Pardon this short history lesson. If you’re younger than 40, and don’t have a big interest in social history this may come as news.
While experts argue on the exact dates, prior to the 1960’s sex, sexual media, and social sexual mores were perceived quite differently in the US. Books with sexual content were routinely banned from publication. Sexual content was missing from mainstream films and television. Contraception wasn’t yet available for women. Perhaps most importantly, limited financial opportunities and cultural expectations meant that the majority of women needed to be married.
Consider this excerpt from the NPR special, “The Pill”:
“In the 1950s, women felt tremendous societal pressure to focus their aspirations on a wedding ring. The U.S. marriage rate was at an all-time high and couples were tying the knot, on average, younger than ever before. Getting married right out of high school or while in college was considered the norm. A common stereotype was that women went to college to get a ‘Mrs.’ (pronounced M.R.S.) degree, meaning a husband. Although women had other aspirations in life, the dominant theme promoted in the culture and media at the time was that a husband was far more important for a young woman than a college degree. Despite the fact that employment rates also rose for women during this period, the media tended to focus on a woman’s role in the home. If a woman wasn’t engaged or married by her early twenties, she was in danger of becoming an ‘old maid.'”
By 1970 much of this culture had been washed down the drain.
The 1960’s were the decade where it all converged — contraception that women could control, greater economic freedom to go husband-free, and sex appearing as a part of the culture like never before. When Helen Gurley Brown published, Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman’s Guide to Men, Careers, the Apartment, Diet, Fashion, Money and Men it created nothing short of a sensation. Not only would the book have been unthinkable a decade earlier, just the title would’ve prevented its publication.
For many ideas, about virginity and sexual propriety in dating all changed. Terms like “free love” meant that, for some, sex outside a relationship was considered completely appropriate. The rules of sexual behavior were being rewritten at a dizzying pace.
Most social historians see the sexual revolution as a water-shed event in terms of how Americans behave sexually and what the culture makes of that behavior.
Fast forward 40 years, is the sexual revolution over or still going strong?
Some Questions to Discuss
– When you think about dating today does it seem that the sexual revolution permanently changed things or have we reverted, in some ways, to life before the 1960’s?
– Do you think that the sexual revolution created more happiness in individuals?
– Have the things that most men and women ultimately want changed much since the 1950’s?
– Do you believe that divorce rates increased in the 1960s and 1970s because people valued marriage less or because they felt free to leave relationships where they weren’t happy — marriages in which they would’ve had to remain prior to the sexual revolution?
– What do you think was great about the sexual revolution and what wasn’t so great?