Free love

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Free love is a social movement that rejects marriage, which is seen as a form of social and financial bondage. The Free Love movement's initial goal was to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery. It claimed that such issues were the concern of the people involved, and no one else.[1]


Much of the free-love tradition is an offshoot of anarchism, and reflects a libertarian 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.[2]

According to today's stereotype, earlier middle-class Americans wanted the home to be a place of stability in an uncertain world. To this mentality are attributed strongly defined gender roles, which led to a minority reaction in the form of the free love movement.[3]

While the phrase free love is often associated with promiscuity in the popular imagination, especially in reference to the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, historically the free-love movement has not advocated multiple sexual partners or short-term sexual relationships. 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".[citation needed] By whatever name, advocates had two strong beliefs: opposition to the idea of forceful sexual activity in a relationship and advocacy for a woman to use her body in any way that she pleases.[4]

Laws of particular concern to free love movements have included those that prevent an unmarried couple from living together, and those that regulate adultery and divorce, as well as age of consent, birth control, homosexuality, abortion, and sometimes prostitution; although not all free love advocates agree on these issues. 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.[citation needed]

Relationship to 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.[5]

According to feminist stereotype, and to some extent in actuality, a married woman was solely a wife and mother, denying her the opportunity to pursue other occupations; sometimes this was legislated, as with bans on married women and mothers in the teaching profession. In 1855, free love advocate Mary Gove Nichols (1810–1884) 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.[6][7] For example, the law sometimes allowed a husband to physically discipline his wife. Free-love advocates argued that many children are 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.[8]

Although the free love movement largely concerned women, the chief organizers have mostly been men.[citation needed] This helped foster a male ideology, and proved to women that some men[who?] were just as serious as they were about this issue. Although men were the main contributors to the organized and written part of the free love movement, the movement itself was still associated with loud and flashy women.

In 1857, Minerva Putnam complained that, “in the discussion of free love, no woman has attempted to give her views on the subject.” There were six books during this time that endorsed the concept of free love. Of the four major free love periodicals following the civil war, only two of them had female editors. Mary Gove Nichols was the leading female advocate, and the woman who most people looked up to, for the free love movement. She wrote her autobiography, which became the first case against marriage written from a woman's point of view.[9]

To proponents of free love, sex was not just about reproduction. Access to birth control was considered a means to women's independence, and leading birth-control activists also embraced free love. Sex 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, sex radicals relied on the written word, books, pamphlets, and periodicals. This method helped these people sustain this movement for over 50 years, and helped spread their message all over the United States.[10]

The famous feminist Gloria Steinem at one point stated, “you became a semi-nonperson when you got married.” She also famously coined the expression 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.' Steinem dismissed marriage in 1987 as not having a 'good name.' Steinem got married in 2000, stating that the symbols that feminists once "rebelled against" now are freely chosen, or society had changed.[11]


Early precedents

The Adamites were a sect that rejected marriage. 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.[12] They also renounced wealth, lived communally, and were pacifist[13] vegetarians. 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,[14] 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]. One folk story from the period that contains a mention of a free-love (and nudist) community under the sea is "The Tale of Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman" from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (c. 8th century).[15]

Karl Kautsky, writing in 1895, noted that a number of "communistic" movements throughout the Middle Ages also rejected marriage.[16] Typical of such movements, the Cathars of 10th to 14th century Western Europe freed followers from all moral prohibition and religious obligation, but respected those who lived simply, avoided the taking of human or animal life, and were celibate. Women had an uncommon equality and autonomy, even as religious leaders. The Cathars and similar groups (the Waldenses, Apostle brothers, Beghards and Beguines, Lollards, and Hussites) were branded as heretics by the Roman Catholic Church and suppressed. 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

Frontispiece to William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), 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 (1793). Blake was critical of the marriage laws of his day, and generally railed against traditional Christian notions of chastity as a virtue.[17] At a time of tremendous strain in his marriage, in part due to Catherine's apparent inability to bear children, he directly advocated bringing a second wife into the house.[18] His poetry suggests that external demands for marital fidelity reduce love to mere duty rather than authentic affection, and decries jealousy and egotism as a motive for marriage laws. Poems such as "Why should I be bound to thee, O my lovely Myrtle-tree?" and "Earth's Answer" seem to advocate multiple sexual partners. In his poem "London" he speaks of "the Marriage-Hearse" plagued by "the youthful Harlot's curse", the result alternately of false Prudence and/or Harlotry. 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? and must she drag the chain
Of life in weary lust? (5.21-3, E49)

