Principles[ edit ] Much of the free love tradition reflects a liberal philosophy that seeks freedom from state regulation and church interference in personal relationships.
According to this concept, the free unions of adults are legitimate relations which should be respected by all third parties whether they are emotional or sexual relations. In addition, some free love writing has argued that both men and women have the right to sexual pleasure without social or legal restraints. In the Victorian era , this was a radical notion. Later, a new theme developed, linking free love with radical social change, and depicting it as a harbinger of a new anti-authoritarian , anti-repressive sensibility.
To this mentality are attributed strongly-defined gender roles, which led to a minority reaction in the form of the free-love movement. Rather, it has argued that sexual relations that are freely entered into should not be regulated by law. The term "sex radical" is also used interchangeably with the term "free lover", and was the preferred term by advocates because of the negative connotations of "free love".
The abrogation of individual rights in marriage is also a concern—for example, some jurisdictions do not recognize spousal rape or treat it less seriously than non-spousal rape. Free-love movements since the 19th century have also defended the right to publicly discuss sexuality and have battled obscenity laws.
At the turn of the 20th century, some free-love proponents extended the critique of marriage to argue that marriage as a social institution encourages emotional possessiveness and psychological enslavement. Sex-positive feminism The history of free love is entwined with the history of feminism. From the late 18th century, leading feminists, such as Mary Wollstonecraft , have challenged the institution of marriage, and many have advocated its abolition. In , free love advocate Mary Gove Nichols — described marriage as the "annihilation of woman," explaining that women were considered to be men's property in law and public sentiment, making it possible for tyrannical men to deprive their wives of all freedom.
Free-love advocates argued that many children were born into unloving marriages out of compulsion, but should instead be the result of choice and affection—yet children born out of wedlock did not have the same rights as children with married parents. However of the four major free-love periodicals following the U. Mary Gove Nichols was the leading-female advocate and the woman most looked up to in the free-love movement. Her autobiography became the first argument against marriage written from a woman's point of view.
Access to birth control was considered a means to women's independence, and leading birth-control activists also embraced free love. Sexual radicals remained focused on their attempts to uphold a woman's right to control her body and to freely discuss issues such as contraception , marital-sex abuse emotional and physical , and sexual education.
These people believed that by talking about female sexuality, they would help empower women. To help achieve this goal, such radical thinkers relied on the written word, books, pamphlets, and periodicals, and by these means the movement was sustained for over fifty years, spreading the message of free love all over the United States.
Pictured, they are being rounded up for their heretical views. A number of utopian social movements throughout history have shared a vision of free love. The all-male Essenes , who lived in the Middle East from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD apparently shunned sex, marriage, and slavery. An Early Christian sect known as the Adamites existed in North Africa in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries and rejected marriage. They practiced nudism and believed themselves to be without original sin.
In the 6th century, adherents of Mazdakism in pre-Muslim Persia apparently supported a kind of free love in the place of marriage,  and like many other free-love movements[ citation needed ], also favored vegetarianism, pacificism , and communalism. Some writers have posited a conceptual link between the rejection of private property and the rejection of marriage as a form of ownership[ citation needed ].
Women had an uncommon equality and autonomy, even as religious leaders. Other movements shared their critique of marriage but advocated free sexual relations rather than celibacy, such as the Brethren of the Free Spirit , Taborites , and Picards. Enlightenment thought[ edit ] Frontispiece to William Blake 's Visions of the Daughters of Albion , which contains Blake's critique of Judeo-Christian values of marriage.
Oothoon centre and Bromion left , are chained together, as Bromion has raped Oothoon and she now carries his baby.
Theotormon right and Oothoon are in love, but Theotormon is unable to act, considering her polluted, and ties himself into knots of indecision. The challenges to traditional morality and religion brought by the Age of Enlightenment and the emancipatory politics of the French Revolution created an environment where ideas such as free love could flourish.
A group of radical intellectuals in England sometimes known as the English Jacobins , who supported the French Revolution developed early ideas about feminism and free love. Notable among them was the Romantic poet William Blake , who explicitly compared the sexual oppression of marriage to slavery in works such as Visions of the Daughters of Albion Blake was critical of the marriage laws of his day, and generally railed against traditional Christian notions of chastity as a virtue.
Poems such as "Why should I be bound to thee, O my lovely Myrtle-tree? Visions of the Daughters of Albion is widely though not universally read as a tribute to free love since the relationship between Bromion and Oothoon is held together only by laws and not by love. For Blake, law and love are opposed, and he castigates the "frozen marriage-bed".
In Visions, Blake writes: Till she who burns with youth, and knows no fixed lot, is bound In spells of law to one she loathes? Title page from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman , by Mary Wollstonecraft , an early feminist and proponent of free love. Another member of Blake's circle was the pioneering English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her husband and early anarchist, William Godwin. The ideals of free love found their champion in one of the earliest feminists. In her writings, Wollstonecraft challenged the institution of marriage, and advocated its abolition.
Her novels criticized the social construction of marriage and its effects on women. In her first novel, Mary: A Fiction written in , the heroine is forced into a loveless marriage for economic reasons. She finds love in relationships with another man and a woman. Mary makes it clear that "women had strong sexual desires and that it was degrading and immoral to pretend otherwise.
