October 13, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s changed American society

John F. FinkThe 1960s were among the most tumultuous years in American history, in many ways. For Catholics, they were the years of the papacy of Pope St. John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. A year ago at this time, I devoted eight columns to that council. Today, I’ll write about something else important that was happening during those years that affected Catholics then and has continued to do so up to the present.

It’s been called both the Sexual Revolution and Sexual Liberation. It was an amazing shift in attitudes toward women’s sexuality that was part of the feminist movement that insisted that women should have the same sexual freedoms that men enjoyed.

That “freedom” was not deemed possible because of women’s fear of pregnancy. But in 1960, the first birth control pill, developed by Drs. John Rock and Gregory Pincus, went on the market. Within five years, 6 million women were using it so they could have sex anytime they wanted without fear of pregnancy, as men could do. This was true for both married and single women.

The development of the Pill came at the same time as feminist literature promoted the revolution. Helen Gurley Brown’s book Sex and the Single Girl was published in 1962, and she went on to transform Cosmopolitan into a manual for career women. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique came out in 1963.

Suddenly, girls were encouraged to be aggressive in their relationships with men. Traditional sexual roles began to change.

But the Sexual Revolution wasn’t only about attitudes toward women’s sexuality. Our whole culture changed, brought about in large order by movies and books. Movies that once would have been condemned because of their sexual content became accepted.

Alfred Kinsey’s books Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female actually were published before the 1960s, but they paved the way for Masters and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response in 1966. These books revealed the sexual practices of young Americans that had become acceptable in our society. Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine became ever more explicit, prompting even racier periodicals.

This Sexual Revolution, which began in the 1960s, changed American society. Its effects continue to this day. Until the 1960s, almost all Americans considered premarital sex as sinful, but by the end of the 1960s, 75 percent of Americans polled thought it was OK.

Since it was deemed permissible for unmarried couples to have sex, the age of first marriages increased. Between 1960 and 1976, the number of unmarried Americans aged 20 to 24 more than doubled. More and more couples decided not to get married at all. Cohabitation, which formerly was nearly unheard of, became common.

The Sexual Revolution has obviously posed problems for the Catholic Church because it continues to insist that sexual relations are permissible only in marriage. Regardless, some Catholic couples show that they’re influenced by American society’s norms.

Marriages in the Church continue to decline, and the Church has a dilemma about how to minister to cohabiting couples who are convinced that they are doing nothing wrong. †

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