We are living in the fallout of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Name any current societal, cultural or political crisis, and it likely had its root in the last sexual revolution (last, as in there have been other sexual revolutions throughout history, this one was the most recent).
Abortion was legalized in 1973. The FDA approved the birth control pill in 1960, so its growing availability together with abortion accessibility meant the “make love, not war” generation could make love, not children.
Marriage was radically redefined in 1969 when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into effect the nation’s first no-fault divorce bill (which he called “one of the biggest mistakes of his political life”). The divorce rate started climbing and America’s families started struggling — both economically and relationally.
Gender identity and sexual orientation redefinition and confusion were set off with the launch of the gay rights movement during the Stonewall Riots of 1969.
Sex without consequences. Sex without commitment. Sex with whomever and whenever you pleased. This was the sexual revolution.
We can add to its fallout today’s increases in sex trafficking, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, prostitution and pornography.
Webster defines revolution in two ways: a “going around,” as in a revolution of the earth around the sun, and as a “radical or complete change.” The sexual revolution of 60 years ago was indeed a radical and complete change in our society’s values and behaviors about sex.
I wonder if a coming revolution could also bring a radical and complete change and bring us around again to the foundational values that held sex, marriage, family and society in a healthier place.
(I have held this hopeful projection for several years, based on the three lines of reasoning given below. The Supreme Court’s turn of Roe v. Wade clearly aligns with the theory and adds to my hope.)
First, today’s cultural conditions are very similar to those of the 1960s. We are divided over race, politics, economy and war just as they were then. The Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War accompanied all the abortion, marriage, gender identity and sexual orientation changes.
A second argument I will make is based on theories of generational change. Sociologists observe generational cycles, where certain cultural attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are repeated over and again.
I first learned about generational cycles when the millennials, the most recent “hero” generation, was emerging into adulthood. It was right after 9/11. We remember the resurgence of patriotism and “save the world” causes these young people pursued. Their great-grandparents were the “heroes” before them that fought in World War II.
They are followed by Gen Z, an “artist/adaptive” generation who is pluralistic, tolerant and “averse to conflict,” like their “silent” generation great-grandparents. Both value financial independence, the earlier generation living through the Depression and this one through the Recession of 2008.
According to Howe and Strauss (1992), the baby boomers who were emerging into adulthood in the 1960s were a “prophet/idealist” generation and were positioned to “reject and redefine societal norms.” They cast off the restraint of their parents and the society around them and forged their own freedom. They devalued sex and marriage and rejected the institutions our nation was built on.
(To complete the cycle, the fourth generation is a “nomad/reactive” generation as with Gen X, the slackers of the latchkey generation).
Due up after Gen Z is another “prophet/idealist” generation. These are children born between 2010 and 2025. If they, as their hippie great-grandparents, reject and redefine societal norms, what could be the outcome?
Almost like double negatives, could they cast off casting off restraint? Could they revalue the devaluing of sex and marriage? Could they reclaim again the institutions of faith, family and freedom our nation was built on and find a new freedom of health and wholeness?
A third argument aligns with historical swings from more permissive societies to more puritanical societies, which historians trace back thousands of years. Like a swinging pendulum, a culture reaches a tipping point where it must turn back or risk breaking off from its pivot point in destruction. Are we nearing that “turn back” point? (I consider the debate over saving born-alive babies or removing healthy breasts from 13-year-olds to be clear tipping points).
Have you heard what this next generation has been labeled? Generation Alpha. Alpha- as in the letter A, as in back to the beginning. Could this be a reset generation?
When we add to the unsettled cultural conditions our recovery from a global pandemic, we are certainly in a time of cultural reset. The opportunity is here for this emerging generation to reset, to revolve, and to rebuild the foundation of family and society.
We’ve left Generation Alpha quite a mess from the last sexual revolution. If we will step out of their way, I think we’ll see the time is right for a new sexual revolution.
• Lori Kuykendall holds a master’s of public health in health promotion and is president of Beacon Health Education Resources.
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