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Milestones in the sexual revolution

1 November 2012 | by Paul Yeulett

Milestones in the sexual revolution

Footage of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 makes fascinating viewing. How Britain, and the world, has changed over six decades! Clothes, cars, shops, speech – all these, and more, were so very different back then. And, of course, it was all in black-and-white. It is difficult for people of my generation, whose earliest memories coincide roughly with the first colour television pictures, to appreciate that the full spectrum of colours actually existed before about 1970. The past surely was black-and-white!

Changing attitudes

There is another sense in which the past, viewed from the vantage point of 2012, seems so very black-and-white. There has been a transformation in attitudes towards sexual ethics and sexual behaviour, so much so that we can speak of a ‘sexual revolution’. It is surely the change in attitudes which is most significant. Sexual sin, of course, is as old as sin itself; anyone acquainted with the narratives in Genesis, or indeed the myths of pagan nations, will understand that. No culture in the world has ever been preserved from sexual sin; neither has any individual member of Adam’s fallen race.

But what is comparatively new, at least in British culture, is the absence of shame in relation to such sin. The very notion of shame – of dishonour and disgrace – has almost totally disappeared. In fact the situation has turned full-circle. What was once viewed as a source of shame is now regarded as a cause for pride and celebration. Why has all this happened?

A godly consensus

The straightforward answer is that the Bible, which teaches an absolute standard of righteousness, has been rejected. Without such a standard, there cannot be a concept either of sin or of shame. The scriptures once held an established place in society and functioned, more or less, as the nation’s collective conscience. An earlier generation may not have been evangelical ‘to a man’, but there nevertheless existed what we might call a godly consensus on sexual morality. Acts of adultery, fornication or homosexuality were far more likely to cause shame – both publicly and privately – than they are today. Broadly speaking, this was true sixty years ago when our present Queen ascended to the throne.

Legislation and public opinion

The course of change over the last sixty years has been gradual, but it is possible to identify certain key events and decisions which have sped the process along. These include various pieces of legislation carried out by Parliament. Legislation of this kind sometimes takes place as a result of public opinion, or perhaps because of a perception that the public mood is shifting in a certain direction. But we ought not to underestimate the extent to which legislation itself shapes public perceptions.

The swinging sixties

The year 1960 witnessed the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which contained many crudely sexual references. The publishers, Penguin Books, were prosecuted under the newly-passed Obscene Publications Act, but in a landmark verdict they were acquitted. Three million copies of the book were soon sold, and the floodgates were well and truly opened wide in the decade that followed.

The Labour Government (1964- 1970) contributed to this revolution, enacting legislation which had the most far-reaching consequences, much of it instigated by Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins. In addition to hugely significant Acts of Parliament dealing with divorce and abortion, the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts carried out in private between two men over the age of twenty-one. Just how different the public attitude was at the time can be plainly witnessed in the words of Lord Arran, one of the politicians instrumental in having the Bill passed:

This is no occasion for jubilation; certainly not for celebration. Any form of ostentatious behaviour; now or in the future, any form of public flaunting, would be utterly distasteful and would, I believe, make the sponsors of the Bill regret that they have done what they have done. Homosexuals must continue to remember that while there may be nothing bad in being a homosexual, there is certainly nothing good.

Can we imagine the public reaction if a senior politician were to speak in such tones today? And can we see how the very scenario feared by Lord Arran quickly became the norm?

No-nonsense guide to sex

But if the Government contributed to a shift in public opinion, the popular media helped all the more to accelerate it. On 12 August 1975 the Daily Mirror’s agony aunt, Marje Proops, presented The Mirror Guide to Sexual Knowledge, a ‘no-nonsense guide to sex’, evidently aimed at the whole family, children included. The stated intention may have been to reverse the increase in the number of abortions and ‘unwanted pregnancies’, but the form of presentation could only be described as explicit, even voyeuristic. The idea was taking hold that open, unbridled conversations about sex would combat ignorance and result in a more ‘adult’ attitude. Sex Education programmes in schools claimed a similar rationale. But the numbers of teenage pregnancies, abortions and occurrences of sexually-transmitted diseases continued to rise inexorably.

At the click of a mouse

From the mid-1990s the internet rapidly became a part of everyday life for a great number of British people, and the extent of this technological revolution has yet to be fully appraised. One of the most devastating outcomes of these developments, however, has been the great ease with which pornographic materials – texts as well as images and videos – can now be accessed. Gone are the days when clients reach for the top shelf in the newsagents and sheepishly take their purchase to the counter – perhaps shame isn’t so dead after all? – it can now all be viewed ‘at the click of a mouse’. And it is young people, even children, who are viewing these materials, with the most alarming consequences for the future.

And now, at the time of writing (June 2012), a ‘consultation’ on the redefinition of marriage has just closed, and the Government seems intent on pursuing its agenda to its inevitable conclusion: homosexual couples will be able to marry, and anyone who objects to their inviolable ‘rights’ will be regarded as an out-of-touch bigot. Sexually deviant behaviour cannot simply be ‘tolerated’ – how intolerant is that! – it must be ‘celebrated’.

The consequences of God’s wrath

Here is the inescapable conclusion. What has taken place in British society over recent years has not come out of the blue. We are at a certain point in a long, ugly and tragic process. With the word of God to guide us, we can determine the stage that we have reached. In Romans 1:18-32 Paul describes a calamitous downhill slide into moral anarchy. He speaks of ‘sexual impurity’, ‘shameful lusts’, ‘the degrading of their bodies with one another’. This was the condition of the decadent classical world of the first-century A.D.

Why did these things happen? Because the world did not see fit to acknowledge God, ‘God gave them up to a debased mind, to do what ought not to be done’ (Rom. 1:28). Here is the most sobering truth of all: these phenomena were not simply the causes of God’s wrath, they were the consequences of God’s wrath. To all intents and purposes, twenty-first-century Britain is in exactly the same desperate condition – under the judgement of God. The visitation of God in power, through the conviction of sin, and repentance and faith through Jesus Christ, must be our only hope and prayer.

Paul Yeulett is the pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.