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

By Hera Cook | Go to book overview

Conclusion

In 1967, after the reform of homosexual law on the basis of the principles laid down in the Wolfenden Report, Lord Arran, who piloted that bill through the House of Lords, said, 'I ask those who have, as it were, been in bondage and for whom the prison doors are now open to show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity.'1 Unmarried women who were provided with contraception had also been expected to continue being discreet and keeping their private lives private but it was not considered necessary to make this kind of comment in relation to women. It was believed women had a natural modesty. Those who opposed contraception in the nineteenth century as well as the twentieth believed that it would lead women to become promiscuous and adulterous, that the institution of marriage would collapse.2 To a remarkable extent, it appears they were correct. Since the fear of pregnancy was removed women's behaviour has become closer to that long considered acceptable for men and a sexual morality based on a double standard and central to the social construction of male and female sexuality has increasingly faltered and lost all certainty.

There has been a supposed crisis in the family since the 1970s. The revolution in sexual attitudes during the second half of the 1960s was followed by a sexual revolution in behaviour in the 1970s, which accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s.3 This has resulted in the transformation of the wider family into an extended grouping that is fluid and shifting over

1. J. Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society (1981; 1989), 274.

2. e.g. C. H. F. Routh, The Moral and Physical Evils (1878; 1879), 21.

3. For example, 8% of births occurred outside marriage in 1971, 32% did so in 1994. In 1971
45% were jointly re gistered. In 1991 75% were. Separated, divorced, widowed, and never
married mothers made up 7.5% of all families with dependent children in 1971, 17.5% in
1991. J. Lewis and K. E. Kiernan, 'The Boundaries between Marriage, Nonmarriage, and
Parenthood: Changes in Behaviour and Policy in Postwar Britain', Journal of Family History, 21/3
(1996), 380.

-338-

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