Blake believed that humans were "fallen", and that a major impediment to a free love society was corrupt human nature, not merely the intolerance of society and the jealousy of men, but the inauthentic hypocritical nature of human communication.[19] He also seems to have thought that marriage should afford the joy of love, but that in reality it often does not,[20] as a couple's knowledge of being chained often diminishes their joy.

Title page from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), 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 1788, the heroine is forced into a loveless marriage for economic reasons. She finds love in relationships with another man and a woman. The novel, Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman, never finished but published in 1798, revolves around the story of a woman imprisoned in an asylum by her husband; Maria finds fulfilment outside of marriage, in an affair with a fellow inmate. Mary makes it clear that "women had strong sexual desires and that it was degrading and immoral to pretend otherwise.”[21]

Wollstonecraft felt that women should not give up freedom and control of their sexuality, and thus didn't marry her partner, Gilbert Imlay, despite the two conceiving and having a child together in the midst of the Terror of the French Revolution. 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. Percy also wrote in defence of free love (and vegetarianism) in the prose notes of Queen Mab (1813), in his essay On Love (c. 1815) and in the poem Epipsychidion (1821):

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

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: the suppression of passions is not only destructive to the individual, but to society as a whole. 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 1830s, all of whom bore her name.

The German composer Richard Wagner advocated something like free love in several of his works, and began a family with Cosima Liszt, then still married to the conductor Hans von Bülow. 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. The relationship between composer Frédéric Chopin and writer George Sand can be understood as exemplifying free love in a number of ways. 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.

That European outpost, Australia, which began its existence as a penal colony, had a much more flexible view of cohabitation and sexual bonding than was known in Europe itself at the time, "Neither the male nor the female convicts thought it was disgraceful, or even wrong, to live together out of wedlock."[22]

Origins of the movement

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.[23] Free love particularly stressed women's rights since most sexual laws discriminated against women: for example, marriage laws and anti-birth control measures.[24]

United States

The Oneida Society was a utopian community established in the 1840s, which practiced a form of free love. Postcard of the community from 1907.

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 Society in 1848, 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: "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven" (Matt. 22:30).[25] Noyes also supported eugenics; and only certain people were allowed to become parents. Another movement was established in Berlin Heights, Ohio.

In 1852, a writer named Marx Edgeworth Lazarus published a tract entitled "Love vs. Marriage pt. 1," in which he portrayed marriage as "incompatible with social harmony and the root cause of mental and physical impairments." Lazarus intertwined his writings with his religious teachings, a factor that made the Christian community more tolerable to the free love idea.[4] Elements of the free-love movement also had links to abolitionist movements, drawing parallels between slavery and "sexual slavery" (marriage), and forming alliances with black activists.

American feminist Victoria Woodhull (1838–1927), the first woman to run for presidency in the U.S. in 1872, was also called "the high priestess of free love". In 1871, Woodhull wrote: "Yes, I am a Free Lover. 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".[26]

The women's movement, free love and Spiritualism were three strongly linked movements at the time, and Woodhull was also a spiritualist leader. 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,[27][28][29] a novel, and a treatise on marriage, in which they argued the case for free love. Both Woodhull and Nichols eventually repudiated free love.

