of contraceptives in India to inhibit population growth. There are various organisations that set up clinics in developing countries and provide access to contraception, abortion and health education. Such Neo-Malthusian initiatives, as already mentioned, are based on capitalist ideology and the concerns of the elite who wish to protect their ‘property’ by decreasing or slowing the population of those in the developing countries.

Whilst Neo-Malthusianism had its own population agenda, by forging the way for the development and access to birth control such as contraceptives, sterilisation and abortion, it also paved the way for the greater sexual freedom of women and was an essential ingredient in enabling the success of the sexual revolution.

Sanger was a communist-orientated feminist and protagonist of the highly controversial and racist Eugenics movement which sought to rid the world of ‘weeds’ by advocating for racial hygiene. Part of the eugenics movement claimed that black people were the weeds of society and that weak people should be ‘taken out’.

In 1921 Sanger set up the American Birth Control League which openly promoted the use of eugenics. They advocated for birth control, sterilisation and abortion. In 1942 due to the Nazi regime giving ethnic cleansing a bad name, the American birth control league changed its name to Planned Parenthood. Its international organisation is the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) that today is the main organisation behind the sexuality educational agenda in schools, amongst other initiatives, aimed at reducing the world population. It is also the largest abortion organisation in the world. (IPPF read more here)

See below for an interview with Margaret Sanger

Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986) was the most staunch and influential of the second wave feminists. Whilst first wave feminism fought for the legal rights for women to own property, divorce and vote, it gave rise to second wave feminism or radical feminism, that believed women still needed ‘liberating’ from their roles as maternal caregivers and wives.

De Beauvoir was influenced by Freudian and Marxist thought and is famous for writing ‘The Second Sex’ and saying “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman”. She formed a powerful and strategic alliance with Sanger, IPPF, Kinsey etc. and was anti-motherhood, anti-men and viewed pregnancy as mutilation and the foetus as a parasite.

Radical feminists fought for ‘equality’ but were fervently against marriage, family, child and mothers and called for the deregulation of sexuality. In a nutshell, they fought against everything that lesbians could not have. They battled to transform society that would free them from their abnormality by deconstructing the binary sexual identity of man and woman and what they called ‘compulsory heterosexuality’.

The radical feminist agenda that she espoused fights for the:

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  • Rejection of sexual morality
  • Rejection of marriage
  • Rejection of motherhood
  • Rejection of family
  • Abortion as a woman’s human right
  • Career woman as only role model
  • Power struggle against men

Both radical feminists and and gay rights activists are ultimately driving the sexual revolution by shifting political discourse from economic and racial agendas towards the social and particularly the sexual. According to Baskerville, this “marks a truly new kind of politics, the most personal and potentially the most total politics ever devised: the politics of sexual and family life”.

Radical feminism is in essence totalitarian because it enters the private and personal sphere of one’s life and denies the individual any sense of privacy. As Bork says, “every thought and every action becomes public and therefore political”.

Baskerville, S. (2017). The New Politics of Sex. OH: Angelico Press, P.14


Bork, R. ‘Slouching towards Gomorrah’, Chp 11, p.193, accessed 2017 http://www.tldm.org/news5/bork_feminism.htm

A counterculture refers to the rejection of conventional social norms. The 1960s counterculture began with the assassination of J.F. Kennedy in 1963 and arose in the US and UK, quickly spreading throughout the western world. It was anti-establishment and social tensions mounted concerning issues such as the Vietnam War but also regarding women’s rights, sexuality and authority. Experimentation in psychedelic drugs such as LSD, Bohemianism, alternative lifestyles and music festivals including Woodstock are all hallmarks of the 1960s counterculture. The counterculture was quickly assimilated into all spheres of society and the hippy slogan ‘make love not war’ captured the prevailing attitudes towards sexual freedom of the time.

The Gay Rights movement was inspired by the African-American Civil Rights movement (1954-1968) and then by the Stonewall Riots of 1969 (a series of violent protests by the gay community against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn).

