The neosexual revolution

Arch Sex Behav. 1998 Aug;27(4):331-59. doi: 10.1023/a:1018715525493.


The affluent societies of the Western world have witnessed a tremendous cultural and social transformation of sexuality during the 1980s and 1990s, a process I refer to as the neosexual revolution. Up to now, this recoding and reassessment of sexuality has proceeded rather slowly and quietly. Yet both its real and its symbolic effects may indeed be more consequential than those brought about in the course of the rapid, noisy sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The neosexual revolution is dismantling the old patterns of sexuality and reassembling them anew. In the process, dimensions, intimate relationships, preferences, and sexual fragments emerge, many of which had been submerged, were unnamed, or simply did not exist before. In general, sexuality has lost much of its symbolic meaning as a cultural phenomenon. Sexuality is no longer the great metaphor for pleasure and happiness, nor is it so greatly overestimated as it was during the sexual revolution. It is now widely taken for granted, much like egotism or motility. Whereas sex was once mystified in a positive sense--as ecstasy and transgression, it has now taken on a negative mystification characterized by abuse, violence, and deadly infection. While the old sexuality was based primarily upon sexual instinct, orgasm, and the heterosexual couple, neosexualities revolve predominantly around gender difference, thrills, self-gratification, and prosthetic substitution. From the vast number of interrelated processes from which neosexualities emerge, three empirically observable phenomena have been selected for discussion here: the dissociation of the sexual sphere, the dispersion of sexual fragments, and the diversification of intimate relationships. These processes go hand in hand with the commercialization and banalization of sexuality. They are looked upon as being controlled individually through the mechanisms of a fundamentally egotistical consensus morality. In conformity with the general principles at work in society, the outcome of the neosexual revolution could be described as self-disciplined and self-optimized lean sexuality.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Love
  • Male
  • Sex
  • Sexual Behavior / history
  • Sexuality* / history
  • Sociology / history
  • Sociology / trends