In general use, the term “sexual liberation” is used to describe a socio-political movement, witnessed from the 1960s into the 1970s. However, the term has been used at least since the late 1920s and is often attributed as being influenced by Freud’s writing on sexual liberation and psychosexual issues.
During the 1960s, shifts in regards to how society viewed sexuality began to take place, heralding a period of de-conditioning in some circles away from old world antecedents, and developing new codes of sexual behaviour, many of which are now integrated into the mainstream.
The 1960s heralded a new culture of “free love” with millions of young people embracing the hippie ethos and preaching the power of love and the beauty of sex as a natural part of ordinary life. Hippies believed that sex was a natural biological phenomenon which should not be denied or repressed. Changes in attitudes reflected a perception that traditional views on sexuality were both hypocritical and male-chauvinistic.
Sexual liberalisation heralded a new ethos in experimenting with open sex in and outside of marriage, contraception and the pill, public nudity, gay Liberation, liberalisation of abortion, interracial marriage, a return to natural childbirth, women’s rights and feminism.
Many of the era’s countercultural people were celibate because of personal preferences. These choices had nothing to do with issues of morality, but were ones of personal deliberation due in part to spiritual conviction. The consideration that relationships and sex could become distractions upon the path of personal spiritual deliverance, ensured that many hippies refrained from all sexual activity.
Celibate hippies were not critical of others who chose the paths of “free love” and “sexual liberalisation”. In the late seventies and eighties new won sexual freedoms were exploited by big business looking to capitalise on a more open society, with the advent of public pornography and hardcore.
While the extent to which the sexual revolution involved major changes in sexual behaviour is debated, many observers suggest that the main change was not that people had more sex or different types of sex, it was simply that they talked about it more openly than previous generations had done – which in itself can be described as revolutionary by supportive historians.
Historian David Allyn argues that the sexual revolution was a time of “coming-out”: about premarital sex, masturbation, erotic fantasies, pornography use, and sexuality.