During the 19th century, England went through a major change called The Reformation of Morals that was spearheaded by William Wilberforce. He was also famous for his role in ending the British slave trade. The changes were supported by Queen Victoria and the resulting changes in British society became known as Victorian Morality. England was a superpower in that time and had a trading empire that spanned the globe, so Victorian Morality spread all over the world and particularly the western world.
One of the hallmarks of this Victorian attitude is a reluctance to talk about sex and an intense social stigma toward anything labelled as sexual deviance. This attitude continued through the early 20th century. It led to a number of strange paradoxes in the United States and elsewhere. Victorian ethics were generally accepted socially but often ignored privately. This hypocrisy was most visible during Prohibition with the clear mandate from the American people that they wanted alcohol to be illegal for everyone else, but obviously they should be allowed to drink it. This also spilled over into many strip clubs and prostitution rings run by organized crime. After Prohibition, Victorian morals still ruled the day publicly. Then the 1960s came and brought a key force of change, birth control. Suddenly sex became a lot less risky as far as pregnancy was concerned. The sexual revolution sparked as a counter-culture to the long lived Victorian morals.
The 1960s also generated another important force of social change: Playboy. Now there was a magazine with cool cultural impact and thoughtful opinion columns and, oh yeah, beautiful naked women. The erosion of Victorian morals had begun as the rate of cultural change accelerated. The only missing element to truly harness this change was coming: the internet. Suddenly all manner of topics were accessible quickly and, most importantly, privately. Men and women could learn about sexual behavior of all kinds without having to actually ask a person who might judge them. The previous power of the Victorian morals was in the social stigma that was created by talking openly about sexual matters. Now, any image, discussion, or topic could be accessed privately.
It is worth noting that we changed as a people because we could look at this material in private. We did not resist pornography because we had deep moral convictions about it. We resisted because it was embarrassing to ask for pornography at the gas station counter. It showed us our hearts as a people. In a way, we should be grateful for having our hearts exposed, then the Holy Spirit begins his work.
The other observation to make is that the sexual counter-culture was not counter to the Bible but to the Victorian Morals. An example of this is how openly the Bible discusses sex, something that is not Victorian at all. The Song of Solomon is graphically erotic yet it made the Bible.
Another example would be a set of leather lingerie. Now the Victorian Morals would respond to this negatively, clearly something unseemly. The Bible would say that if this was for a wife to wear for her husband, there is nothing wrong. There is no verse about leather underwear and no biblical principle is violated by a wife wearing them to please her husband.
Now, obviously many of the Victorian Morals in regard to monogamy, premarital sex, homosexuality, and many other issues were wholly in line with scripture. I say this to make it clear that we as Christians need to be biblical and not Victorian. The power of the Victorian Morals was a social pressure. It didn’t change hearts. It never could. We need to be people of God’s word because the only way I will ever leave the sin of lust will not be because you or my church don’t like it. It will be because there is the Holy Spirit of God in my heart.
Now that is a force of personal and cultural change!