chapter  2
18 Pages

Sexual revolutions: Towards a brief history, from the Fall of Man to the present


Numerous books and innumerable articles have been written on the topic of this volume, three of the best known being John Heidenry's What Wild Ecstasy: The Rise and Fall of the Sexual Revolution (1977), Linda Grant's Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution (1993) and David Allyn's Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History (2001). Note the recurring formula in the subtitles of these books, with its misleading de®nite article: `the sexual revolution'. Writers on our topic often ask whether `the sexual revolution' ever really happened. (`So, has there been a sexual revolution?' asks Grant, by way of introducing Sexing the Millennium [op. cit.: 18], a book that con®nes its ambit almost exclusively to the two decades between Time magazine's 1964 heralding of a `World Sexual Revolution' and its 1984 announcement: `the revolution is over'.) A better question, if an unanswerable and hence purely rhetorical one, would be: how many sexual revolutions have there been? The history of radical shifts in the kinds and conditions of human sexual relating is almost unimaginably long, and there can be no justi®cation for limiting the historical and cultural reference of the term `sexual revolution' to that notoriously elastic decade, the 1960s, or to the western edge of Europe and North America. Judaeo-Christian myth begins with a story of sexual revolution, the Temptation and Fall of Man ± at least as the Book of Genesis was read in the 1830s by the heretical Perfectionist preacher and sexual liberationist, John Humphrey Noyes (of whom more in a moment). Modern ethnography posits a no less mythical, originary revolution in its story of how patriarchy must have overturned the `primitive matriarchal societies' ± the gynocracies and free-love regimes ± that Bronislaw Malinowski postulated were pervasive features of the Neolithic era, and which such twentieth-century sexual radicals as Otto Gross, Wilhelm Reich and Georges Bataille (all readers of Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Paci®c [1922]) imagined as blueprints for sexually liberated societies of the future.