Revisiting the Sexual Revolution
- Both the causes and the consequences of the sexual revolution are not fully appreciated when one focuses on the big socioeconomic factors.
- For thousands of years women were getting married at a very early age, sometimes even before puberty, but certainly soon after it. Several historical figures like Helen of Troj and Cleopatra of Egypt were both married before their 12th birthday. Until 1929 in Britain the minimum age at which marriage was permitted was 12 for women (and 14 for men).
- Therefore the notion of premarital sex was mostly moot: most women were having sex with their husband as soon as they were sexually active.
- During the Victorian Age (between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century) the age at which women married began to move to the late teens and early twenties and then in the middle twenties and even late twenties.
- That change in the age at which women got married created a gap of several years between the moment the woman was capable of being sexually active and the moment she actually was allowed to have sex (marriage). At that point in time premarital sex began to make sense.
- The sexual revolution may have had many causes (notably contraceptives) but one very practical one was that women were expected to remain virgins for a decade or more after puberty. Eventually, this led to the decoupling of sex and marriage (just like sex and marriage were decoupled for men).
- The roots of the sexual revolution therefore lie in a previous revolution, the one that allowed women to marry later in life rather than right after puberty.
- The Victorian age invented childhood: children were no longer small adults, but a social class in itself, which is entitled to specific tools (toys) and illustrated books. This made the transition from child to married woman a much more dramatic event, and therefore a more "reluctant" one, which resulted in later and later marriages for women.
- Also, the prospect of getting pregnant prompted women to postpone sex and marriage (when sex and marriage were still coupled). Those young women were terrified to find out that after a few minutes of sex they got pregnant and their life was abruptly and completely changed forever. Your happy childhood comes to an end overnight and you turn into a busy mother taking care of a baby who keeps you awake at night, with new duties such as cleaning excrements, and no more freedom because you have to watch over the baby all the time. Sure it's fun to play with your baby but what a devastating consequence to a few minutes of pleasure. The boy-father could continue his life as if nothing had happened but the girl was now a mother, a full-time job wildly different from being a child. The alternative was to have an abortion, but, again, the one who has the abortion is the woman, not the man. The cost might be shared, or the man might pay for it, but it's the woman who has to live with the psychological and physical scars of the abortion (in an age when quite a few abortions ended with the death of the woman). Married women were often left to fend for themselves while men traveled for business or even emigrated to other countries in search of better work. The men were stil able to have fun. The women a lot less. To this day, parents fear that their daughters get pregnant too early in life: it would cost them dearly. So did back then.
- Marrying later in life was against biology but made a lot of sense from the viewpoint of a young woman.
- Summarizing: ironically, the sexual revolution was born out of the desire to postpone sex until later in life.
- One consequence of the sexual revolution is still under-appreciated. When sex moved from the sphere of marital duties to the sphere of pleasure and entertainment, orgasm was discovered. The discovery of orgasm changed the way women think. Traditionally, it was men who thought with their penis, whereas women thought mostly with their brain (and in the late 20s with their biological clock). With the invention of orgasm, women starting thinking with their vagina, and that is probably having wide-ranging consequences on society and the course of history.
I see another strand like this:
- Lower birth rates and appliances freed women from the traditional household tasks, so work became a possibility (a fortunate option).
- As consumerism increased the budget required, lower income as a percentage of what the household needed forced women to look for work (an unfortunate necessity).
- Therefore women went to work.
- The women's liberation movement de facto provided an ideological justification (gender equality) for what had been an economic imperative.
- In the name of gender equality woman began to care for her career, and women's success led more women (and most unmarried women) to desire a career.
- The income from work led to greater independence for women, which led to later marriage (marriage interferes with the career).
- This, again, resulted in premarital sex with multiple partners.