The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception, 1800-1975

By Hera Cook | Go to book overview
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13
'Truly it Felt Like Year One':
The English Sexual Revolution

In the late 1960s, many young women believed that a sexual revolution was taking place. The novelist Angela Carter wrote that by 1969 'the introduction of more or less 100 per cent effective methods of birth control, combined with the relaxation of manners that may have derived from this technological innovation or else came from God knows where, changed, well, everything'.1 Margaret Drabble, another novelist, said in theGuardian that 'we face the certainty of a sexual revolution, and [this]… is caused largely by the development of contraceptive techniques This freedom is evidently connected to that other major revolution of our society, the emancipation of women.'2 But, by the early 1980s, the idea that a sexual revolution had taken place was being treated with scepticism, and historians including, for example, Jeffrey Weeks and Jane Lewis have consistently argued that heterosexual sexual behaviour remained conservative during the 1960s.3 The only measurable change occurring in sexual behaviour was the rising incidence of premarital

1 A. Carter, 'Truly, It Felt like Year One', in S. Maitland (ed.), Very Heaven: Looking Back at the
1960s
(1988), 213–14.

2 M. Drabble, Guardian (10 Nov. 1967). See also C. White, Women's Magazines 1693–1968
(1970), 163.

3 J. Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (1981; 1989), 254. J. Lewis,
Women in Britain since
1945 (1992), 48. See also L. V. Marks, Sexual Chemistry: A History of the
Contraceptive Pill
(2001), 3. E. R. Watkins has argued that the pill did not cause the sexual
revolution in the USA. She used a limited range of sources and did not look at young
women's behaviour in detail; however, the argument made here would have to be
considere in the light of the specific US circumstances. E. R. Watkins, On the Pill: A Social
History of Oral Contraceptives in America, 1950–1970
(1998).

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