The Sexual Revolution: Emerging Worldviews 6

In the previous articles in this series, we have looked at the rise of what has become known as Cultural Marxism and its core ideas. Under the broad umbrella of Cultural Marxism are a number of worldview fragments—that is, incomplete worldviews—that are having a powerful effect on society today. In this article, we begin discussing the most widespread family of these, which derive from the Sexual Revolution.

The Shadow of Freud

To understand the worldview fragments coming from the Sexual Revolution, we need to back up and look at its origins in the thinking of Sigmund Freud. Freud argued that the fundamental cause of mental illness and unhappiness was societal taboos against sexual activity. We have a range of sexual desires, but society forbids us to act on them. This creates feelings of guilt in us for having these “dirty” or “impure” desires, and that guilt is the subconscious root of mental and emotional problems.

Freud believed the solution to this problem was psychoanalysis. The psychoanalyst would talk to the patient and build a relationship with her or him over time, never passing judgment, only asking questions and discussing things that came up. Eventually, these subconscious desires would surface, and the fact that the psychoanalyst could hear them without shock or judgment would relieve the patient’s guilt and thus resolve the mental problems.

By the mid-20th century, Freud’s ideas had made major inroads into American culture. For example, you can’t watch many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films from the period without seeing Freud’s fingerprints all over them. However, some people began to take Freud’s basic ideas into new directions. Freud himself held to traditional ideas about sexual mores for the most part, which is why he saw the solution to mental illness in psychoanalysis. But what if rather than dealing with the guilt that comes from the tension between our sexual desires and societal constraints on sexual behavior, we simply lifted those constraints? Wouldn’t that prevent guilt and mental illness in the first place?

Lena Levine and Planned Parenthood

We see this thinking as early as 1953 in the words of Lena Levine, a gynecologist, psychologist, associate of Margaret Sanger, and from the 1930s involved with Planned Parenthood:

Our alternative solution is to be ready as educators and parents to help young people obtain sex satisfaction before marriage. By sanctioning sex before marriage, we will prevent fear and guilt … we must be ready to provide young boys and girls with the best contraception measures available so they will have the necessary means to achieve sexual satisfaction without having to risk possible pregnancy.

Alfred Kinsey

Levine’s ideas did not occur in a vacuum. In addition to Freud, Alfred Kinsey had a significant impact on sexual ideas in the mid-20th century. In 1948, Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. This was followed in 1953—the same year Lena Levine made her argument—by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. These purported to be scientific descriptions of the sexual practices of average Americans which suggested people were far more sexually active and adventurous than people realized.

What people actually did not realize were the flaws in Kinsey’s methodology. Among other issues, he observed, filmed, and engaged in sexual activity with his staff and with subjects. Further, prisoners, prostitutes, and homosexuals were seriously over-represented; rather than the 10% of the population claimed by Kinsey, more accurate studies show that less than 5% of the population have homosexual tendencies. His data on child sexual experiences came from a single pedophile’s reports on boys he had molested (a fact which Kinsey falsified), and this data may have influenced Levine’s argument that children needed to have sexual outlets.

The Kinsey Reports, as they became known, were huge bestsellers and made their way into popular culture. For example, Cole Porter included a reference to Kinsey in Kiss Me, Kate and there was even a sketch involving Kinsey in the Jack Benny Show in 1953. Kinsey’s flawed reports thus began to make inroads for new ideas about sexuality in American culture.

Hugh Heffner and Playboy

Then in December 1953, the same year Kinsey’s second report came out and Levine made her appeal to supply children with contraceptives, Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy magazine. Nude images were nothing new, of course. What made Playboy different was its claim to intellectual seriousness, with articles by such writers as Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury, Gore Vidal, and Ian Fleming, as well as its frank advocacy of a hedonistic lifestyle. This began the process of popularizing changing attitudes toward sex among people who would not have been caught dead buying the much crasser pornography that had been available earlier.

Then between 1959 and 1966, the Supreme Court overturned bans on erotic novels and films on First Amendment grounds. These decisions resulted in an explosion of erotica and ushered in the “Golden Age of Porn” (1969-1984).

The Pill

A final critical piece of the puzzle came in 1960, when the first oral contraceptive was approved for use by the FDA. By 1965, 6.5 million women were taking it, making it the most popular form of birth control in America. That same year, in Griswold vs. Connecticut, the Supreme Court declared Connecticut’s prohibition of the use of any form of contraception to be unconstitutional, opening the door to subsequent rulings expanding access to contraception as well as legalization of homosexual activity and ultimately the mandating of same-sex marriage.

It is worth noting that contraception had historically been rejected by both Catholics and Protestants across the board. Protestant denominations began to soften their stand on the issue earlier in the 20th century, and by 1961 the National Council of Churches accepted contraception without dissent. In contrast, the Catholic Church reaffirmed the traditional stand against artificial birth control in Humanae Vitae (1967), issued by Pope Paul VI.

The Counterculture

All these trends had an enormous influence on the rise of the Counterculture. The Counterculture nominally began with the assassination of Pres. Kennedy in 1963 and continued into the 1970s. It was a complex phenomenon, drawing in a range of themes including the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, ecological concerns, opposition to the Vietnam War, anti-nuclear attitudes, experimentation with psychoactive drugs, and interest in Eastern religions and the occult. The Counterculture’s intellectual component was largely provided by the New Left’s libertarian socialism and was heavily influenced by Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School.

Not surprisingly, the Counterculture’s rejection of traditional American values led to an embrace of the kind of “sexual liberation” anticipated by the trends described above. Known today as the Sexual Revolution, this has had more of a long-term impact on American society than any other aspect of the Counterculture. Rejecting the notion that sex should be reserved for monogamous heterosexual marriage, the Sexual Revolution advocated a wide range of alternative sexual activities, including pre- and extra-marital sex and “open marriages” (a.k.a. “swinging”), all made possible because of the Pill (i.e. oral contraceptives) and, Increasingly, abortion.

The Sexual Revolution also included Gay Liberation, particularly in the wake of the Stonewall riots of 1969.

Changes in attitude toward sex and sexual behavior inevitably involve changes in families and family structure. Further, ethics, including sexual ethics, are a foundational element of worldview, and so the Sexual Revolution necessarily led to a revolution in worldview as well. We will explore these issues in the next article.


Glenn Sunshine, PhD, is a Senior Fellow with the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and professor of history at Central Connecticut State University.

Image: Sigmund Freud, Google Images

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