Intellectuals “theorize” what ordinary people need no theory to explain or justify.
Both Christianity and bourgeois capitalism deprecated sex. They built a great civilization on impulse-repression. Arguably, though, that civilization left people psychologically maimed. Sexual repression produced “moodiness” in men. The solution? Widespread resort to brothels. Sexual repression produced “hysteria” in women. The solution? Manual manipulation of the afflicted area by gynecologists. Later, the electric-powered vibrator became a favored household appliance.
Not everyone cared to play along. If enough specialist history books are consulted, it soon becomes apparent that lots of men and women liked sex. They also didn’t care what “high” culture said on the subject. The written evidence for this is patchy. One has to imagine the milk-maids and swineherds in Meissen going for a roll in the porcelain hay. Surely some of them did. In the 18th Century, the English “Hell Fire Club” engaged in all sorts of depravity. Late in the 18th Century, a “quack sexologist” named James Graham created an electrified “celestial bed” that was supposed to facilitate conception. In the 19th Century, sexual dissidence went hand in hand with political radicalism. “Owenites,” “Fourierists,” and the myths of Brook Farm all spread stories of “free love” early in the 19th Century, while Havelock Ellis and Edward Carpenter provided a scientific rationale at the end of the century.
One of the dissidents was Wilhelm Reich. Soon after the end of the First World War, Reich got the idea that what we are most ashamed of—sex in all its variety–might actually be the thing that could heal our psychic wounds. Later Reich used the term “sexual revolution” to express a causational link between sexual emancipation and political change. (Subsequently, the German Communist Party expelled Reich for his sexual militancy and the International Psychoanalytical Association expelled Reich for his political militancy.)
The slow percolation into a broader society of Reich’s ideas helped set off the “sexual revolution” of the post-war period. Blindly, Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex (1972) ratified a belief that sexual liberation began in the Sixties.
In fact, “sexual revolution” did not bring political revolution. Probably this is an example of “sensualism” (the satisfaction of short-term physical desire) diverting people from revolutionary activity, just as Bolsheviks feared that “economism” (the satisfaction of short-term material wants through union bargaining) would divert the working class from revolution.
Again and again, change-agents are appalled by what they have wrought. Reich ended his days as a Republican.
 Ariel Levy, “Novelty Acts,” The New Yorker, 19 September 2011.
 For an illustration of this, see Brian Moore, Black Robe (1985). The Stone Age hunting and gathering Indians are sexually promiscuous, while the Iron Age French colonists are materially secure and frustrated.
 See Rachel Maines, The Technology of Orgasm (2010).
 Inevitably, historians have fastened on the more talky and twisted among them. People like Richard Burton (the explorer). Algernon Swinburne, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti tend to hog the limelight.
 Graham was a one-time resident of Philadelphia, but I find no statues to his memory.
 You got a bad back? That’s a different story. And for God’s sake, never try to do it in the driver’s seat of a Camaro.
 Yes, yes, everyone wants to believe that the sexual revolution began in the Sixties (or—for Catholics—in the Seventies and Eighties). However, it actually began much earlier and is related to post-war housing construction and the urban job market as much as to “the Pill.” All of these things empowered women to define their own lives. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_m67JbGjWnc