Dawn of the Real Sexual Revolution; Forget the Swinging Sixties, Says a Leading Historian. It Was the Seventies That Saw an Explosion in Promiscuity, Abortion and Pornography O and We're Still Living with the Legacy Today; the Decade That Changed Britain

Daily Mail (London), September 27, 2010 | Go to article overview

Dawn of the Real Sexual Revolution; Forget the Swinging Sixties, Says a Leading Historian. It Was the Seventies That Saw an Explosion in Promiscuity, Abortion and Pornography O and We're Still Living with the Legacy Today; the Decade That Changed Britain


Byline: by Dominic Sandbrook

IT WAS the decade that 'feminised' men, and made women more masculine. On Saturday, historian Dominic Sandbrook described how in the Seventies feminists helped to reverse the traditional concepts of gender. In the final part of his series, he argues that it was not the Swinging Sixties but the decade after that witnessed the sexual revolution ...

WE STILL love to recall the pleasures of the Swinging Sixties, and in the public memory, they are indelibly stamped as the decade of the sexual revolution -- a watershed era of freedom that changed society for ever.

But this stereotype of the permissive, self-indulgent Sixties is enormously misleading. In reality, it was a time when, by and large, the great majority of the British population remained remarkably conservative in attitude and in behaviour.

Most teenage boys not only expected their bride to be a virgin, but agreed that a boy should marry a girl if he got her pregnant. Surveys showed that these youngsters generally led lives of remarkable chastity, with more than two-thirds of boys and three-quarters of girls still virgins.

By the end of the so-called 'swinging' decade, only one in ten people was even vaguely promiscuous.

But step over into the Seventies and the brakes come off. The key to all this is the Pill. It first went on trial in 1960 but had little impact. Nine years later, only four per cent of the nation's single women were taking it, not least because it was hard to get hold of and only a handful of private clinics would prescribe it for the unmarried.

Then, in 1970, under pressure from the Government, the Family Planning Association instructed its hundreds of clinics to make it available to single women. This was the landmark moment.

Within three years, surveys showed that 65 per cent of young women had taken it, and this rose to 74 per cent two years later. By the end of the Eighties, the figure was 90 per cent.

Here, in the Swinging Seventies, was the real revolution. For the first time the mass of ordinary women had a reliable contraceptive about which there was no need to feel squeamish or embarrassed. For the first time they had complete control over their fertility.

The historic bond between sex and childbirth was broken. The Pill meant that 'sex was not a big risk any more and neither were men', one young woman recalled. From that point onwards, there was no going back.

Ironically, the crucial point we should remember about this sexual revolution was that it made sex not more but less important. Before the early Seventies, having sex had immense emotional, economic and symbolic weight attached to it because to sleep with another person was tantamount to choosing them as a life partner.

In the kitchen-sink plays and novels of the early Sixties, such as A Kind Of Loving and A Taste Of Honey, as in real life, having sex was literally lifechanging when the girls got pregnant and an unhappy marriage was the only option.

But by the mid-Seventies books and films of the time show an entirely different world, where men and women were having sex with anyone they fancied because the availability of contraception and abortion had taken the danger out of it.

This helps to explain why sex became the perfect vehicle for advertisers and marketing men.

Liberated from its traditional social, ceremonial and emotional baggage and no longer seen in terms of a lifelong commitment, it could increasingly be presented as the ultimate consumer luxury.

Sensuality was readily turned to profit, from cosmetics that promised to make girls more alluring to magazines offering tips on getting and pleasing a man. All of this hammered home the simple message -- sex was no longer serious, it was fun.

A new kind of sex manual appeared, emphasising pleasure rather than procreation, gratification rather than reproduction. …

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Dawn of the Real Sexual Revolution; Forget the Swinging Sixties, Says a Leading Historian. It Was the Seventies That Saw an Explosion in Promiscuity, Abortion and Pornography O and We're Still Living with the Legacy Today; the Decade That Changed Britain
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