The First Sexual Revolution

The “sexual revolution” beginning in the 1960s was actually considered, at the time, the “Second Sexual Revolution.” This is to distinguish from the “First Sexual Revolution,” which began in the 1890s and encompassed the 1920s. This was the adoption of “dating,” (basically, premarital sex) instead of Courtship. It also had a corresponding contraceptive technology, which was the cheap, mass-produced latex condom, which become common in the 1920s. It had its own music, Jazz, instead of Rock.

Here, from 1935, is a little better quality film, also of Josephine Baker, expressing the changes happening around that time.

It coincided with a movement of single women from their father’s house on the farm to single working life in the cities; and also, First Wave Feminism, expressed by the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. This was first introduced in 1878, and passed in 1919.

Before women became single working girls, there was not much point in having women vote. Women were either part of their father’s household, or their husbands, and their fathers and husbands voted for their whole household, presumably including the views of the wife.

Sexual Revolutions | Frontier to Heartland: Four Centuries ...

Despite this, many people continued to engage in Courtship, just as many people continued to engage in monogamous Dating after 1970.

The themes of stories like “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker (1929), would be familiar to Red Pill types today — girls who, instead of marrying young and starting a family, instead party their way through their 20s.

Hazel Morse is a big blonde. Like the other big blondes in her company, her life is an unremarkable stream of parties and men. Accepting unquestioningly that popularity is important, she strives to endear herself to many men. Hazel builds her external identity around an image—that of the good sport. At first it is easy, but gradually it becomes a matter of practice, for her to be cheerful and bubbly, carefree and gay. She begins to tire of the game and decides to marry, believing that this will enable her to discard the facade she had so carefully constructed. She soon learns, however, that the Hazel she presented at parties is the Hazel her husband wants her to be. When she ceases to be that Hazel, her husband grows disenchanted and leaves. Alone and without financial support, she falls into relationships with a variety of men, each expecting the jolly, compliant Hazel in exchange for their patronage.

Hazel cannot escape the consequences of the life she has chosen, nor can she escape recognizing the mistakes upon which those consequences are built. Her understanding of her circumstances is at first subverted by her own confusion: “Her days were a blurred and flickering sequence, an imperfect film, dealing with the actions of strangers. . . . She never pondered if she might be better occupied doing something else.” She falls deeper into the trap of posturings and pretensions, but certain realities nevertheless grow harder to deny; she wearies of always being accommodating and cheerful and begins to dwell on the things she must say and do to maintain her appeal. She hurries to banish these worries with alcohol. After a while, even the alcohol cannot blur the face of truth; she begins “to feel toward alcohol a little puzzled distrust, as toward an old friend who has refused a simple favor.” Hazel turns to suicide. When she is unsuccessful at permanently blotting out her painful existence, and can no longer retreat into a blissful alcoholic stupor, she realizes that truth is immutable and is compelled to face the dismal future wrought by her own hands.

In the story, her husband leaves her, but today she would leave him.

But, this period was stifled by the Great Depression and World War II, which drove people toward more risk-adverse behaviors.

This “first sexual revolution” was, in most ways, more significant than that of the 1960s, which merely picked up the same themes after people had recovered from the hardships of WWII. One point of this is, dysfunction — it is more-or-less the same dysfunction — has been with us a long time. We have to reach back before 1900 to find stable, productive systems.

Published by proprietor

Happily married, with children.

One thought on “The First Sexual Revolution

  1. I suspect that the Civil War started the crack in the dam, and it slowly grew until WW1 caused its rupture. European wars brought similar consequences there too.


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