The Sexual Revolution: History, Origins & Impact

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  • 0:01 America's Sexual Revolution
  • 1:09 Origins of the Movement
  • 2:36 Influence of the Pill
  • 4:28 Impact of the Sexual…
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

The following lesson will discuss how the sexual revolution and the invention of the Pill revolutionized sexual practices for women in the 1960s and 1970s. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check your understanding.

America's Sexual Revolution

Most of us probably remember history lessons about the American Revolution, French Revolution, and even the English Revolution. These were pretty influential events in history and affected how governments would operate for centuries. Thus, the word ''revolution'' carries with it some serious significance. The word ''revolution'' is usually reserved for transformations not only in the structure and leadership of a government but also to its citizens.

When we think of the word ''revolution,'' we may also think of things like war and fighting. However, there are other revolutions that have happened in history that didn't include war but still transformed the actions of the government and its citizens. One such revolution was the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s in American history. The sexual revolution was a specific period during the 1960s and '70s in which attitudes towards sexual behavior became more tolerant and liberal in the United States. This revolution did not just happen spontaneously, but rather was influenced by a number of other factors that were happening in American society at the time.

Origins of the Movement

If you turned on a TV prior to the 1960s, you might be shocked to see the types of families showcased on mainstream television shows. During this time, traditional families were shown with a mother and father that were always married and never divorced and who had two to three children, of their own no less, and who always had the best of manners with one another. Fathers wore suits and smoking jackets while women wore dresses and pearls around the house, and the children were off diligently performing their household chores. What was never seen or really even hinted at was that a husband and wife were having sexual relations with one another. At the time, this was much too risqué or controversial to be mentioned to a television audience. In fact, before the 1960s, it wasn't uncommon to have a married couple still sleep in separate beds!

Once the 1960s arrived, there began a shift in accepted social norms. The ongoing civil rights and anti-war movements created a younger generation of people that questioned authority and rejected their parents' values. Many in this younger generation, particularly in San Francisco, were part of a subculture known as hippies, which promoted a culture of ''free love'' that placed emphasis on the power of love and the beauty of sex. The origins of the sexual revolution also owe their origins to the emergence of the feminist movement, where women started challenging their exclusion from politics and the workplace. They also began to question their sexual roles.

Influence of the Pill

At the core of the sexual revolution was the concept - radical at the time - that women, just like men, enjoyed sex and had sexual needs. Feminists asserted that single women had the same sexual desires and should have the same sexual freedoms as everyone else in society. For feminists, the sexual revolution was about female sexual empowerment.

For social conservatives, the sexual revolution was an invitation for promiscuity and an attack on the very foundation of American society - the family. This clash between opposing viewpoints came to a head with the invention of one little pill. This pill has become so famous in fact that just saying ''the Pill'' is enough for most people to understand which pill you're talking about, and for those that don't, the Pill was the first widely reliable form of contraception for women.

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 more than just influenced the sexual revolution, but was, in fact, responsible for it. What was so revolutionary about the Pill was that it allowed women to separate sex from procreation. This is what conservatives feared most. Up until the arrival of the Pill, the risk of unwed pregnancy, and the stigma that went along with it, prevented single women from having sex and married women from having affairs.

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