Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data

By Richard G. Niemi; John Mueller et al. | Go to book overview
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9
Sexual and Reproductive Morality

Since the mid- 1960s the mass media and social commentators have been chronicling the development of America's "Sexual Revolution." Stories of the decline of the traditional family and the rise of alternative life-styles from communes to single parenthood and on to homosexual marriages have been widespread. The collapse of traditional sexual and reproductive morality has been heralded as the overthrow of repressive Puritanism by modernists and condemned as the triumph of hedonistic sin by Fundamentalists. Then in the mid-1980s the media and cultural interpreters declared that the "Sexual Revolution is Over" ( Time, 4/9/ 84)). Harried by Falwell Moral Majority and directly assaulted by fear of AIDS, the Revolution was deemed to have been crushed.

But when this standard account is subjected to trial by empirical, survey research, it comes up wanting. Although many survey time series do not start as early as one would like (many beginning in the late 1960s or early 1970s after the Sexual Revolution's inception, rather than before its start), it is possible in large measure to track the development of our Sexual Revolution. In general, this analysis indicates that the so-called Sexual Revolution was a complex social change that neither swept so far, nor receded so much, as the popular chronicles would have it.

Perhaps the surest sign of the Sexual Revolution was the related Contraception Revolution, which made inexpensive, easy-to-use, effective birth control widely available for the first time. Oral contraceptives and other birth control devices were almost universally adopted by all segments of the population (including Catholics, Smith, 1985), and public support for the availability of information on birth control increased steadily from 73 percent in 1959 to 90 percent plus by 1974 (Table 9.1). Similarly, support for birth control

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