Graduate student Ariel Gordon discusses how the sexual revolution of the 1960s evolved into the sexual revolution of today.
Much of society’s views, opinions, and thoughts on topics are created by the output of television, music, and various other media-based products. The same applies to the use of sexuality in media and what much of the population thinks and believes about sexual orientation, gender, and sexuality as a whole. From what I have viewed and read about television and music, the information and opinions it provides regarding these matters is very skewed and discriminatory. Even many of the tools released to the public that attempt to provide positive influences can be seen as negative and harmful to the young mind and those who are less knowledgeable of these subjects. Through textual and experiential evidence, it seems as though the 21st century iteration of the sexual revolution consists of a primarily superficial message. This is opposed to the 20th century goal, which was much more focused on achieving equality, and acceptance for those who veered away from the accepted “normal.”
The 1960s and 70s in Western culture were marked for their outspoken and over-the-top sexual revolution. This trendy theme and lifestyle was looked upon as the road to gender equality (particularly for women) and human rights as a whole. In Joseph Bensman’s article “The Sexual Revolution and Cultural Styles: A Reactionary Point of View,” he states, “In the meantime Western nations have developed far beyond these initial movements for the liberation of women from patriarchal domination. This is true despite the fact that (1) the ‘liberation’ of women is not fully achieved in Western society, even in the present; and (2) within various segments of Western society the level of ‘liberation’ is not evenly achieved. In the same sense, in non-Western society the penetration of new styles of marital behavior and sexuality is unevenly developed.”
Bensman makes the claim that despite the greatest efforts of this generation, the desires of equality and liberation have still not been appeased. He also points out that because it is difficult to distinguish marital and sexual codes in Western culture, as they are not constant, it is a challenge to present these codes as the polar opposite to traditional ones. As of the 1970s, when this article by Bensman was produced, he says that the current advanced state of sexual revolution sought “new forms of sexual freedom, liberations, spontaneity, expression, and freedom from the repressive codes and styles of Victorianism, societal, religious, and legal repression.” There is also a more open demand for the acceptance of homosexuality, with a great focus on allowing homosexuals to partake in their sexuality without guilt or defensiveness.
During this period, there was also a movement for the acceptance of nudity and its appearance in public places. Public pornography, nude bathing, temporary sexual partners, and freedom to one’s own choice of sexual ventures with public acceptance. This went on to include language as well. Words and phrases which were once considered obscene or unacceptable were to no longer be confined to circles of men; instead they were permitted publicly and comfortably, both aloud and in novels and other forms of media. These new permissible phrases were also to be used in political forums and school journals and articles with the intention of challenging authority and the establishment.
The sexual revolution also become slightly apparent in the clothing style of 60s and 70s. More and more, the fashion of women and men became exhibitive of the human form with the trend of tight-fit slacks, short skirts, and low-cut tops. Thus fashion began to reveal more of an individual’s sexuality and “vulgar” habits. As Bensman observes, though, this progression has not been constant or linear. Over times, fashion trends have lent to hemlines rising and falling. No less, presently, dresses are shorter than they previously had been and necklines lower.
This does not dismiss the clear change in attitude towards gender-appropriate clothing, however. Today, there is a push for women to wear short hair, men to wear makeup if they wish, and a general disinterest in gender roles and accepted styles.
Some might say that the modern day sexual revolution over-influences and overrides its need and boundaries. Others think the social trend has become more necessary and therefore, more heavily layered-on in culture. With the freedom and availability of the Internet, women’s freedom and sexual exploration has grown. In an article titled “Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration” written by Dr. Solange Margery Bertoglia, Dr. Bertoglia explores various different forums for the exploration of sexuality and how they are being used in the 2000s. She makes the point that the Internet (and media in general) opens up new and exciting paths for women in particular. There is freedom, money, and romance to be found in today’s public forums of media and internet. Dr. Bertoglia makes the point that women no longer have to face judgment or scrutiny by entering a shop for adult entertainment; indeed, they can now buy products or watch material online. On the other hand, the Internet is notorious for giving public doman to those who wish to judge and insult those who openly state their thoughts and feelings on most websites. Even on seemingly open-minded websites where rather crude matters are addressed, women have been criticized for bringing up the topic of menstruation. There is hypocrisy in this, and it can be a turn off for some users.
Another use for the Internet in the world of sexuality is money. There are many doors opening for those who seek monetary gain from what they have to offer. Once pornography was a product made by men for men. The companies producing the entertaining were big companies with huge amounts of money invested in the product. This also meant that the videos turned women into objects in the productions. There was little to nothing made for women, lesbian or straight. This has changed throughout the years, however. There are now films produced with the needs of women being met, as well as women working behind-the-scenes to create them. This also includes the option of women to purchase cameras for their computer and using these to charge others to view them. These are the modern day sex workers for the middle class, as Bertoglia puts it. This type of business does certainly come with risks. Thus, companies and individuals are aiming to develop safer methods of exchange and unions.
