Sex, Religion, and the Single Woman c.1950-75: the Importance of a 'Short' Sexual Revolution to the English Religious Crisis of the Sixties

Callum G. Brown

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    21 Citations (Scopus)


    The English 'sexual revolution' has recently become increasingly conceived as 'long', lasting many decades, and by some historians as a gradual phenomenon, but reaching a peak with the introduction of the oral contraceptive pill in the 1960s. At the same time, the 'religious crisis' of the same decade has been attributed by some recent scholarship to liberal Christian revolt within the churches, and largely unconnected with sex. This article offers different views. First, based on the illegitimacy rate, it argues that, after a period of decline, restraint, and only minor change in the period 1946-59, the 1960s witnessed a sudden growth in pre-marital heterosexual intercourse before the pill's availability to single women, implying a cultural rather than a technological cause. Second, based on contemporary social surveys, it argues that there is clear evidence of a strong inverse correlation between levels of religious activity and levels of pre-marital sexual intercourse. Third, it argues that in the 1950s the dominant conservative Christian culture restrained single women from pre-marital sexual intercourse, but that from the early 1960s changing attitudes led to rising levels of sexual activity, led by single women, which reduced religious attitudes and Christian churchgoing, thus constituting a significant instigator of the religious crisis.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)189-215
    Number of pages27
    JournalTwentieth Century British History
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011



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