Sexual Revolution

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A sexual revolution is the historical change in public sexual morality in the sense of a removal of taboos on sexual issues, increasing tolerance and acceptance of the sexual needs of the sexes and their sexual orientations , regardless of an institutionally or religiously legitimized form. It relates to changes in society in the second half of the 20th century.

History: Influences from philosophy, literature, medicine and psychology

Charles Fourier

Early thoughts on the creation of new forms of organization of living together come from the early socialist Charles Fourier (1772–1837). He expressly included free love in his utopia of a communal way of living and working. The “sexual revolution” of the second half of the 20th century did not refer explicitly to Fourier, but discovered the designer of the Phalanstères v. a. within the commune movement nevertheless as one of its forerunners.


Gustave Flaubert published the novel Madame Bovary in 1856/57 . Flaubert was charged by the censors with "offending against common decency"; among other things, he was accused of “glorifying adultery”. In one process he was acquitted.

Leo Tolstoy wrote the novel Anna Karenina in the 1870s . It is about marriage and morals in aristocratic Russian society in the 19th century. The married Anna has a love affair with Count Vronsky; this leads to the break of the marriage. In the end, Anna commits suicide .

Theodor Fontane published the novel Effi Briest in the mid-1890s . As a seventeen-year-old girl, Effi married Baron von Innstetten, who was more than twice his age, at her mother's encouragement. He treats Effi like a child and neglects her. Lonely in this marriage, Effi enters into a fleeting love affair with an officer. Years later, Innstetten discovers love letters and is unable to forgive Effi. Compulsively arrested according to an outdated code of honor , he kills the ex-lover in a duel and gets a divorce. Effi is now socially ostracized. Even their parents cast them out; only three years later do they take on the meanwhile terminally ill Effi again.

Sigmund Freud versus Otto Gross

Sigmund Freud (he is considered one of the fathers of psychoanalysis ) created the model of psychosexual development in childhood around 1900 . Psychoanalysis contributed to removing taboos from the subject of sexuality and making it an object of science and research. Freud saw the suppression of sexuality as the most important pathogenic factor for neurotic developments. Freud (unlike his student Otto Gross ) did not speak out in favor of an unlimited development of sexuality, but in favor of a situation-dependent (non-pathogenic) inhibition ( sublimation ). He saw the origin of cultural and social achievements in sublimated sexuality.

Sigmund Freud versus Wilhelm Reich

The expression sexual revolution - and its core meaning - goes back to Wilhelm Reich's work The Sexual Revolution , published in 1945 (German 1966, but for the first time in 1936 under the title Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf ). In it, Reich criticizes the, from his point of view, bigoted and lying sexual morality of his time. In Reich's view, double standards and the suppression of vital sexual instincts lead to personality deformations and thus lead to frustration and aggression . However, these are suppressed and have a tendency to create an outlet for the pleasure of domination and submission.

Furthermore, the suppression of sexuality paralyzes the creative potential of the individual and thus supports a capitalist system in which the individual, due to structural reasons, could do little or nothing to oppose their oppression.

According to Reich's view, a liberation of sexuality would bring about a peaceful change in social structures: People who lived in satisfactory contexts could not, or only with difficulty, be integrated into ruling structures or mobilized for violent actions.

The Kinsey Reports

The two books by the US zoologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey : The Sexual Behavior of Man (1955, Orig. 1948) and The Sexual, represented an important influence in the run-up to the sexual revolution - especially with regard to the removal of taboos on sexual topics Behavior of the woman (1954, Orig. 1953). His research results caused a sensation in the public.

Herbert Marcuse

While Wilhelm Reich had already died in 1957 and thus did not experience the further development, Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), who was counted as a critical theory and researched for a time at the Institute for Social Research together with Adorno and Horkheimer, was still able to influence personally take the events of the sexual revolution. His book Triebstruktur und Gesellschaft (1957), first published as Eros and Civilization. A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud , which appeared in English in 1955, gained great influence with a decade delay, but above all his later thesis of repressive desublimation , which he developed in his book The One-Dimensional Man .

Masters and Johnson

The gynecologist William H. Masters and his partner Virginia E. Johnson ( Masters and Johnson ) tried in the 1950s and 1960s to understand the structure, psychology and mechanisms of human sexuality and at the same time laid the foundation for a theoretical approach to the treatment of sexual ones Malfunctions and behavior. They recorded the physiological data during sexual arousal and based their results on the conclusion that sexual activity was healthy and a source of pleasure and intimacy.

One of the most consistent and important results of their research is the four-step model of sexual response, with arousal phase, plateau phase, orgasm, and regression phase , which they called the human reaction cycle.

