During the 1960s and 1970s, 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 behavior, many of which are now integrated into the mainstream. The 1960s and 1970s 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 chauvinistic. Sexual liberalization heralded a new ethos in; experimenting with open sex in and outside of marriage, contraception and the pill, public nudity, gay Liberation, liberalization of abortion, interracial marriage, a return to natural birth control and childbirth, women's rights and feminism. The perception that all hippies were excessively promiscuous and the sexual revolutionary era was an uncontrolled orgy of group sex is a myth without basis. Many of the era’s countercultural people were celibate due to 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 liberalization”. 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 behavior 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.
Historians argue that the ongoing Sexual Revolution in the new century is continued liberalization after a conservative period that existed between the 1930s and 1950s. They note that the Cold War sparked a socially conformist identity which tended to be self-conscious of its appearance to the outside world. Within the United States, this conformity took on puritanical overtones which contradicted natural or even culturally-established human sexual behaviors. It was this period of Cold War puritanism, some say, which led to a cultural rebellion in the form of the "sexual revolution". Despite this, however, before the 1920s the Victorian era was much more conservative than even the 1930s and 1950s. Due to the invention of TV and the increasingly wide use of it in the 50s, by the 1960s a vast majority of Americans had television. This mass communication device, along with other media outlets such as radio and magazines, could broadcast information in a matter of seconds to millions of people, while only a few wealthy people would control what millions of people would watch. Some have now theorized that perhaps that these media outlets helped spread new ideas among the masses. A prime example of this occurred in 1964 when the Beatles came to America and were introduced on the Ed Sullivan Show. Once the show was over they were an instant hit. Forty million Americans had watched it that night and thus morals in one perspective changed instantly; although obviously it would take longer for this to occur. The mass media's broadcasting of new ideas to the population was radical, and during the late 1960s the counterculture was becoming well known on radio, newspapers, TV and other media outlets.
One suggested trigger for the modern revolution was the development of the birth control pill in 1960, which gave women access to easy and reliable contraception. Another likely factor was vast improvements in obstetrics, which greatly reduced the number of women who die in childbirth and thus increases the life expectancy of women. Other data suggest the "revolution" was more directly influenced by the financial independence gained by many women who entered the workforce during and after World War II, making the revolution more about individual equality rather than biological independence. Many people, however, feel that one specific cause cannot be selected for this large phenomenon.
All these developments took place alongside and combined with an increase in world literacy and decline in religious observances. Old values such as the biblical notion of "be fruitful and multiply" for example, were cast aside as people continued to feel alienated from the past and adopted the life-styles of modernizing westernized cultures.
Another thing that helped bring about this more modern revolution of sexual freedom was the writing of Herbert Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich, who took the philosophy of Karl Marx and other such philosophers, and mixed together this chant for freedom of sexual rights and release in our modern culture.
However when speaking of sexual revolution, historians make a distinction between the first and the second sexual revolution. In the first sexual revolution(1870-1910)the Victorian morality lost its universal appeal. It did however not lead to the rise of a "permissive society". exemplary for this period is the rise and differentiation in forms of regulating sexuality.
It is said that at the time, public morality severely restricted open discussion of sexuality as a human characteristic, and specific sexual practices, especially sexual behaviors that did not lead to procreation. Kinsey's books contained studies about controversial topics such as the frequency of homosexuality, and the sexuality of minors ages two weeks to thirteen years. Scientists working for Kinsey reported data which led to the conclusion that we are capable of sexual stimulation from birth.
Prior to this time, a patchwork of regulations (as well as local customs and vigilante actions) governed what could and could not be published. For example the United States Customs Service "banned" James Joyce's Ulysses by refusing its importation into the USA. The Roman Catholic Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum carried great weight among Catholics and amounted to an effective and instant boycott of any book appearing on it. Boston's Watch and Ward Society, a largely Protestant creation inspired by Anthony Comstock, made "banned in Boston" a national by-word.
