In any human society, nothing becomes a revolution until after people realize just how revolutionary their ideas were in the context of the times. Few people who end up being part of a social movement, see their activities as part of a revolution. That assumes they’re sober, which history tells us can be a factor.
Those who oppose revolutionary activities are even less inclined to call them as such. They see these kinds of movements as chaos, criminal, and dangerous because it’s distracting people from doing more important things like paying their taxes, pumping out babies, and giving money to their preferred religious service.
It’s hard to really transform a simple protest to a full-blown revolution is what I’m saying. That brings me to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the possibility of other sexual revolutions in the future.
I’ve talked about the sexual revolution of the 60s before. It was fueled by two powerful factors that helped loosen sexual norms, namely the advent of effective contraception and the elimination of major sexually transmitted diseases thanks to antibiotics. For the first time in recorded history, human beings had more flexibility in exercising their sexual desires.
Advances in technology, science, and public health gave people the ability to explore their sexuality without fear of negative health consequences. Unwanted pregnancies and life-threatening diseases were no longer as big a concern. Men and women could engage in various sexual activities more freely and openly. The only obstacle in their way were the prudish sexual norms that remained.
That’s where the revolution came in. Science and technology can do a lot of things for us, such as curing disease and preventing pregnancy. However, it can’t convince people to just abandon their beliefs, values, and assumptions about certain subjects. That’s why we still have people in positions of great power who don’t believe in evolution.
Anyone who has ever dared to read the comments section on a news site understands it all too well. There’s a segment of people who ardently cling to the norms of the past. There’s also a segment of people who cling to the emerging norms of the present. When the two meet, it can get ugly.
The sexual revolution of the 60s was basically the comments section of a New York Times article made flesh. An entire generation of youth, who now had both the tools and the desires to explore their sexuality, was running into the brick wall that their elders had established.
They were taught from the days of Elvis’ evil hips that sex was a generally bad thing. It’s only acceptable function was to make babies that will work in factories, pay taxes, and go to church. Any orgasms that anyone had were optional. It’s easy to see why a whole lot of horny teenagers heard that message and decided to rebel.
In many respects, the spirit of the sexual revolution of the 60s was a direct response to the incredibly uptight, annoyingly prudish attitudes of a 1950s culture where couples sleeping in the same bed on TV was seen as scandalous. One generation bombards the other with endless morality lectures. The other rebels. The next thing you know, you’ve got mud orgies going on at Woodstock.
It’s not necessarily a new pattern. Throughout history, cultures have gone through periods of sexual prudishness and sexual promiscuity. Cultures like the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Indians were well-known for their liberal attitudes. Then, you have extremely restrictive mores of the ancient Chinese and Victorian England. By and large, sexual attitudes have been downright erratic.
When you examine the history of these attitudes, you see a cycle of sorts. That cycle usually plays out like this:
There’s some kind of upheaval in society, usually caused by economics, famine, or disease.
A large segment of society seeks more order so they embrace morals that encourage more uptight, restrained attitudes.
Those attitudes extend to sexuality and more prudish attitudes take over, giving any sexuality that doesn’t involve procreation a negative connotation.
Society stabilizes and comes to accept these attitudes for a long stretch of time.
A new generation is born, never knowing the upheavals that previous generations faced.
That generation sees the overly prudish attitudes of their elders as flawed and rebel.
New attitudes emerge that loosen sexual standards, often in ways that shock and horrify older generations.
The new attitudes become a spectacle and the shock value wears off.
Eventually, the attitudes result in another round of upheaval in society, which is magnified by a rises in sexually transmitted diseases or unstable family structures.
Another generation emerges and adopts more restrictive sexual attitudes once more.
Like every revolution, the sexual revolution of the 60s did incur a backlash. The emergence of new diseases like AIDS, as well as less stable family structures, contributed to all sorts of ills that played out over the course of several decades. You could make the argument that it’s still playing out.
That leads us to today. At the moment, it’s hard to say where in the cycle we are. Unlike previous periods in history, technology and modern infrastructure has taken society into uncharted territory.
Even if sexual attitudes regressed after the 60s, the growth of the porn industry and the widespread availability of erotic content, thanks to the internet, kept the backlash from going too far. It’s one thing to regress in a society dominated by uneducated masses. It’s quite another to do so in one with high literacy, fewer famines, and unlimited access to full-frontal nudity in their pockets.
However, I have made the argument before that our society is steadily becoming more sexually uptight. We’re seeing it in the way people react to sex in the media. It’s becoming more taboo for female characters in movies and video games to be sexy in any way. It’s also becoming taboo to use sex as much in advertising, as Carl’s Junior recently found out when they dropped their sexy ads.
There are also shifting trends in what society seeks to shame. There are now buzzwords like “toxic masculinity” and “rape culture” that skew sexual attitudes. Every week, it seems, there’s a new moral crusade against some sort of sexual injustice, be it sexual assault or inequalities in the LGBT community.
These crusades are putting sex into a negative context, not unlike the one it had in the uptight 1950s. In the current cultural landscape, any and all negative manifestations of sex get more attention and are blown out of proportion, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Never mind the fact that rates of sexual violence against women have declined by over 60 percent since 1995. Fear, dread, and upheaval still pervade whenever issues of sexual violence emerge, even if it turns out to be false. Remember the first part of that cycle I mentioned? Well, that upheaval element is there so the cycle might continue.
If that happens, then the end result will be similar to what we saw in the 60s. There will be another sexual revolution of sorts in response to emerging trends or as a backlash to the ongoing moral crusades. The human libido is powerful and erratic, but it never sits on the sideline when we aggressively attack our own sexuality.
Now, I’m not a good predictor of the future. If I were, I’d be picking stocks and betting on football games for a living instead of writing erotica/romance. However, my caveman brain still sees patterns, especially the sexy kind. What I see now and what I see in the past with the 60s sexual revolution checks more than a few boxes.
It’s hard to know how it’ll manifest, but I think there will be another sexual revolution of sorts. Within a generation, we’ll see young people engaging in sexual behaviors that shock and horrify today’s latte-loving millennials. What kind of behaviors might that entail? It’s hard to say, but it’s fun to imagine.