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Summer of Love 50 Years Later: Make Love, Not War

Summer of Love 50 Years Later: Make Love, Not War

In the summer of 1967, America found itself in a very similar place to where it finds itself today, 50 years later.

The country was bitterly divided, torn asunder by a generation gap; glaring racial, cultural, political, economic, educational, and lifestyle differences; a seemingly endless and possibly unwinnable war in a distant foreign land; and an increasingly unpopular president in the White House.

However, first in San Francisco, and soon spreading around the country and much of the western world, a movement blossomed where a group of rebellious dreamers were convinced they had discovered a way to reject materialism and find peace, love, and happiness.

They were called hippies and they unleashed what is called today the Summer of Love. In a 7-part series, Booming Encore is examining that special summer of 1967 and its lasting effects today. This is part 2.

Part 1: The Summer of Love 1967 – 50 Years Later

By Dave Price

Some ex-hippie Baby Boomers might contend that the Summer of Love changed everything about sex, but they wouldn’t be correct.

However, a strong argument can be made that with its widespread embracing of free love, that one 1967 summer did have a strong impact on sexual mores and relationships both then and now.

As Duquesne Associate Professor of Sociology Professor Sarah MacMillen told The Beaver County Times in that paper’s recent examination of sex and the Summer of Love,

“The Summer of Love didn’t create anything new, but it was an expression of a pressure cooker that blew its top.”

Perhaps the biggest change that shocked members of older generations at the time was the fact that the new 60s counterculture advocated young men and women having multiple sexual partners in a series of short-term relationships with members of the commune, college, or neighborhood community in which they were living.

Actually, freely dispensed sex wasn’t new.

It was something different societies had been experimenting with since ancient Roman times. Many historians point out that a sexual revolution broke out in America in the 1920s when alienated youth, disillusioned and horrified by World War I, buried the moral code of the Victorian era with the much freer attitudes of the Jazz Age, a period so well explored in the writings of authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

American attitudes about sex had been undergoing many changes since the end of World War II.

In 1953, Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy magazine. Ten years later, Betty Friedan offered The Feminine Mystique, a classic which is credited with sparking modern feminism. Researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson published the ground-breaking book Human Sexual Response in 1966. And in May of the year of the Summer of Love, a Michigan youth commission recommended sex education be introduced into the schools there.

In addition, by the mid-1960s, several scientific advances allowed for more widespread promiscuity without many of the previous dangers for such actions.

First, during World War II, it was discovered that the wonder-drug penicillin could treat syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Secondly, even though they were still illegal in many states and could be life-threatening if botched, more doctors were performing abortions that ever before. By 1973, due in part to the greater number of women seeking them, the Supreme Court, in its landmark Roe v. Wade case, legalized abortion nationwide.

But most historians point to the release of the birth control pill for women as the single most significant scientific reason for the spread of the sexual philosophy described in 60s song as “love the one you’re with”.

In 1960, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration licensed a new oral contraceptive. “The Pill,” as it was dubbed, became extraordinarily popular and studies showed that within two years of its release an estimated 1.2 million women were using it, a number that would only grow. By 1966, for example, more than six million American women were using the new contraceptive.

While it would be impossible to assign a direct cause and effect to the new contraceptive, The Pill quickly became a symbol of the new sexual revolution.

A landmark 1994 study of American sex by Chicago University sociology professor Edward O. Laumann and his colleagues showed that among women born between 1933 and 1942, 93 percent of them had their first sexual union with a man when they married. The study showed that among women born between 1963 and 1974, only 36 percent followed that practice, meaning that 64 percent had engaged in sexual relations before marriage.

For many young women in the hippie movement, sex was a way to actively show their individualism, their rebellion, and their break from the taboo of frank female sex talk and action.

Emboldened by a new freewheeling, permissive attitude toward nudity and sex, as early as 1965, Haight-Ashbury residents started the Sexual Freedom League to confront traditional standards and repudiate and reject previous sexual taboos.

Initially, many young women at the time of the Summer of Love felt free love was a direct assault on a world which consigned second-class status to women.

In the media, for example almost all news about women was relegated to special parts of the paper labeled “the women’s page.” In movies and TV, women were usually depicted either as happy homemakers or fallen angels. Newspapers referred to married women as Mrs., then her husband’s full name, and all want ads were segregated by sex.

Unfortunately, however, the Summer of Love didn’t usher in a new equality for women.

It didn’t take long for many women in the movement to realize that the sexual freedoms associated with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius didn’t change their role in their new society all that much.

Perhaps the macho nature still prevalent was best captured by black radical Stokely Carmichael’s famous statement: “The only position for women in the movement is prone.” Many male hippies, while pushing their philosophy of freedom and doing your own thing, appeared to view women in a similar way to Carmichael.

According to first-hand accounts from the period, women were often used as an inducement to get new male members into a commune or crash-pad. Sex often replaced currency in drug deals and other transactions. The infamous Charles Manson was roaming the San Francisco streets in late 1967, recruiting girls for his soon-to-be-deadly family.

In fact, social historians have pointed out that many women in the Summer of Love gradually came to realize that to men free love actually meant free love without any responsibility whatsoever. They expected “their women” to perform all the tasks associated with gender including cooking and child rearing.

Not surprisingly, many of those women became leading activists in the new Women’s Revolution, which blossomed in the late 1960s and is still continuing today.

Next Post: “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” becomes the drug mantra of a new generation.

Booming Encore Encore
Additional reading about women and sex around the time of the Summer of Love.
1. Loose Change by Sara Davidson
2. The Femine Mystique by Betty Friedan
3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
4. Sexual Politics by Kate Millet
5. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer

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Dave Price operates a freelance writing/speaking/consulting/tour guiding practice in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on 3 topics – the Baby Boomer generation, classic rock, and issues on aging, especially those affecting men. A former journalist and educator, Price is researching 2 books, one on the status of classic rock music and its songs, performers, and fans today and the other a DC guidebook designed especially for Baby Boomers.