Though the relationship ended badly, due in part to the discovery of Imlay's infidelity, and not least because Imlay abandoned her for good, Wollstonecraft's belief in free love survived. She later developed a relationship with Godwin, who shared her free love ideals, and published on the subject throughout his life. However, the two did decide to marry, just days before her death due to complications at parturition. In an act understood to support free love, their child, Mary , took up with the then still-married English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at a young age.
Shelley wrote in defence of free love and vegetarianism in the prose notes of Queen Mab , in his essay On Love c. I never was attached to that great sect, Whose doctrine is, that each one should select Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend, And all the rest, though fair and wise, commend To cold oblivion True love has this, different from gold and clay, That to divide is not to take away. Utopian socialism[ edit ] Sharing the free-love ideals of the earlier social movements—as well as their feminism, pacifism, and simple communal life—were the utopian socialist communities of early-nineteenth-century France and Britain, associated with writers and thinkers such as Henri de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier in France, and Robert Owen in England.
Fourier, who coined the term feminism, argued that true freedom could only occur without masters, without the ethos of work, and without suppressing passions: He argued that all sexual expressions should be enjoyed as long as people are not abused, and that "affirming one's difference" can actually enhance social integration.
Robert Owen argued that marriage formed one of an "awful trinity" of oppressors to mankind, as well as religion and private property, and his son Robert Dale was a leading proponent of free divorce.
The Saint-Simonian feminist Pauline Roland took a free-love stance against marriage, having four children in the s, all of whom bore her name. Though apparently scandalous at the time, such liaisons seemed the actions of admired artists who were following the dictates of their own wills, rather than those of social convention, and in this way they were in step with their era's liberal philosophers of the cult of passion, such as Fourier, and their actual or eventual openness can be understood to be a prelude to the freer ways of the twentieth century.
Friedrich Nietzsche spoke occasionally in favor of something like free love, but when he proposed marriage to that famous practitioner of it, Lou Andreas-Salome , she berated him for being inconsistent with his philosophy of the free and supramoral Superman, a criticism that Nietzsche seems to have taken seriously, or to have at least been stung by.
Behavior of this kind by figures in the public eye did much to erode the credibility of conventionalism in relationships, especially when such conventionalism brought actual unhappiness to its practitioners.
Origins of the movement[ edit ] The eminent sociologist Herbert Spencer argued in his Principles of Sociology for the implementation of free divorce. Claiming that marriage consists of two components, "union by law" and "union by affection", he argued that with the loss of the latter union, legal union should lose all meaning and dissolve automatically, without the legal requirement for a divorce.
Postcard of the Oneida Community Mansion House from Free love began to coalesce into a movement in the mid to late 19th century. The term was coined by the Christian socialist writer John Humphrey Noyes , although he preferred to use the term ' complex marriage '. Noyes founded the Oneida Community in , a utopian community that "[rejected] conventional marriage both as a form of legalism from which Christians should be free and as a selfish institution in which men exerted rights of ownership over women".
He found scriptural justification: Another movement was established in Berlin Heights, Ohio. In , a writer named Marx Edgeworth Lazarus published a tract entitled "Love vs. American feminist Victoria Woodhull — , the first woman to run for presidency in the U. In , Woodhull wrote: I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere".
Like Noyes, she also supported eugenics. Fellow social reformer and educator Mary Gove Nichols was happily married to her second husband , and together they published a newspaper and wrote medical books and articles,    a novel, and a treatise on marriage, in which they argued the case for free love.
Both Woodhull and Nichols eventually repudiated free love. Ezra Heywood , Lucifer, the Light-Bearer ed. A minority of freethinkers also supported free love. The first volume consisted of twenty writers, of which only one was a woman.
Some other nineteenth-century Americans saw this social institution as flawed, but hesitated to abolish it. Groups such as the Shakers, the Oneida Community, and the Latter-day Saints were wary of the social notion of marriage. These organizations and sex radicals believed that true equality would never exist between the sexes as long as the church and the state continued to work together, worsening the problem of subordination of wives to their husbands.
A group of Villagers lived free-love ideals and promoted them in the political journal The Masses and its sister publication The Little Review , a literary journal. Incorporating influences from the writings of the English thinkers and activists Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis , women such as Emma Goldman campaigned for a range of sexual freedoms, including homosexuality and access to contraception.
Other notable figures among the Greenwich-Village scene who have been associated with free love include Edna St. Dorothy Day also wrote passionately in defense of free love, women's rights, and contraception—but later, after converting to Catholicism, she criticized the sexual revolution of the sixties. The development of the idea of free love in the United States was also significantly impacted by the publisher of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner , whose activities and persona over more than a half century popularized the idea of free love to the general public.
United Kingdom[ edit ] Havelock Ellis was a pioneer sexologist and advocate of free love. Free love was a central tenet of the philosophy of the Fellowship of the New Life , founded in , by the Scottish intellectual Thomas Davidson. Many of the Fellowship's members advocated pacifism , vegetarianism and simple living. He became interested in progressive education, especially providing information to young people on the topic of sexual education.
For Carpenter, sexual education meant forwarding a clear analysis of the ways in which sex and gender were used to oppress women, contained in Carpenter's radical work Love's Coming-of-Age. In it he argued that a just and equal society must promote the sexual and economic freedom of women.