At their St. Louis clinic , they treated patients with sexual problems such as: B. Impotence , premature ejaculation and the inability to experience orgasm . They classified homosexuality as a malfunction that could be treated with so-called conversion therapies .

The pill"

A major factor in the practical implementation of ideological change was the pharmacological breakthrough in the field of contraceptives through the development of the birth control pill, colloquially known as "the pill". This came on the market in the USA in 1960 and in West Germany in 1961; in the GDR 4 years later (1965). For the first time, hormonal contraception with a high degree of reliability enabled the factors sexuality - more precisely: sexual intercourse with vaginal penetration - and conception to be separated from one another. It is assumed that this fact had consequences for both genders: Many women of childbearing age could develop sexual behavior that was less fearful in this regard, and men were able to reduce their fear of unwanted liabilities and financial obligations.

The "sexual revolution" in the context of the student movement of "1968"

Demands for sexual freedoms met with great interest and a willingness to experiment in large parts of the 1968 movement : On the one hand, they wanted to free themselves from the “bigoted prudishness” of the 1950s, on the other hand, there was hope for social change through sexual liberation. Added to this was the fear of the continuity of authoritarian structures, as presented by Wilhelm Reich in Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933), Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom (1941) and Theodor W. Adorno and others. a. in The Authoritarian Personality (1950).

The controversy between the 68ers and the era of National Socialism also contributed to this: by suppressing vital instincts, many 68ers saw people's personality deformed. This was considered to be the reason for the willingness to do such terrible things to other people as happened in the so-called Third Reich .

The new sexual freedoms - additionally promoted by the simultaneous market readiness of the birth control pill - were often fought vehemently and with much support in church-conservative circles, but led socially much further than other political demands of the 1968 movement ( flower power movement ). In particular, they forced the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in the Federal Republic of Germany to adopt the “Recommendations on Sex Education in Schools”, which should give teachers a higher degree of legal certainty when teaching sexual subjects. The first sex education book Sexfront by Günter Amendt from 68, written especially for unmarried young people, was very successful .

The first representatives of the second German gay movement were also recruited from the 1968 movement , within which - in West Germany unlike in other western countries - the contradiction between political-general and personal-individual freedoms led to major differences of opinion, which in the so-called queer dispute culminated.

Different voices were heard from the ranks of feminist activists. Militant feminists declared sexual relationships between men and women as an essential factor in the oppression of women and saw penetration , i.e. the penetration of the penis into the woman's vagina, as the symbolic expression of male rule and power as well as the associated bondage of women.

Accordingly, a radical manless lifestyle was propagated, in which lesbian love relationships dominated in the ideal of equality .

The sex wave in the 1970s

The liberation of sexual needs, which was propagated by sexual science and left-libertarian , was associated with the expectation of being able to change people and society comprehensively and fundamentally. However, the liberalization of the relevant laws between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s was followed by the so-called “sex wave” in the media. This was criticized by the proponents of the sexual revolution insofar as it merely marketed the unfettered sexuality and completely lost sight of the original goal, the "character self-control of man" in the sense of Reich. In her investigation of the schoolgirl report, Annette Miersch came to the conclusion: “A sexual revolution in the socio-theoretical sense of her intellectual 'grandfathers' did not take place in the FRG - neither then nor any later. Instead, a media hype was unleashed under the same name . ”However, since the late 1960s, alternative forms of life were established among a minority , in which new ways of sexual coexistence were tried out.

In 1977 the German-language edition of the first Hite Report by the feminist sexologist Shere Hite came onto the market, which described the sexual experience of women and opposed the male-dominated marketing of sexuality. The news magazine Der Spiegel called the book "the most successful sex primer of the 1970s".

Consequences for prostitution

The increased supply of free and non-binding sex in connection with the sexual revolution led to a drastic decline in the number of prostitutes and a sharp fall in the price of their services. In the early 20th century, every 50th woman in the United States between the ages of 20 and 30 offered sexual services for money , according to a Department of Justice survey . A prostitute working in a brothel could earn an annual income equivalent to today's monetary value of US $ 76,000 per year. As of 2009, a street prostitute in Chicago made an average of about $ 18,000.

