There has been significant shifts in social attitudes, behaviours and institutional regulations surrounding sexuality since women opened the door to the bedroom. Sexuality throughout the 20th century has moved closer to the centre of public debate than ever before. One hundred years ago the idea of sexual politics would have been unthinkable. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s the combination of student protests, counter culture movements and medically prescribed contraceptives ushered in a decisive break with the preceding values which prescribed confinement of women’s sexual pleasure within the suburban walls of heterosexual marriage and the regulation of man’s sexuality in the public. It was not until the 1970s that women’s sexuality outside marriage became widely accepted. (Griffith, 317).
The predominantly young who became involved with the peace movement and co-operative counter cultures which flourished particularly between 1967-72 took sexual liberation and sexual freedom as cental to its politics.
The so called “permissive” or “swinging sixties” has become a metaphor for contemporary social conflict. For progressives it is heralded as a time of revolutionary ferment which ushered in much needed social change, ushering in the civil rights movements, decolonisation, women’s liberation, gay & lesbian liberation, green and peace movements. For conservatives it has become a scapegoat to blame many contemporary problems upon. Issues such as pornography, marriage breakdowns, single parent families, welfare state dependancy, drugs and youth crime are all seen as having their origins in the “permissiveness” of the sixties. (Griffith, 318).
For the generation after the sixties, the love children of the baby boomers, it is often seen as a failed project which sustains their parents romanticisation of their youth prior to “selling out”.
As female sexuality and premarital sex moved out of the shadows, the Pill became a convenient scapegoat for the sexual revolution among social conservatives. Many argued that the Pill was, in fact, responsible for the sexual revolution. The Pill’s revolutionary breakthrough, that it allowed women to separate sex from procreation, was what conservatives feared most. The theory was that the risk of pregnancy and the stigma that went along with it prevented single women from having sex and married women from having affairs. Since women on the Pill could control their fertility, single and married women could have sex anytime, anyplace and with anyone without the risk of pregnancy. (Griffith, 316).
In the midst of the civil rights and anti-war movements, the young generation of the 1960s questioned authority and rejected their parents’ values. For many who came of age in this era, the traditional notion that a woman wouldn’t be able to find a husband if she weren’t a virgin was absurd. Though social conservatives blamed these sweeping changes in American values on the oral contraceptive, most historians now believe that in reality the Pill did not cause the sexual revolution in America. Rather, the two collided.
Griffith, Robert and Baker, Paula. Major Problems in American History Since 1945. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.