Sexual pleasure, sexual rights and the Women's Liberation Movement

Sexual pleasure, sexual rights

The 1960s and 70s brought greater sexual freedom and choice for many women. Find out how the Women’s Liberation Movement allowed women to talk openly about sex in consciousness-raising groups and how gay politics overlapped with feminist politics.

Jo Robinson talks about sexual pleasure and her experiences with men and women

The 1960s and ‘70s brought greater sexual freedom and choice for heterosexual women with the advent of the contraceptive pill, the wider availability of other forms of contraception and the legalisation of abortion through the 1967 Abortion Reform Act. Consciousness-raising groups also gave women a place where, often for the first time, they could talk openly about their sexual experiences and desires. A new focus on sexual pleasure began to emerge among women.

Jenni Murrary talks about the sexual agency of women

Gail Lewis discusses attitudes to women's sexuality 

Mary McIntosh talks about the need to be 'out' as a lesbian

Gay and lesbian liberation politics and choice about sexuality

During the 1970s, as women met, talked and worked together in women’s centres on campaigns, they began to debate every aspect of their sexuality. Linking gay politics with feminist politics, the Gay Liberation Front was initially established in New York following the Stonewall riots of 1969 and in the UK in 1970. For lesbians, issues surrounding the right to define your own sexuality, and to have this accepted by society, were perhaps more relevant than debates about contraception and domestic violence (with its focus on male partners as perpetrators). The decriminalisation of homosexuality with the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 was an important gain, helping create greater tolerance for lesbians as well as gay men.

Many lesbian feminists wanted to set up separate groups in order to focus on their own politics. At the 1974 National Women’s Liberation Movement conference in Edinburgh, the ‘Sixth Demand’ arguing for ‘The right to a self-defined sexuality – an end to discrimination against lesbians’, was passed. From that point on, the national conferences were women-only. From 1973 there were also annual National Lesbian Conferences, as well as many other lesbian women’s groups set up during the 1970s.

Beatrix Campbell describes the consequences of sexual pleasure

  • Sisterhood and After Research Team
  • This article was researched and written by the Sisterhood and After Research Team, who are experts in the history of contemporary feminism and narrative life methods. The team included Abi Barber, Dr Polly Russell, Dr Margaretta Jolly, Dr Rachel Cohen, Dr Freya Johnson-Ross and Dr Lucy Delap. Further information about the team and project is available in the About the project section.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.