As for romance, the Internet is currently packed with dating services, websites, applications, and meet-ups. Early on in the online dating scene, there was a stigma associated with this method of romance, but it is steadily becoming a more positive and accepted choice. Websites are being created daily for specific needs and desires such as race, religion, hobbies, or other unique traits. This makes it easier for individuals to discover potential significant others with similarities to themselves that they might not be able to find elsewhere. This can also be done outside of websites intended for this purpose. In gaming communities or social media in general, people are finding love in more unexpected places than ever before.
In Dr. Deborah Anapol’s article “Whatever Happened to the Sexual Revolution?”she asks many questions about society’s progress (or lack thereof) in terms of escaping from patriarchal repression through sexual liberation. Dr. Anapol discusses the origins of the sexual revolution in the theories of Wilhelm Reich. In his 1945 book, “The Sexual Revolution” he links all the major contemporary issues in society to sexual repression. Reich’s book is often considered the impetus for the “swinging sixties,” but Anapol questions whether the changes brought about the intended progression, or rather only superficial results. Anapol makes the argument that in order for the modern sexual movement to be successful, it must evolve much like the anti-war/peace movement initiative did. This means that “the sexual revolution needs to grow beyond adolescent rebellion and self-centeredness to a more mature and sophisticated understanding of the deeper significance of love and sexuality in our lives.”
As can be commonly seen in early movements, there is a tendency to point fingers; in this case, as Anapol notes, there is a big push to blame the radical right. However, she urges revolutionaries to realize that this accomplishes nothing but to shift the responsibility and create a stronger enemy, as well as a larger pool of adversaries.
In order to explore the changes in sex in the time between now and the 60s, Rachel Hills’ article “What Every Generation Gets Wrong About Sex” explores the changes between sexual trends. According to her article, a study published in The Journal of Sex Research this year found that “although young people today are more likely to have sex with a casual date, stranger or friend than their counterparts 30 years ago were, they do not have any more sexual partners – or for that matter, more sex – than their parents did.”
Hills does not make the claim that things are just the same as they were thirty or forty years ago. As one example, she points out that in 1964 the term “permissiveness with affection” was a new concept. This meant that love excused premarital sex. While this is currently an acceptable way of thinking, it is also nearly shrugged-off as a given. As a matter of fact, much of American society believes that not even love is necessary for an excuse to have sex before marriage. Post-1980s youth tend to feel that open-mindedness is a priority when it comes to sexuality. Despite these leaps and bounds of sex-positive thinking, Hills believes that America still isn’t the “sex-affirming culture” as TIME predicted it would be half a century ago. Sex is sold via television, computer, billboards, any anywhere else anything can be sold, just as it was in 1964. As she puts it, “A rich sex life is both a necessity and a fashion accessory, promoted as the key to good health, psychological vitality and robust intimate relationships. But sex also continues to be seen as a sinful and corrupting force: a view that is visible in the ongoing ideological battles over abortion and birth control, the discourses of abstinence education, and the treatment of survivors of rape and sexual assault.”
Unquestionably, the sexual revolutionaries of the 1960s had their flaws and faults. Their influence to state that “sex is the origin of all sin” and “sex is the source of human transcendence” being two polar opposites that could not find compromise was certainly a downfall of the movement. It can now be shown that it is possible to live a healthy sexual life without having unsafe, irresponsible sex. Still, during an era when civil rights, women’s rights, and various other major crises were being averted, this movement was pivotal in the view of all sexuality and how we view it today.
The sexual revolution of today is equally as open-minded and sex-positive, particularly defensive against slut-shaming, homophobia, and rape culture. However, the culture has seemed to have either hit a wall or turned a curve. It’s an age where not having “enough sex” is a source of shame. Not fitting the proper feminist, man-ist, something in-between is a matter of being “bad”. There is a loss of focus on being safely sex-positive. A loss of desire to be an individual, rather than fitting the role cut out by society to be a highly-sexed, gender-neutral, inspirational figure for blogging, Facebooking, and Twittering one’s sub-culture lifestyle.
To aim to be “normal” in the eyes of today’s culture is to accept and do and try all things. This is not always a negative message, but it can veer away from the initial and important goal of sexual liberation, that is: acceptance. If today’s movement towards sexual understanding and freedom were to aim to continue the direction of the previous movement, maybe this is still where culture would land. However, there is a chance that it could become a movement focused on letting individuals be themselves, without pressure to do more or a stress on losing one’s natural inclinations and beliefs.
1. Bertoglia, S.M. (2010). Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration By A. Ray New York, NY: Seal Press, 2007.. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies, 7:90-93
2. Bensman, J. (1970). The Sexual Revolution and Cultural Styles: A Reactionary Point of View. Psychoanal. Rev., 57:405-431
3. Anapol, D. (2012, August 15). What Ever Happened to the Sexual Revolution? Retrieved April 21, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.
4. Hills, R. (2014, December 2). What Every Generation Gets Wrong About Sex. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
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