In 1959, Grove Press published an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence. The U.S. Post Office confiscated copies sent through the mail. Lawyer Charles Rembar sued the New York city postmaster, and won in New York and then on federal appeal. In 1965, Tom Lehrer was to celebrate the erotic appeal of the novel in his cheerfully satirical song "Smut" with the couplet "Who needs a hobby like tennis or philately?/I've got a hobby: rereading Lady Chatterley."
Henry Miller's 1934 novel, Tropic of Cancer, had explicit sexual passages and could not be published in the United States; an edition was printed by the Obelisk Press in Paris and copies were smuggled into the United States. (As of 2003, used book dealers asked $7500 and up for copies of this edition.) In 1961, Grove Press issued a copy of the work, and lawsuits were brought against dozens of individual booksellers in many states for selling it. The issue was ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Miller v. California. In this decision, the court defined obscenity by what is now called the Miller test.
In 1965, Putnam published John Cleland's 1750 novel Fanny Hill. This was the turning point, because Charles Rembar appealed a restraining order against it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. In Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U.S. 413, the court ruled that sex was "a great and mysterious motive force in human life", and that its expression in literature was protected by the First Amendment. Only books primarily appealing to "prurient interest" could be banned. In a famous phrase, the court said that obscenity is "utterly without redeeming social importance" — meaning that, conversely, any work with redeeming social importance was not obscene, even if it contained isolated passages that could "deprave and corrupt" some readers.
This decision was especially significant, because, of the three books mentioned, Fanny Hill has by far the largest measure of content that seems to appeal to prurient interest, and the smallest measures of literary merit and "redeeming social importance". Whereas an expurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover had actually once been published, no expurgated version of Fanny Hill has ever been (and it is difficult even to imagine what such a work could possibly consist of). By permitting the publication of Fanny Hill, the Supreme Court set the bar for any ban so high that Rembar himself called the 1966 decision "the end of obscenity."
The publication of renowned anthropologist and student of Franz Boas, Margaret Mead's "Coming of Age in Samoa" brought the sexual revolution to the public scene, as her thoughts concerning sexual freedom pervaded academia. Published in 1928, Mead's ethnography focused on the psychosexual development of adolescent children on the island of Samoa. She recorded that their adolescence was not in fact a time of "storm and stress" as Erikson's stages of development suggest, but that the sexual freedom experienced by the adolescents actually permitted them an easy transition from childhood to adulthood.
Her findings were later challenged by anthropologist Derek Freeman who later investigated her claims of promiscuity and conducted his own ethnography of Samoan society. Mead called for a change in suppression of sexuality in America and her work directly resulted in the advancement of the sexual revolution in the 1930s.
In 1962, Helen Gurley Brown published Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman's Guide to Men, Careers, the Apartment, Diet, Fashion, Money and Men. The title itself would have been unthinkable a decade earlier. (In 1965 she went on to transform Cosmopolitan magazine into a life manual for young career women).
In 1969, Joan Garrity, identifying herself only as "J.", published The Way to Become the Sensuous Woman, replete with everything from exercises for improving the dexterity of the tongue, to how to have anal sex.
The same year saw the appearance of Dr. David Reuben's book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). Despite the dignity of Reuben's medical credentials, this book was light-hearted in tone. For many readers, it delivered quite literally on its promise. Despite the book's one-sided and predjudiced statements about gay men, one middle-aged matron from a small town in Wisconsin was heard to say "Until I read this book, I never actually knew precisely what it was that homosexuals did".
In 1970, the Boston Women's Health Collective published Women and their Bodies (which became far better known a year later under its subsequent title, Our Bodies, Ourselves). Not an erotic treatise or sex manual, the book nevertheless included frank descriptions of sexuality, and contained illustrations that could have caused legal problems just a few years earlier.
