The sexual revolution liberated the West. What about the rest?

In 1995, the United Nations issued a declaration essentially calling for all nations to pursue gender equality, citing the great benefits that would accrue to all citizens.

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2015
Sigmund Freud.
Photograph of Sigmund Freud. (Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2015 – The sexual revolution that unfolded in the West in the ‘60s and ‘70s ushered in an era of liberation and gender equality. This liberation part of the equation may explain the differences in behaviors among different cultures.

In 1905, Dr. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, wrote a series of essays on the theory of sexuality. Among other things, he observed that people have sexual drives, a conclusion that was quite controversial at the time. He later reached additional conclusions about how these drives are stifled by society.

As Dr. Freud’s theories began to influence other scholars, additional research showed that stifling these natural sexual drives contributed to aggressive behavior in men and more often than not, also led societies to hold a view that women were inferior to men. This view of gender inequality severely constrained women’s behavior and in some cultures resulted in an enormous loss of their personal freedom.

In the 1960s, women in the United States and many other Western cultures concluded that they were, in fact, equal to men and were therefore entitled to equal opportunity in the work force and in life choices. What had held women back in the past was societies’ attitude toward sexual activity, often defined as the “double standard,” as well as a lack of control over their own reproductive process.


By creating and making available inexpensive and easy-to-use methods of birth control, medical science solved part of the problem in a genuinely revolutionary fashion. One result was that a rising generation of men and women  declared they would rather “make love not war.”

Perhaps more significantly, this development also began to change the West’s long-held double standard attitudes toward women. Baby boomers began to instill the importance of gender equality as they educated future generations, creating a contemporary society where women are regarded as fully capable of performing virtually any job a man can do, including, perhaps, becoming the president of the United States.

In 1995, the United Nations issued a declaration essentially calling for all nations to pursue gender equality, citing the great benefits that would accrue to all citizens. In 2005, however, when the U.N. reviewed the initiative, the organization was disappointed by the lack of progress in this area.

In societies and countries that have generally accepted gender equality, individuals seem to feel more liberated and eventually more content with the lives they lead. Having largely achieved gender equality along with sexual freedom, Americans are free to seek the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness guaranteed to us all in the Declaration of Independence.

In many cultures, however, religious beliefs run counter to the principles of freedom and gender equality. Even in the U.S., many religions simply look askance at reproductive behaviors that run counter to their beliefs. In matters of doctrine, these religious communities seem aware that their followers recognize the strength of their sexual drives, yet still desire to be an active part of these religious communities. In these situations, a compromise is generally reached.

In cultures where religious beliefs are held and enforced strongly enough to dominate the behavior of a society, gender equality is today still largely taboo. Women are accorded far fewer rights and opportunities than men in these societies, a reality most readily perceived by the strict behavioral and dress codes imposed on women and rigorously enforced.

This stifling behavior likely causes a frustration shared by all, but especially by women who often live their entire lives without ever experiencing personal freedom and fulfillment. In addition, psychologists say that for frustrated men, the gender inequality situation is the likely culprit leading to an unrealistic view of women, which, in turn, could contribute significantly to rise in aggressive behavior.

In the U.S., while we still have a way to go to reach true gender equality, women are witnessing much more opportunity in society and in the workforce, and they are taking advantage of it. For instance, in colleges and universities today, 60 percent of the students are female, while only 40 percent are male, a notable break from past traditions.

For their part, the latest rising generation − the millennials (age 18 to 34) − view gender equality quite matter-of-factly. The advances millennials have made and the contentment many feel clearly spring from values that originated during the sexual revolution. This phenomenon has occurred in the U.S. as well as much of the civilized world.

Our hope is that in remaining countries around the world, the conflict between religious beliefs and physiological drives can be reconciled rather than stifled, and belief systems can evolve to fit the modern world. The result could very well be a more peaceful world for all.

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