Publications of the movement in the second half of the 19th century included Nichols' Monthly, The Social Revolutionist, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly (ed. Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Clafin), The Word (ed. Ezra Heywood), Lucifer, the Light-Bearer (ed. Moses Harman) and the German-language Detroit newspaper Der Arme Teufel (ed. Robert Reitzel). Organisations included the New England Free Love League, founded with the assistance of American libertarian Benjamin Tucker as a spin-off from the New England Labor Reform League (NELRL). A minority of freethinkers also supported free love.[30]

The most radical free love journal was The Social Revolutionist, published in the 1856–1857, by John Patterson. The first volume consisted of twenty writers, of which only one was a woman.[9]

Sex radicals were not alone in their fight against marriage ideals. 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.[4]

Anarchist free-love movements continued into the early 20th century in bohemian circles in New York's Greenwich Village. 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. Vincent Millay, Max Eastman, Crystal Eastman, Floyd Dell, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Ida Rauh, Hutchins Hapgood, Neith Boyce; a certain extreme was reached by self-proclaimed Satanist Anton LaVey. 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

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 1883, by the Scottish intellectual Thomas Davidson.[31] Fellowship members included many illustrious intellectuals of the day, who went on to radically challenge accepted Victorian notions of morality and sexuality, including poets Edward Carpenter and John Davidson, animal rights activist Henry Stephens Salt,[32] sexologist Havelock Ellis, feminists Edith Lees, Annie Besant and Emmeline Pankhurst and writers H. G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell and Olive Schreiner.[33] Its objective was "The cultivation of a perfect character in each and all," and believed in the transformation of society through setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. Many of the Fellowship's members advocated pacifism, vegetarianism and simple living.[34]

Edward Carpenter was the first activist for the rights of homosexuals. 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. The main crux of his analysis centred on the negative effects of the institution of marriage. He regarded marriage in England as both enforced celibacy and a form of prostitution.

He did not believe women would truly be free until a socialist society was established.[citation needed] In contrast to many of his contemporaries, however, this led him to conclude that all oppressed workers should support women's emancipation, rather than to subordinate women's rights to male worker's rights.[citation needed] He remarked, "...there is no solution except the freedom of woman - which means, of course, the freedom of the masses of the people, men and women, and the ceasing altogether of economic slavery. There is no solution which will not include the redemption of the terms free women and free love to their true and rightful significance. Let every woman whose heart bleeds for the sufferings of her sex, hasten to declare herself and to constitute herself, as far as she possibly can, a free woman."

The best-known British advocate of free love was the philosopher Bertrand Russell, later Third Earl Russell, who said that he did not believe he really knew a woman until he had made love with her. Russell consistently addressed aspects of free love throughout his voluminous writings, and was not personally content with conventional monogamy until extreme old age. His most famous work on the subject was Marriage and Morals, published in 1929. The book heavily criticizes the Victorian notions of morality regarding sex and marriage. Russell argued that the laws and ideas about sex of his time were a potpourri from various sources, which were no longer valid with the advent of contraception, as the sexual acts are now separated from the conception. He argued that family is most important for the welfare of children, and as such, a man and a woman should be considered bound only after her first pregnancy.[35]

First edition of Marriage and Morals, published in 1929.

Marriage and Morals prompted vigorous protests and denunciations against Russell shortly after the book's publication.[36] A decade later, the book cost him his professorial appointment at the City College of New York due to a court judgment that his opinions made him “morally unfit” to teach.[37] Contrary to what many people believed, Russell did not advocate an extreme libertine position. Instead, he felt that sex, although a natural impulse like hunger or thirst, involves more than that, because no one is "satisfied by the bare sexual act". He argued that abstinence enhances the pleasure of sex, which is better when it "has a large psychical element than when it is purely physical".[38]

Russell noted that for a marriage to work requires that there "be a feeling of complete equality on both sides; there must be no interference with mutual freedom; there must be the most complete physical and mental intimacy; and there must be a certain similarity in regard to standards of value". He argued that it was, in general, impossible to sustain this mutual feeling for an indefinite length of time, and that the only option in such a case was to provide for either the easy availability of divorce, or the social sanction of extra-marital sex.[38]


Interest in free love spread to Australia in the late 19th century. The English-born anarchist, Chummy Fleming founded the Melbourne Anarchist Club in 1886, which led a debate on the topic of free love, and a couple of years later released an anonymous pamphlet on the subject: 'Free Love—Explained and Defended' (possibly written by David Andrade or Chummy Fleming). The view of the Anarchist Club was formed in part as a reaction to the infamous Whitechapel murders by the notorious Jack the Ripper; his atrocities were at the time popularly understood by some – at least, by anarchists – to be a violation of the freedom of certain extreme classes of "working women," but by extension of all women.