In 1975 Will McBride's Zeig Mal!, Show Me!, written with psychologist Helga Fleichhauer-Hardt for children and their parents, appeared in bookstores on both sides of the Atlantic. Appreciated by many parents for its frank depiction of pre-adolescents discovering and exploring their sexuality, it scandalized others and eventually it was pulled from circulation in the United States and some other countries. It was followed up in 1989 by Zeig Mal Mehr! ("Show Me More!").
These books had a number of things in common. They were factual and, in fact, educational. They were available to a mainstream readership. They were stacked high on the tables of discount bookstores, they were book club selections, and their authors were guests on late-night talk shows. People were seen reading them in public. In a respectable middle-class home, Playboy magazine and Fanny Hill might be present but would usually be kept out of sight. But at least some of these books might well be on the coffee table. Most important, all of these books acknowledged and celebrated the conscious cultivation of erotic pleasure.
The contribution of such books to the sexual revolution cannot be overstated. Earlier books such as What Every Girl Should Know (Margaret Sanger, 1920) and A Marriage Manual (Hannah and Abraham Stone, 1939) had broken the utter silence in which many people, women in particular, had grown up. By the 1950s, in the United States, it had finally become rare for women to go into their wedding nights literally not knowing what to expect. But the open discussion of sex as pleasure, and descriptions of sexual practices and techniques, was truly revolutionary. There were practices which, perhaps, some had heard of. But many adults did not know for sure whether they were realities, or fantasies found only in pornographic books. Were they "normal", or were they examples of psychopathology? (When we use words such as fellatio we are still using the terminology of Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis). Did married ladies do these things, or only prostitutes? The Kinsey report revealed that these practices were, at the very least, surprisingly frequent. These other books asserted, in the words of a 1980 book by Dr. Irene Kassorla, that Nice Girls Do -- And Now You Can Too.
An early inkling of changing attitudes came in 1960, when the government of the day tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Penguin Books for obscenity, for publishing the D. H. Lawrence novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, which had been banned since the 1920s for its racy (for the time) content.
As evidence of how old-fashioned the attitudes of the establishment were, the prosecution counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones famously stood in front of the jury and asked, in his closing statement: "Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?".
When the case collapsed, the novel went on to become a best seller, selling 2 million copies. The Pill became available free of charge on the National Health Service in the 1960s, at first restricted to married women, but early in the 1970s its availability was extended to all women.
Free love continued in different forms throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, but its more assertive manifestations ended abruptly (or disappeared from public view) in the mid 1980s when the public first became aware of AIDS, a deadly sexually transmitted disease.
Explicit sex on screen and acceptance of frontal nudity by men and women on stage became the norm in many American and European countries, as the twentieth century ended. Special places of entertainment offering striptease and lap dancing proliferated. The famous Playboy Bunnies set a trend. Men came to be entertained by topless women at night-clubs which also hosted "peep shows."
The fact that pornography was no longer stigmatized by the end of the 1980s, and more mainstream movies depicted sexual intercourse as "entertainment", was indicative of how normalized sexual revolution had become in society. Magazines depicting nudity, such as the popular Playboy and Penthouse magazine, won some acceptance as mainstream journals, in which public figures felt safe expressing their fantasies. Feminists have had mixed responses to pornography. Some figures in the feminist movement, such as Andrea Dworkin, challenged the depiction of women as objects in these pornographic magazines.
Keeping in mind that throughout the 1950s and 1960s, pornography depicting homosexual acts was rare and illegal in some US states, we can see the big change that has taken place.
This situation would prevail until the mid-to-late-1990s when the discovery of more effective ways to control AIDS infections, The election of Bill Clinton to the United States Presidency in 1992 (And his re-election in 1996.), and cultural phenomena like internet pornography, higher visibility of gays and lesbians in the media, the legalization of same sex marriage in countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada, and popular sex oriented shows like Sex And The City made the moral-cultural tide slowly turn again.