What can we learn from the Sixties and the Sexual Revolution?
The 1960s is usually discussed as the moment when traditional morality was thrown into question. Most prominently, new ideas of female empowerment, gay rights, and access to birth control led to a revolution in attitudes towards sex: people’s sex lives were to be determined by them and their own desires, not by imposed moral codes handed down by society.
But the changes of this era were more wide-ranging than just attitudes to sex. More broadly, the Sixties is seen as a time where a new generation threw off the morality of their parents and grandparents and embraced their new, individual identities. From boisterous opposition to the Vietnam war to new fashions, lifestyles and arts, and from campaigns against nuclear weapons through to radical ideas associated with the New Left, the Sixties saw a widespread challenge to traditional social values.
But how much impact did the Sixties, and the sexual revolution, really have? Were many progressive gains in fact unwound in the following decades? Today, when sex and sexual life seems more politicised than ever before, do we need to rediscover some of the freedom and self-assertion of the 1960s? Or, can we trace today’s battles over sex, gender and sexuality back to that tumultuous period?