See also


  • Günter Amendt : On the sexual-political development after the anti-authoritarian school and student movement. In: Hans-Jochen Gamm , Friedrich Koch (Ed.): Balance of Sexual Education. Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1977, ISBN 3-593-32224-2 , pp. 17-38.
  • Barbara Eder, Felix Wemheuer (Ed.): The Left and Sex. Classic texts on the most important topic. Promedia, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-85371-327-3 .
  • Franz X. Eder, Peter-Paul Bänziger, Pascal Eitler, Magdalena Beljan (Eds.): Sexual Revolution? On the history of sexuality in German-speaking countries since the 1960s. Bielefeld 2015, ISBN 978-3-8376-2064-1 .
  • Shulamith Firestone : Women's Liberation and Sexual Revolution . (= Women in society. Volume 42). Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-596-24701-2 .
  • Linda Grant : Versext. The sexual revolution. History and Utopia (Sexing the Millennium. A Political History of the Sexual Revolution). Klein, Hamburg 1994, ISBN 978-3-89521-013-6 .
  • Ulrike Heider : Birds are nice. The sex revolt of 1968 and what remains of it. Rotbuch Verlag, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-86789-196-7 .
  • Dagmar Herzog : The politicization of pleasure. Sexuality in 20th Century German History. (Original title: Sex after Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany ). Siedler, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-88680-831-9 .
  • Friedrich Koch : Sexuality and Education. Between taboo, repressive desublimation and emancipation. In: Yearbook for Pedagogy 2008: 1968 and the new restoration. Frankfurt am Main 2009, p. 117 ff.
  • Annette Miersch: Schoolgirl Report. The German sex film of the 70s . Bertz + Fischer, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-929470-12-8 .
  • Wilhelm Reich : The Sexual Revolution. 16th edition. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-596-26749-8 .
  • Wilhelm Reich: The collapse of forced sexual morality . expanded and revised edition. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1972, ISBN 3-596-26750-1 .
  • Wilhelm Reich: The sexual struggle of youth (PDF) , publishing house for sexual politics. 1932.
  • Wilhelm Reich: The function of the orgasm . 1927. (psychoanalytical textbook, expanded and revised edition. Under the title Genitalität. 1982, ISBN 3-462-01504-4 )
  • Wilhelm Reich: The function of the orgasm . 1969. (scientific autobiography, first in English 1942)
  • Reimut Reiche : Sexuality and Class Struggle. To ward off repressive desublimation . Berlin 1968.
  • Volkmar Sigusch : In search of sexual freedom . Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2011, ISBN 978-3-593-39430-5 .
  • Gay Talese : You should desire - on the trail of the sexual revolution . Berlin 2007. (Orig. 1980)
  • Karla Verlinden: Sexuality and relationships among the “68ers”. Memories of former protagonists . Transcript , Bielefeld 2015, ISBN 978-3-8376-2974-3 (= Histoire , Volume 77, also a dissertation at the University of Cologne 2014, under the title: Sexuality and Relationships in the Context of the Student Movement ).
  • Christine Weder: Intimate relationships. Aesthetics and theories of sexuality around 1968. Wallstein, Göttingen 2016, ISBN 978-3-8353-1947-9 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Charles Fourier: From the New World of Love . Texts selected and introduced by Daniel Guérin . Klaus Wagenbach, West Berlin 1977.
  2. See chap. Sigmund Freud. In: Bernd A. Laska: Otto Gross between Max Stirner and Wilhelm Reich . From: Raimund Dehmlow, Gottfried Heuer (ed.): 3rd International Otto Gross Congress, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich ., Marburg 2003, pp. 125–162.
  3. Bernd A. Laska: Sigmund Freud contra Wilhelm Reich Excerpt from Bernd A. Laska: Wilhelm Reich, in self-testimonies and photo documents. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1981 (6th edition 2008), plus additions.
  4. Herbert Marcuse: The one-dimensional man. Verlag Hermann Luchterhand, Neuwied 1967 (English orig. 1964), pp. 76-102.
  5. (PDF) ( Memento from September 30, 2007 in the Internet Archive ): Melanie Caroline Steffens & Erin Marie Thompson: Verruchte - Perverse - Sick - Invisible: The historical view - Documentation of the VLSP Congress 2003, PDF ( November 3, 2005).
  6. ^ Annette Miersch: Schoolgirl Report. The German sex film of the 70s . Bertz, Berlin 2003.
  7. ^ Annette Miersch: Schoolgirl Report. The German sex film of the 70s . Bertz, Berlin 2003, p. 205.
  8. Shere Hite : Hite Report. The woman's sexual experience . Bertelsmann, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-570-02170-X (English: The Hite-report . Translated by Karin Peters).
  9. ^ Hite Report. Removing the cord from Doctor Freud . In: Der Spiegel . No. 37 , September 5, 1977 ( [accessed October 3, 2019]).
  10. Steven Levitt , Stephen J. Dubner : Superfreakonomics. Harper Collins, New York 2009.