In the 1950s and 1960s homosexuality had existed largely as an underground subculture that was steeped in and thrived in secrecy. However, gay rights activists became enthused by the Stonewall Riots and by the radical politics and 1960s counterculture movement of the time. They saw an opportunity to politicise homosexuality and bring it ‘out of the closet’ into the public arena.

The meaning of ‘coming out’ fueled a political campaign and the gay community were rallied by the gay activists to embrace and commit to an open and full homosexual lifestyle rather than act in secret or on occasional homosexual urges. Alfred Kinsey’s research, that alleged that 39% of unmarried men had encountered at least one homosexual experience, undoubtedly encouraged this ‘coming out’. What was previously considered psychological and personal became extended into the forefront of political and private life.

The 1970s consequently saw a culture of heightened gay sexual promiscuity that viewed committed relationships as superficial and depressing as opposed to fun and exciting.

Due to political exertion in 1973, The American Psychological Association (APA) decided homosexuality was not a mental illness. The World Health Organisation (WHO) adopted this decision in 1990.

Since then the meaning of being homosexual has become more about adopting an identity than about the actual practice

 

Money was a New Zealand psychiatrist who emigrated to the US and practiced at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He played a key role in developing Gender Theory and in promoting the free choice of one’s gender.

Money claimed that our sexual identity if formed by ‘nurture’ not by ‘nature’’ and that it is how you are raised and conditioned that determines your sexuality, not your biological condition. So if someone was born as a boy but raised as a girl, they would turn into a girl (as long as they were not told they were a biological boy).

Money is responsible for redefining the word ‘gender’ and converting it from its grammatical sense to instead mean the internal subjective feeling about one’s sexuality in one’s mind , and this he asserts, does not need to correlate to, or be restricted to, one’s body or biological sex.

Based on his belief’s, Money infamously and unethically carried out an experiment on two twin baby boys, that ended in tragic consequence. A documentary on this case can be watched below.

Money is also accredited with opening the first sex change clinic in the 1960s known as the Gender Identity Clinic. He also advocated group sex and bi-sexuality and promoted ‘fxxxing games’ for children and classified extreme sexual perversions as ‘paraphilias’ or merely differing preferences.

However, his theory that gender is socially conditioned attracted many supporters. More recently Gender Theory has fused with the post-modernism thought of Foucault, Lacan and Derrida.

The video below documents the tragic case and highly unethical research of John Money regarding the unwitting transgender reassignment of David Reimer.

Foucault was a French philosopher, historian and social theorist. He posited the ideas promulgated by Freud and Reich, that were based on sexual repression, were inaccurate. Instead, he argued that sexuality was shaped and constructed by social discourses, that sexuality was in fact socially constructed.

In 1976 he published ‘The History of Sexuality’ attacking the sexual repressive hypotheses of his predecessors, arguing instead for the need to consider the processes inherent in culture, discourse and social interaction that shape our understanding of sexuality. This new understanding opened up new ways of thinking about sexuality and contributed to the success of the sexual revolution because sexuality became amenable to the differing actions of individuals and social groups in differing social contexts.

Foucault was a proponent of post-modernist thinking that asserts that objective human nature does not exist. In the case of gender, this means that it is merely a role that can be constructed and adopted. If concepts are constructed then they can equally be deconstructed and people are able to create their own narratives and thus create their own selves and gender.

Post modernism claims that we cannot know objective reality and that all we can know is the narratives and discourses prevalent in society; these discourses are imbued with power and people can take up differing positions accordingly. The construct of gender is thus seen as fluid and can be chosen as a means of exercising power.

 

Butler is a US philosopher and is seen as the main proponent of 3rd wave feminism and as a pioneer of gender theory. She developed a complicated theory aimed at creating subversive confusion in order to shake the foundations of the human order. Butler argues that there is no such thing as men and women – one’s sex is a fantasy and we only believe in it because it has been repeated so often. Instead she argues that identity is free flowing and flexible and people can assume multiple gender identities based on sexual orientation. Precedence is given to the individual’s subjective feeling over scientific and biological fact.

