Sexual Liberationism and the Search for New Sexual Knowledge
This chapter examines the emergence of radical sexual movements from the late 1960s, and consequent changes in debates over the regulation of young people’s sexual behaviour which became apparent in a major official review of age of consent laws in the late 1970s. I begin by outlining the emergence of second wave feminism, gay liberationism and sexual libertarian movements, and discuss how they can be conceptualised in the context of wider ‘epistemo-logical transformations’ during the 1960s and 1970s. I examine the meaning of claims for equality and liberation which were advanced in relation to age of consent laws among those instigating a new sexual politics, with particular attention to debates within the UK Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Drawing on sources from the Hall-Carpenter archive, the national lesbian and gay archive, I argue that these debates over equality, liberty and gendered power can be interpreted as a microcosm of later conflicts over the regulation of young people’s sexuality which subsequently emerged in mainstream culture. The second half of the chapter then focusses on a major government review of age of consent laws in the late 1970s, conducted by the Home Office Policy Advisory Committee of Sexual Offences. This was the first government review of age of consent laws since the 1920s; it remains the most recent UK review to have considered changing the age of 16 for sexual intercourse, and provided a new validation for this age.
KeywordsSexual Intercourse Sexual Offence Sexual Knowledge British Medical Association Psychological Maturity
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