Volume > Issue > The Sexual Revolution, Explained

The Sexual Revolution, Explained


By Francis Canavan | November 1993
The Rev. Francis Canavan, S.J, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Fordham University. He is the au­thor of several books, most recently Edmund Burke: Prescription and Providence.

Western culture, the culture of what was once Christendom, is living through a vast change. The change is in itself nothing new, since it has been going on since the Enlightenment began some 300 years ago, and it has been enormously heightened by the Industrial Revolution of the past two centuries.

The part of this cultural revolution which is now referred to as the Sexual Revolution, however, has impinged upon our attention much more recently, although it, too, has roots far back in the past. But it is only in the last few decades that it has come out into the open as a rejection of and attack on the sexual morality of Christianity. I recall reading with some surprise only 30 years ago, in the British magazine New Society, “For the first time in centuries the Judeo-Christian code is under fire, not just from people who wish to break it for their own pleasure, but from people who believe that it is actually wrong.”

Since then, the Sexual Revolution has passed from what people think to what they do. Today, in the press, one constantly comes across statistics such as the following. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, more American teenagers (47 percent) regularly used contraceptives in 1988 than in 1982, when only 22 percent regularly used them. Yet the overall teenage pregnancy rate remained the same, because more teenagers were having sexual relations. Each year one of every 10 teenage girls in this coun­try becomes pregnant, and of those who give birth, about 60 percent are unmarried. One of every four babies born in the U.S. is born out of wedlock.

The Guttmacher Institute also reports that more than one out of five Americans now suffers from a sexually transmitted viral disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, sexually trans­mitted diseases are now at an all-time high among teenagers: Each year 2.5 million adolescents will contract a sexually transmitted disease.

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