Newcastle libertarian Alice Winspear, the wife of pioneer socialist William Robert Winspear, wrote: "Let us have freedom — freedom for both man and woman—freedom to earn our bread in whatever vocation is best suited to us, and freedom to love where we like, and to live only with those whom we love, and by whom we are loved in return." A couple of decades later, the Melbourne anarchist feminist poet Lesbia Harford also championed free love.


In the bohemian districts of Montmartre and Montparnasse, many were determined to shock the "bourgeois" sensibilities of the society they grew up in; many, such as the anarchist Benoît Broutchoux, favored free love. At the same time, the cross-dressing radical activist Madeleine Pelletier practised celibacy, distributed birth-control devices and information, and performed abortions.

An important propagandist of free love was individualist anarchist Emile Armand. He advocated naturism and polyamory in what he termed la camaraderie amoureuse.[39] He wrote many propagandist articles on this subject such as "De la liberté sexuelle" (1907) where he advocated not only a vague free love but also multiple partners, which he called "plural love".[39] In the individualist anarchist journal L'en dehors he and others continued in this way. Armand seized this opportunity to outline his theses supporting revolutionary sexualism and camaraderie amoureuse that differed from the traditional views of the partisans of free love in several respects.

Later Armand submitted that from an individualist perspective nothing was reprehensible about making "love", even if one did not have very strong feelings for one's partner.[39] "The camaraderie amoureuse thesis", he explained, "entails a free contract of association (that may be annulled without notice, following prior agreement) reached between anarchist individualists of different genders, adhering to the necessary standards of sexual hygiene, with a view toward protecting the other parties to the contract from certain risks of the amorous experience, such as rejection, rupture, exclusivism, possessiveness, unicity, coquetry, whims, indifference, flirtatiousness, disregard for others, and prostitution."[39] He also published Le Combat contre la jalousie et le sexualisme révolutionnaire (1926), followed over the years by Ce que nous entendons par liberté de l'amour (1928), La Camaraderie amoureuse ou “chiennerie sexuelle” (1930), and, finally, La Révolution sexuelle et la camaraderie amoureuse (1934), a book of nearly 350 pages comprising most of his writings on sexuality.[39] In a text from 1937, he mentioned among the individualist objectives the practice of forming voluntary associations for purely sexual purposes of heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual nature or of a combination thereof.

He also supported the right of individuals to change sex and stated his willingness to rehabilitate forbidden pleasures, non-conformist caresses (he was personally inclined toward voyeurism), as well as sodomy. This led him to allocate more and more space to what he called "the sexual non-conformists", while excluding physical violence.[39] His militancy also included translating texts from people such as Alexandra Kollontai and Wilhelm Reich and establishments of free love associations which tried to put into practice la camaraderie amoureuse through actual sexual experiences.

Free love advocacy groups active during this time included the Association d'Études sexologiques and the Ligue mondiale pour la Réforme sexuelle sur une base scientifique.[39]


In Germany, from 1891 to 1919, the Verband Fortschrittlicher Frauenvereine (League of Progressive Women's Associations) called for a boycott of marriage and for the enjoyment of sexuality. Founded by Lily Braun and Minna Cauer, the league also aimed to organise prostitutes into labor unions, taught contraception, and supported the right to abortion and the abolition of criminal penalties against homosexuality, as well as running child-care programs for single mothers. In 1897, teacher and writer Emma Trosse published a brochure titled Ist freie Liebe Sittenlosigkeit? ("Is free love immoral?").

The worldwide homosexual emancipation movement also began in Germany in the late 19th century, and many of the thinkers whose work inspired sexual liberation in the 20th century were also from the German-speaking world, such as Sigmund Freud, Otto Gross, Herbert Marcuse, Wilhelm Reich, and Max Stirner's follower and biographer, John Henry Mackay.


After the October Revolution in Russia, Alexandra Kollontai became the most prominent woman in the Soviet administration. Kollontai was also a champion of free love. However, Clara Zetkin recorded that Lenin opposed free love as "completely un-Marxist, and moreover, anti-social".[40] Zetkin also recounted Lenin's denunciation of plans to organise Hamburg's women prostitutes into a “special revolutionary militant section”: he saw this as “corrupt and degenerate.”

