The 70s: A False Sexual Renaissance?

A group of people in the 70s sitting in a field

Clad with floral print, peace symbols, and a new groove movement hitting discotheques globally, the 70s landmarked a mass cultural shift in a newly televised and colourised world, in more ways than one. The pill was launched onto the market to make sex liberating and accessible. Lothargic living arrived to replace the mod-rockers wave of the 60s to insight peace and love, with humans now able to reach for the stars and land on the moon. 

Many people now see the 70s as the pinnacle of ‘sexpression’ in a growing modern world, though this history often omits the bigger landscape of challenges that influenced the decade. 

Power In Punk

In the UK, this rose-tinted lens was greatly underpinned by the mass austerity being felt across the nations. When former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, inflation was peaking at 25% and civil disturbance underlined the sentiment being felt across the British workforce. By the end of Thatcher’s premiership in 1990, mass unemployment and welfare claimants showed how this economic suffrage from the 70s continued to linger across a third decade. 

When recollecting the glamour and knowledge of the 70s, this reality is often neglected. Yet this period’s determination to experience sexual liberation, despite widespread poverty and growing job losses, catalysed the creation of movements which today have defined the identity of British culture. 

The punk movement is a perfect example of these overlapping realities fusing together into one cultural expression, where struggles and hardships were embraced and reclaimed by those they affected. Icons in the punk movement harnessed the nuanced events happening across the decade and utilised this as an instrument for creative motivation. The Sex Pistols, Vivienne Westwood, and The Runaways – all creatives who rose to fame in the punk birth of the 70s and the provocative grandeur that it possessed. 

Many of the gifts given to us from the original punk generation are now even taken for granted, as these trailblazers helped to normalise many of the availabilities we have today. Before the time of late-night LoveHoney ordering and Ann Summers browsing was an after-dark kaleidoscope of communities that introduced a bondage-wrapped, gender-non-conforming view of sex and relationships to a whole new audience – expertly wrapped in a latex bow, of course. 

American Activism

Across the pond, many romanticised views of the 70s spring from the hippy collective resistance against the Vietnam War seen in America, fighting brutality with compassion at the picket line. After a decade of change-making through the civil rights movement, it appeared that America was ready to begin living in the inclusive future it promised to redefine itself as. But even this dream didn’t fully reflect the actuality of the 70s being experienced by everyday American citizens. 

Sexual liberation and accessible birth control were being celebrated alongside the continued struggle for abortion rights, sexual health awareness and legalising queer identities across the globe. These were campaigns being fought in America, the UK and beyond which truly illustrates the context that foregrounded the activism and change-making being seen during the 70s. 

Where there was beauty, there was also pain, and that was key to the millennium’s sexiest years. You couldn’t have one without the other, and that’s often forgotten in the romanticised reminiscence of what the 70s is immortalised as. 

(Not So) Happy Ending?

When looking at your own life and comparing it to this era, it’s easy to feel as if you were born at the wrong time or that the world we live in now is the polar opposite of the free-love movement of the past. But the sentiment of inclusivity and championing love for others is something that is embedded into all parts of daily living today and doesn’t have to be left in the daydreams of what life would have been like as a young adult only a few decades before. 

There’s no denying that there was a wide-set economic struggle experienced during the 70s, but recognising the decade as a period that was enriched with sexuality and romance can be equally as true. We can’t view the past through a rose-tinted lens and neglect the fact that there are multiple truths to each situation. The 70s were predicated by the sexual revolution but were equally as nourished by revolutions erupting across politics, economics, society and the creative industries. 

Although the decade may have catalysed change-making in sexual activity and relationships that have stayed with us through the years, looking forwards rather than stagnating in the past could be the best way to live out the sexual renaissance caused by the 70s to the fullest, most fashionable and sexiest way possible. 

Words by Alanya Smith 

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