“If you want to destroy any nation without war, make adultery or nudity common in the young generation.”
Salahuddin Ayyubi (12th Cen)
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.