catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The exception to the sexual revolution

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Mention of the counter-culture’s “free-market-friendly sex, drugs and rock’n’roll revolution” reminded me of a poll (subscribers only) on changed sexual attitudes published in the issue of the London Spectator currently in Australian newsagents.

92% of respondents agreed that British society was more tolerant of all types of sexual conduct than in the 1960s, with only 31% thinking that this change had not make pepople “healthier and happier”. Of course this is not just due to the counter-culture. Science played a big part in making sex safer – a pre-condition of a sexual revolution. Before penicillin and other antibiotics sexually transmitted diseases were a signficant danger; syphilis was a major killer until the 1940s. They were a powerful incentive for monogamy. And of course the pill in the 1960s reduced the risk of pregnancy. But it would be hard to deny that the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s had cultural consequences far beyond the relatively small number of people who were directly involved with them. The Sex in Australia survey found that in 2003 only 11% of Australians disagreed with the proposition that “sex before marriage is acceptable”. Nearly 30 years earlier a national survey had asked its respondents about then new “permissive morality”. In all groups except the tertiary educated – perhaps the group enjoying the new morality the most – clear majorities rated it a “very great” or “somewhat dangerous” threat.

Yet amidst all this sexual liberalism – and contrary to the the advice of James McConvill – one taboo remains: infidelity. In the Sex in Australia survey, 78% agreed with the proposition that “having an affair when in a committed relationship is always wrong”. The 1993 National Social Science Survey came up with similar results, but by offering a “sometimes wrong” option, pushed those who think it is not wrong down to 6% (virtually all men, at a guess). According to a 2004 survey, 83% believe that an accusation of adultery is defamatory.

The British survey asked a slightly different question about various sexual activities as being “morally wrong in all circumstances”. After pimping, adultery was regarded as the worst, with 46% agreement. Perhaps it is lower than the Australian results because it catches adultery that most people would regard as only technically adultery, such as when the marital relationship has already broken down. The most interesting part of the British survey, however, was that the young were most likely to regard adultery as immoral.

I can think of a couple of reasons why this might be so. Few of them will have been stuck in an unhappy or sexually unfulfilling marriage – it is easy to have high principles when you don’t have to live with the consequences. On the other hand, perhaps they also see themselves as both beneficiaries and victims of the sexual revolution. They would enjoy their own sexual freedom, and the chance to delay starting a family to do other things in their 20s. But many of them will have been through the trauma of their parents divorcing, perhaps because affairs have become easier and more acceptable. The Australian surveys I have don’t break down their results by age, but it would be very interesting to see if the British findings can be replicated here.

Written by Admin

March 13, 2006 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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