Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960s is a misconception, largely because whenever anyone refers to the so-called “Sixties,” they are almost always referring to the end of the Sixties, the period 1967-1970, a consequence of the extensive media coverage of the first “Human Be-In” at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in January 1967, which introduced hippie culture to genteel, middle-class America. The hippies were what was then called “sexually liberated,” but actually were a very small percentage of the American population, which I assure you did not participate in the presumed “sexual revolution” of the Sixties. In general, American culture remained as Puritanical as it always had been. The Sixties “sexual revolution” was, in reality, a consequence of the widespread introduction of the antibiotic penicillin after 1945, the result of which removed all fear of venereal disease. In effect, you could have sex with whomever you wanted because there was no reason any longer to fear sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis. If you look at the statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control on live birth rates among American women, births among unmarried women compromised 4% of live births in the United States in 1950, up from 3% in 1930. In 1969, at the presumed “height” of the 1960s, that number had climbed to 10%, an increase of only 6% in 20 years (but more than double the increase 1930-1950). One may assume that if there had been a real "sexual revolution," the resulting libertine atmosphere would have prompted a sizable increase in births to unmarried women, which is not borne out by the facts. I suppose one could argue that the birth rate among unwed mothers did not increase as drastically as it could have because of the introduction of the first oral birth control contraceptive in 1960—“the Pill.” But this claim is false. The Pill had virtually no impact on live birth rates among unmarried women during the decade of the 1960s for the simple reason that the Pill was not made (legally) available to unmarried women in all fifty states until 1972. In contrast, preliminary data indicate that in 2008, 40.6% of all live births were to unmarried women. Thus, despite the existence of both contraceptives and of legalized abortion, in the 40 years 1970-2010, births to unmarried women have increased by over 30%, or roughly 15% every twenty years, more than double the 6% rise during the period 1950-1970. If you wish to speak of a sexual revolution, you really need to date it from 1945, as a trend that began after World War II and the introduction of antibiotics such as penicillin.