Butler was also an important proponent and practitioner of Queer Theory (Queer meaning anything not heterosexual).

Queer theory finds liberation beyond the binary and beyond the normal and it is subverting the norm, or queering, that Queer theory is particularly passionate about. For this reason Butler endorses changes in legislation such as same-sex marriage and transgender rights. Binary conformist institutions such as male or female bathrooms are seen as instruments of oppression for those non-conforming to societal norms and therefore they must re-worked and changed.

Butler was influenced by Michael Foucault and his post-structuralist ideas that asserted that society socially constructs truth and reality. According to Butler, for a more queer and open society to emerge such constructs need to be exposed as false.

Queer Theory claims:

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  • Biological sex is irrelevant to identity as it represents a dictatorship of nature against one’s own self-definition – people must be liberated from this dictatorship
  • Identity is fluid, flexible and diverse and is determined by sexual orientation
  • The illusion of the binary male/female construct is created by linguistic designations (male-female; mother-father) and must be eliminated in favour of free self-invention
  • Heterosexuality as the societal norm and default position must be eliminated


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Butler’s theory was welcomed and implemented by elites such as de Beauvoir, Lacan, Derrida and Foucault. However her post-modernist thinking ultimately seeks the destruction of inherited cultural and religious value systems. Gender theory and Queer theory are becoming increasingly influential in society and are receiving backing from  governments and universities and are creating legislative change.

The majority of people do not even know what it is but its ideas has already gone mainstream and are being promoted in schools through the new compulsory sexuality education curriculums.

 

 

A brief definition: Transgender refers to a person whose self-identification does not align with tradition notions of male or female gender. It is an umbrella term that operates on a spectrum; which can include, for example, a man dressing up in women’s clothing at one end, to a biological woman feeling they are a man trapped inside a woman’s body, and subsequently undergoing medical procedures to change the body to conform with this feeling, at the other end. In the middle of the spectrum lies those people who identify as gender fluid and who want the freedom to traverse along the spectrum depending on how they feel in any given moment.

The transgender rights movement rose to promote the rights of the transgender community and to fight discrimination in all aspects of life that transgender people face such as housing, education, workplace, healthcare and bathrooms.

Magnus Hirschfeld was one of the earliest proponents of transgenderism and transsexuals, such as Sylvia Tae Rivera and Marsha Johnson, played a prominent role in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Many support groups arose in the 1970s and 1980s for male cross dressers, and female-to-male transsexuality became more apparent in the 1980s.

Leslie Feinberg has been particularly active in furthering the transgender cause and in 1992 produced a pamphlet ‘Transgender Liberation: A movement whose time has come’. She urged the trans community to construct their own definitions and to use the power of language as a means to unite the oppressed. Feinberg argues oppression emerges from elitist institutions that promote patriarchy and economic privilege at the expense of women. The gender binary (male-female) is imposed on a society that would otherwise adopt the liberal expression of gender. She sees gender expression as lying on a natural continuum.

Feinberg also calls for all working class and marginalized groups to unite and focus their efforts of revolting against the elite through revolution.

The Transgender Rights Movement continously highlights the plights of its community who have faced oppression and they hold an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance to remember those who lost their lives due to their gender identity.

Individuals and groups from the transgender rights movement focus their energy of campaigning in areas they see as discriminatory. For example, ‘bathroom legislation’ whereby they have fought and gained the rights for transgender individuals to use a bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity not their biological sex. Fierce campaigns are also fought in education such as in schools and universities to eliminate bullying and oppression and promote the need for inclusive education.

The issue of gender is being taken seriously by governments who are passing legislation to protect the rights of the transgender community and also in business where speacilaists are being drafted in to develop equality and anti-discriminatory policies.

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