After the 2nd World War and in the 1950’s sexual behaviour was a very taboo subject and not openly discussed. Sex was conducted behind closed doors and in the confines of marriage. Sex was mainly for reproductive purposes and pleasure was not that important. When a woman got pregnant outside of marriage and the father was around they were made to marry (shotgun wedding) as this brought great shame on the family. Adoption and unmarried mothers homes were in existence and the church normally ran these. Children born to these mothers were put up for adoption. Church values were very strong and church leaders had alot of say in the way family life was conducted.
Alfred Kinsey in the USA conducted a major investigation in the 1940’s and 1950’s of sexual behaviour and faced condemnation from many religious organisations for being immoral. He persisted and eventually obtained sexual life histories of 18,000 people. This showed a gap that can exist between publicly accepted attitudes and actual sexual behaviour.
Sexual attitudes had undoubtedly became more permissive over the last 30 years. The 1960’s brought openly declared attitudes more into line with the realities of sexual behaviour. Social movements challenged the existing order of society. The ‘New Left’ and Hippie Lifestyles broke with existing sexual norms, free love and pre-martial sex was adopted in their cultures. Drugs were available and many people lost their inhibitions while under the influence.
In 1967 the Abortion Act entitled women to legal abortion on medical and social grounds, although this was a very limited service on the NHS but many private clinics opened. This and the contraceptive pill played a great part in women becoming more sexually adventurous, as fear of becoming pregnant was taken away. Societies views on abortion was very negative at the time, and there is still very mixed attitudes on this subject.
The 1970’s and 1980’s marked change in the public perception of homosexuals. High media profile of performers such as David Bowie and Quentin Crisp brought the idea of men wearing make up. Alot of sexual practises and preferences were brought out into the open – swinging, wife swapping and transvestism. Many clubs were started to accommodate this.
The biggest change in attitude to sexual behaviour came in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In the early 80’s just when people’s prejudices were beginning to adjust and accept the gay community along came mass media on AIDS. AIDS was first seen as a gay disease, and this made gay men stay in monogamous relationships. Media started to campaign on safe sex, and as more research evidence was gathered, heterosexuals were told that they were at risk.
This lead people being more aware of their sexual behaviour or not worry and think “it will not happen to me”. Homosexuals are often seen as threatening by the ‘straight’ community. Attitudes have changed in their perception of gays with gay bars and clubs in most big cities. Lesbian communities are less organised and they tend to mix with the ‘straight’ community more. Media has, with the storylines in soap operas about gay and lesbian characters brought this lifestyle into many homes on television where families can discuss the issues making it easier for people to ‘come out’.
With people being more open and discussing sexual behaviour more, many youngsters are engaging in sexual practice earlier. This leads to problems, as their body is ready but their minds are still immature. Teenage pregnancies seem to be the norm and society just accepts this. The Government are trying to alleviate this problem of teenage pregnancy by not allocating a council house to under 18’s, if they can not stay with their family they will have to stay in supervised hostel accommodation. The teenage father will have to pay child maintenance as soon as they start working. Sex education and responsibility will be taught in primary schools. With this legislation they hope to halve the 90,000 teenage pregnancies in the next decade.
In cinema and theatre scenes are shown which previously would have been completely unacceptable, while pornographic material is readily available to most adults who wish to obtain it.
Prostitutes have been around all the time, but some have changed from women earning a living to children and drug addicts. Some members of society have accepted that prostitutes are around and also will be (it is one of the oldest professions) and are campaigning to legalise it and centralise them in one area so that it can be properly controlled, rather then walking the streets and being in residential areas.
As said before sexual behaviour has not really changed, but sexual attitudes have. Societies have gained in confidence in their sexual behaviour and societies are more acceptable of people’s preferences. Double standards do still exist but not as much as before. Pre-martial sex has risen. Some old fashioned values are starting to reappear as more is being discovered about sexual disease and society just being able to make up their own minds about their own sexual behaviour.