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social sciences

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The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980  
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The sexual revolution also encountered obstacles of another sort: sexually transmitted diseases (STD). The diseases spread by sex are numerous and ancient: gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts, genital herpes, hepatitis B. Starting in the late 1970s, there were a growing number of reports about STD. Both Time and Newsweek produced cover stories on herpes.

The gay male communities in particular were swept by waves of gonorrhea, syphilis, and Hepatitis B. The discovery of an AIDS epidemic among gay men in the early 1980s provoked a major crisis in the gay community and its sexual politics. Medical researchers and gay leaders struggled to find ways of stopping the epidemic without completely excluding all sexual activity.

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Eventually a number of gay activists invented "safer sex." Practicing safer sex, gay men could engage in sex, using condoms, without transmitting the virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. Soon, safer sex was adopted by public health educators and AIDS activists as the basis for HIV prevention. Safer sex and traditional public health treatment programs for the older STDs have since reduced the spread of these diseases considerably.


The sexual revolution was not merely a revolution in sexual behavior per se--measured by sociologists as an increase in the lifetime number of sexual partners--but also a cultural revolution that was intertwined with many other significant social changes. Women's sexuality was redefined, and new stress was laid on clitoral orgasm and sexual satisfaction. A culture of sexual experimentation (swinging, S/M clubs, singles bars) emerged that contributed to the evolution of new sexual norms.

The women's movement, the counterculture, the development of new lifestyles, lesbian and gay liberation, a greater acceptance of pleasure, and all kinds of improvements in the quality of life overlap with the sexual revolution. Many cultural and political changes resulting from the sexual revolution are still working themselves out. However, there is no doubt that the sexual revolution of post-World War II America has changed sexual and gender roles permanently.

Jeffrey Escoffier

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literature >> Overview:  Camp

Combining elements of incongruity, theatricality, and exaggeration, camp is a form of humor that helps homosexuals cope with a hostile environment.

literature >> Overview:  Censorship

Governments, publishers, editors, and even gay writers themselves have censored gay content in literature from the Renaissance to the present.

arts >> Overview:  Censorship in the Arts

Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.

social sciences >> Overview:  The Closet

If the closet has served to institutionalize homosexuality as shameful and inferior vis-à-vis the legitimate heterosexual culture, it has also provided a space of possibility for subversive sexual and political acts.

arts >> Overview:  Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

Given the historic stigma around making, circulating, and possessing overtly homoerotic images, the visual arts have been especially important for providing a socially sanctioned arena for depicting the naked male body and suggesting homoerotic desire.

arts >> Overview:  Erotic and Pornographic Art: Lesbian

Considering the unique set of problems facing lesbians who want to produce erotic art for the enjoyment of other lesbians, it is remarkable that so much lesbian erotica has been produced in so brief a time.

literature >> Overview:  Erotica and Pornography

Erotic and pornographic works have been written in many cultures since ancient times and recently have flourished with the relaxation of censorship.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Left

The Gay Left refers to a cluster of positions on the political spectrum that has existed within the lesbian and gay rights movement at least since the Stonewall riots.

social sciences >> Overview:  Leather Culture

"Leather" is a blanket term for a large array of sexual preferences, identities, relationship structures, and social organizations loosely tied together by the thread of what is conventionally understood as sadomasochistic sex.

social sciences >> Overview:  Lesbian Feminism

The dominant ideology among politicized lesbians during the 1970s and 1980s, Lesbian Feminism was based on the premise that lesbianism and feminism were inextricably linked.

social sciences >> Overview:  Lesbian Sex Wars

The lesbian "sex wars" of the 1980s, centered on issues of pornography and s/m, constituted one of the most significant debates among second-wave feminists in North America and Europe.

social sciences >> Overview:  New Right

The New Right, which emerged during the last two decades of the twentieth century, combines evangelical Christian morality with a political agenda in opposition to glbtq equality.

arts >> Overview:  Pornographic Film and Video: Bisexual

Bisexual pornography began in earnest during the mid-1980s, but the quality and number of bisexual videos has decreased dramatically since their heyday in the 1980s.

arts >> Overview:  Pornographic Film and Video: Gay Male

Gay male pornographic film and video, which dates from the release of Wakefield Poole's The Boys in the Sand in 1971, has provided gay men an all-too-rare positive image of gay sexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Pornographic Film and Video: Lesbian

Although pornography is controversial among lesbians, it has nonetheless been openly embraced by a faction of pro-sex lesbians, and there has emerged a small but growing film and video industry committed to authentic lesbian pornography.

arts >> Overview:  Pornographic Film and Video: Transsexual

Most of the pornography that features transsexuals is neither made by nor for them, but in recent years trans porn activists have began to produce pornography for transsexual and other queer audiences.

social sciences >> Overview:  Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis, which began as a therapeutic procedure, ultimately became one of the most powerful methods of cultural analysis and critique of the twentieth-century.

social sciences >> Overview:  Women's Liberation Movement

The Women's Liberation Movement, which flourished during the 1970s, constitutes the largest and most widely publicized social movement of women in history.

social sciences >> Altman, Dennis

Australian political scientist and self-described "international activist-academic" Dennis Altman has studied both the glbtq political movement and the globalization of sexual identities.

literature >> Foucault, Michel

One of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, Foucault has had an enormous influence on our understanding of the lesbian and gay literary heritage and the cultural forces surrounding it.

social sciences >> Freud, Sigmund

The founder of psychoanalysis and the discoverer of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud initiated a fundamental transformation in the self-understanding of Western men and women, including especially the role of sexuality.

literature >> Hemingway, Ernest

Ernest Hemingway, himself sexually insecure, included negative, even abusive portrayals of gay men in his fiction.

social sciences >> Kinsey, Alfred C.

The most important sex researcher of the twentieth century, Alfred C. Kinsey contributed groundbreaking studies of male and female sexual behavior in America.

social sciences >> Kinsey Institute

The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, established by Alfred Kinsey in 1947, has pioneered in the study of American sexual behavior.

literature >> Millay, Edna Saint Vincent

Poet and playwright Edna Saint Vincent Millay expressed her bisexuality in both her life and her work.

social sciences >> National Organization for Women (NOW)

The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded in 1966 with the goal of bringing about political, social, and legal equality for all women.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.


Allyn, David. Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution. An Unfettered History. Boston: Little Brown, 2000.

Altman, Dennis. The Homosexualization of America, The Americanization of Homosexuality. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.

Echols, Alice. Shaky Ground: The Sixties and Its Aftershocks. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Escoffier, Jeffrey. American Homo: Perversity and Community. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1998.

_____. "Fabulous Politics: Queer, Lesbian and Gay Movements, 1969-1999." The World the Sixties Made: Politics and Culture in Recent America. Van Gosse and Dick Moser, eds. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003.

_____. "The Invention of Safer Sex: Vernacular Knowledge, Gay Politics and HIV Prevention." Berkeley Journal of Sociology 43 (Spring 1999): 1-28.

_____, ed. Sexual Revolution. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003.

Heidenery, John. What Wild Ecstasy: The Rise and Fall of the Sexual Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Irvine, Janice M. Disorders of Desire: Sex and Gender in Modern American Sexology. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

Robinson, Paul A. The Freudian Left: Wilhelm Reich, Geza Roheim, Herbert Marcuse. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.

_____. The Modernization of Sex: Havelock Ellis, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia Johnson. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

White, Kevin. Sexual Liberation or Sexual License?: The American Revolt Against Victorianism. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.


    Citation Information
    Author: Escoffier, Jeffrey  
    Entry Title: The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 15, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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