According to a new study by UCI sociologist David John Frank, the sexual revolution that defined the Swinging Sixties began earlier, continued later, and significantly changed the classification and regulation of sex crimes in countries around the world. 

"When we refer to the sexual revolution, we typically refer to something that happened suddenly in the 1960s, that took place mainly in the U.S. or Western countries, and that lifted restrictions on all kinds of sexual interaction," says Frank.  "None of these is entirely true."

In a study published in the December 2010 issue of the American Sociological Review, Frank and co-authors found that beginning as early as the mid-1940s, societal views of the role of sex began changing from a predominantly procreative activity linked to collective and moral orders to one focused on self-expression and individualism.  Using global data collected from 194 nation-states on sex crime laws from 1945-2005, they analyze the effects of this re-conceptualization on sex crime regulation.  They find that as societal models shifted to an individualistic focus, laws regulating sodomy and adultery - acts generally defined as consensual transactions among adults - became more relaxed.  Conversely, laws regulating rape and child sexual abuse - crimes committed without individual consent - expanded in scope. 

Specifically during the 60-year period:

  • 34 of 50 adultery law revisions around the world, or 68 percent, contracted the scope of laws criminalizing adultery
  • 83 of 102 sodomy law revisions, or 81 percent, contracted the scope of laws criminalizing sodomy
  • 119 of 140 child-sexual-abuse amendments around the world, or 85 percent, expanded the scope of laws regulating child sex abuse
  • 120 of 123 rape-law amendments, or 98 percent, expanded the scope of laws regulating rape

The changes, explains Frank, reflect fundamental cultural shifts.

"The rise of the individual in world models of society has raised the priority of individual consent and lowered the priority of collective order across the policy field," he says. 

"The whole process," he adds, "has unleashed a global wave of sex-law reforms, dispersing the seeds of sexual revolution."

For a copy of the study, co-authored by Bayliss J. Camp, California State University-Sacramento, and Steven A. Boutcher, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and UCI sociology Ph.D. alumnus, please visit

-Heather Wuebker, Social Sciences Communications
-photo by Kristy Salsbury, Social Sciences

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