Some claim that the sexual revolution was harmful and has caused the decline of western civilization. Another common misconception is that the sexual revolution was somehow foisted on society by liberals, feminists, radicals, communists or hippies. These claims are based on ignorance about the role of science and the nature of life before the revolution.
Before the Revolution
Sex-wise, things were not peachy before the 1960s. The myth that people were more controlled and virtuous in the past are contradicted by the abundance of houses of prostitution and the common practice of more affluent men having a kept mistress. The large number of African-Americans in the USA with light skin and prominent European names (i.e. Washington, Jefferson etc.), along with DNA analyses indicates that a lot of white men (and some white women) were raping or having affairs with their slaves and servants.
Teenagers and others still had unintentional pregnancies. Often pregnant girls and their male partners were routinely forced into shotgun marriages which were usually unhappy affairs, often resulting in physical abuse. Often pregnant girls had to leave town to stay with relatives or live in a home for unwed mothers until giving birth. Sometimes those unwed mothers and/or their children were forced into virtual slavery. Keeping the baby was rarely an option for an unwed mother, either it was given up to live in an orphanage, or if the child was very lucky, it would be adopted. In some cases grandparents or other relatives pretended to be the parents to protect their daughter’s reputation from those who would judge and shun her as a social pariah. The only other option for a pregnant girl was an illegal abortion, often performed by people with no other medical training and resulting in the girl's death, sterility or other permanent injury.
Without access to contraceptives most women had no choice but to have many children, which ravaged their bodies and limited their life options to just one: full-time mother and housewife if she was with a prosperous man, or full-time mother, housewife and full-time worker if she wasn't lucky in marriage. The burden of a lifetime of non-stop child rearing kept all women except for the ones who could afford servants from being involved in activities outside the home or work place. This kept ordinary women from fully participating in society and culture and insured that they had no voice politically.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the industrial revolution attracted large numbers of rural people to large cities, orphanages were overwhelmed and unprepared to care for infants and thousands died from neglect. Many poor and abandoned children roamed the streets of the cities living as beggars, prostitutes and thieves.
Middle and upper class women were required to wear debilitating clothes designed to protect their virtue and reputations by covering most of their bodies, yet they were also expected to put themselves on display with uncomfortable corsets and cleavage enhancing undergarments. The Victorians were so sexually repressed that they covered table legs to avoid arousing sexual passions. Gays and others with unconventional sexual interests had to live with constant fear and secrecy to avoid blackmail, arrest, murder or the destruction of their careers and reputations if they were among the fortunate.
Reporting rape or other forms of sexual assault and harassment exposed the victimized woman’s private life to public examination, judgement and great shame if she ever had sexual activity outside of marriage. Women were not considered credible witnesses and often suffered more negative consequences from reporting the rape than the perpetrator did. Rape remains an under-reported crime today.
History has proven that no regime can stop people from having unauthorized sex. Efforts to regulate sex simply drive the practices underground, increasing the chance of blackmail, extortion and abuse of sex workers and their clients. Based on the evidence from the history of the Victorian era and other periods, as well as the practices currently used to control sexuality in places such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, we can predict the likely results of returning society to a pre-sexual revolution culture.
Reversing the Sexual Revolution Would Result In:
The Real Causes of the Sexual Revolution
Cultural conservatives ignore the most significant factor in society’s change of sexual attitudes when they blame liberals (or feminists, radicals, communists or hippie) for the sexual revolution. The most significant factor was the many major technical and scientific advances that characterized the twentieth century.
By the twentieth century advances in medicine drastically reduced infant deaths and increased life spans. Mechanized and motorizeed farm machinery reduced the demand for agricultural workers. Simultaneously factories in urban areas drew more people to the big cities. These changes resulted in fewer reasons for a couple to continue having children.
That change created a greater demand for birth control, a demand that medical technology met by the 1960s, with several new technologies (i.e. the pill) and refinements of older techniques (better condoms). By then most STDs were treatable and a mere hassle rather than a death sentence.
Another factor is the increased ease of transportation and the development of mass media. The growth of cities and better transportation exposed people to new and more diverse ideas and made it easier for people to find sex partners that they are not relatives. Relatively anonymous city residents became less likely to be destroyed by small town rumor mongers.
Science and statistical research by Kinsey and others revealed the hidden truths about human sexuality. Specifically, it revealed that women were capable of enjoying sex if they and/or her partner know what to do and it also revealed that more people were having more different types of sex than previously thought. These revelations increased the number of people who wanted to have sex (women in particular) and helped people with desires once considered unusual and perverse to be more open about their sexual interests. Finally, the knowledge obtained from science made people more skeptical about the sexual taboos once upheld and enforced by religion and superstition.
Summary of Technological Changes Impacting Sexual Behavior
Many people took advantage of this new information and technology and proceeded to enjoy sex in ways that were not possible before and did so without any significant consequences. It is true that some sexually active people should behave more responsibly. Comprehensive sex education in K-12 schools is proven to reduce irresponsible behavior. Most people enjoy their recently won sexual freedom responsibly. Going back to the old days is not a desirable option for anyone who respects the rights of women and everyone who doesn't want to be forced into parenthood and marriage because they want to have sex. Today's level of knowledge and technology enables us to have more choices, and most of us are better off as a result.
We should be thankful for the hard work and sacrifices made by all the liberals, feminists, radicals, communists, civil libertarians, bohemians, beatniks, nudists, hippies, gays and others who struggled for sexual freedom, but the credit has to be shared with scientists and the technnology that they spawned.
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