“Make love, not war”
and the call for “free love” represented a cultural shift in mores in 1967. Even The Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love.” If the ’60s was the time of the “sexual revolution,” the natural question is: who won? There were both winners and losers.
In our first article on the Summer of Love, we talked about the general environment of 1967. In this article, we’ll discuss the role of sex, as in “sex, drugs, and rock & roll.”
The Baby Boom
More babies were born in the western world between 1946 and 1964 than during any previous period in recorded history, at least until the subsequent “Millennial Generation.” In the U.S., this post-war “bloom” of children was called the Baby Boom Generation.
It represented a relatively prosperous generation of children born to a middle class with more access to education and entertainment than any generation before it. In 1966, Time magazine declared that the “Generation 25 and Under” would be its “Persons of the Year.”
How did this come about?
Baby Boomers and the Summer of Love
Three critical changes converging in the ’60s significantly impacted the culture.
- In the U.S., the G.I. Bill following World War II allowed veterans to attend college and provide for their children better than the previous generation.
- The Interstate Highway system, inaugurated by President Eisenhower after WWII — to quickly transport troops across the country — allowed for suburban living and commuting into urban centers for work.
- Low-cost Veterans Administration loans for home mortgages required no down payment, putting affordable housing within reach of WWII veterans. Housing subdivisions bloomed in the ’50s and ’60s. The children of these war veterans enjoyed an unusually prosperous life of freedom — thanks to how new mothers took the teachings of a permissive pediatrician writer Dr. Spock (not the Vulcan) — and relative affluence and the leisure that came with it.
Studies have shown that between 1965 and 1974 — when the earliest and mid-curve Baby Boomers were in their teens and twenties — the number of women that had sexual intercourse before marriage showed a marked increase. Women had become active participants in the sexual revolution.
Free Love After of the Summer of Love
“Free love” continued in many respects into the ’70s and ’80s in different forms. When I worked for the University of California, Berkeley Housing Office, we saw this play out in the late ’70s.
In the residence halls at Berkeley, co-ed dormitories initially meant men were on one floor and women on another. That changed to mixed sexes on the same floor but segregated by room, with the opposite sex having to go to another floor to use the single-sex bathrooms.
This arrangement eventually became inconvenient for the students, and they began to use the bathroom on the floor where their room was. When the campus newspaper featured a picture of a man’s and woman’s feet behind the same bathroom stall, angry parents wrote to the Housing Office in the late ’70s protesting this arrangement.
The mid-’80s saw a shift in sexual behavior, first with the rise of the herpes simplex virus, which had no cure, and experimental antiviral therapy was unavailable until the late ’70s. Secondly, the spread of AIDS, a deadly sexually transmitted disease, had no treatment at the time.
The Pill, before the Summer of Love
In 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had licensed an oral contraceptive. “The Pill,” as it came to be known, was extraordinarily popular, and despite worries over possible side effects, by 1962, an estimated 1,187,000 women were using it. It was initially approved “for menstrual disorders” along with the label:
“Warning: This pill will likely prevent pregnancy.”
As Jonathan Eig said in his book “The Birth of The Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution”
“It had changed human dynamics. It had changed the way men and women get along in the world.”
While there is a correlation between the advent of The Pill and increased sexual activity, it is difficult to draw a causal connection between the two. Nevertheless, there was a visible trend in the increasingly higher age of women at first marriage between 1930 and 1970 after this oral contraception became available to non-married females.
The Pill was eventually seen as a symbol of the sexual revolution. However, its origins stem less from women’s sexual liberation issues and more from the 1960s political agendas.
Three Trends following the Summer of Love
- An unprecedented number of divorces in the ’70s
- The rise in the percentage of unmarried births
- The beginning of what would be tens of millions of abortions
Before 1970, divorce was difficult to obtain and uncommon. Assignment of “fault” was required, usually proof of adultery, abandonment, or cruelty. Before 1965 the divorce rate was approximately ten divorces for every 1,000 married women.
By 1979 that percentage had more than doubled. California first introduced the “no-fault divorce” in 1970, signed by then-Governor Ronald Regan, himself a divorcee. In 1981 he would become the first divorced U.S. President. This trend spread to other states in the ’70s and ’80s, such that all states had some form of no-fault divorce law.
Until the late ’60s, “shotgun marriages” were the norm in premarital sexual relations resulting in pregnancy. According to the Washington Post, in 1967, the percentage of unmarried births among:
- African Americans (until 1969 denoting all nonwhites, including Asians and Native Americans) was about 30%.
- For Whites it was about 6%, for all groups it was about 10%.
According to the CDC, in 2016, those percentages changed to:
- African Americans, it is 73%
- Hispanics, it is 53%
- Whites, it’s 29%
Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, the abortion rate in 1969 was 5.2 per 1,000 women. Within a decade, the rate had more than doubled. The chart looks like this:
One modern writer has quipped,
” ‘Make love not war‘ became a war on the results of that love.”
Conclusion about Sex and the Summer of Love
The “sexual revolution” of 1967 was not something new; indeed, it was ancient. We can look back to the society of Imperial Rome, where sex was casual, unwanted infants (especially girls) were left to die exposed along the Tiber River, and the lower classes had no rights. Instead, they were treated as property to be used by the powerful and wealthy.
For example, the Roman historian Suetonius writes that Emperor Claudius insisted the daughter of his wife Urgulanilla by a freed slave be ‘cast out naked’ reducing her chances of survival.
Some have argued that this is the inevitable result of a post-Christian society. There is no doubt that we have, in recent years, seen a redefinition of marriage and sexual identity, as well as malleable love, chastity, fidelity, and even bathroom use.
In 1st century Imperial Rome, the counterculture “revolution” was the rise of the curious new faith that talked about a “love feast” and charity between “brothers and sisters.” Its adherents would rescue the abandoned children from the Tiber and raise these foundlings as their own, tend to their health, or give them a decent burial. It had a view that people were made imago dei, “in the image of God” with inestimable value, not random meaningless arrangements of molecules. Could that revolution happen again? Could the pendulum swing back the other way?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
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