Despite the traditional marital lives of Lenin and most Bolsheviks, they believed that sexual relations were outside the jurisdiction of the state. The Soviet government abolished centuries-old Czarist regulations on personal life, which had prohibited homosexuality and made it difficult for women to obtain divorce permits or to live singly. However, by the end of the 1920s, Stalin had taken over the Communist Party and begun to implement socially conservative policies. Homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, and free love was further demonized.


From the late 1940s to the 1960s, the bohemian free-love tradition of Greenwich Village in America was carried on by the beat generation, although differing with their predecessors by being an apparently male-dominated movement. The Beats also produced the first appearance of male homosexual champions of free love in the U.S., with writers such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Like some of those before, the beats challenged a range of social conventions, and they found inspiration in such aspects of black culture as jazz music. The Beat movement led on the West Coast to the activities of such groups as the Merry Pranksters (led, according to Grateful Dead historian Dennis McNally, not by novelist Ken Kesey, but by hipster and driver Neal Cassady) and the entire San Francisco pop music scene, in which the implications of sexual bohemianism were advanced in a variety of ways by the hippies. The study of sexology continued to gain prominence throughout the era, with the work of researchers Alfred Kinsey and Masters and Johnson supporting challenges to traditional values regarding sex and marriage.

With the Summer of Love in 1967, the eccentricities of this group became a nationally recognized movement. Despite the developing sexual revolution and the influence of the Beatniks had in this new counterculture social rebellion, it has been acknowledged that the New Left movement was arguably the most prominent advocate of free love during the late 1960s.[41] Many among the counterculture youth sided with New Left arguments that marriage was a symbol of the traditional capitalist culture which supported war.[41] "Make Love Not War," a slogan of antiquity renewed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono among others, became a popular slogan in the counterculture movement which denounced both war and capitalism.[41] Images from the pro-socialist May 1968 uprising in France, which occurred as the anti-war protests were escalating throughout the United States, would provide a significant source of morale to the New Left cause as well.[41]

Second wave feminism continued to question traditional Judeo-Christian teaching on sexuality, while groups like Moral Majority and the Christian right opposed change, after Roe v Wade greatly increased access to abortion in the United States.

After the Stonewall riots, gay rights became an increasingly prominent issue, but by the early 21st century gay activists had shifted their focus to same-sex marriage rather than free love. Divorce and blended families became more common, and young couples increasingly chose to live together in common law marriages or domestic partnerships rather than tying the knot in church.

In popular culture

  • "Triad", written by David Crosby of The Byrds and first released on Jefferson Airplane's Crown of Creation album, portrays a romantic triangle. The singer (Grace Slick) speaks of the mutual love the three share, and proposes they keep together-- "Why can't we go on as three?"
  • "Freelove Freeway", written and sung by Ricky Gervais, who starred as David Brent in the British television comedy series The Office
  • "Freelove", written by Martin Gore; from Depeche Mode's 2001 album Exciter
  • "Unsheathed" from Live's 1997 album Secret Samadhi contains the chorus "Free love is a world I can't linger too long in/Free love was just another party for the hippies to ruin", although any specific objections are very unclear.
  • "The Concept of Love" by Hideki Naganuma (as featured in both the Jet Set Radio Future and Ollie King original soundtracks) contains a strong theme of free love, including a number of recurring sampled audio clips concerning the topic.
  • "The Blind House" by Porcupine Tree on the 2009 album The Incident, contains, in the chorus, "Free love, free love, feel love in all my sisters" and has a strong theme of free love.
  • "Free Love" by American rock band Cage the Elephant on their 2009 self-titled album, depicts a girl who personifies free love.
  • "Hot Soap" by American metal band My Ticket Home on their 2013 album Strangers Only, the lyrics say "Free love is a lie, but I take it anyway". The song's lyrics has content about the social way of this movement.
  • Elfquest, by Wendy and Richard Pini, follows the adventures of a tribe of elves who, among other things, consider free love completely natural. The tribe in question freely lets its members decide their number of sexual partners, even allowing them to choose none or establish a monogamous relationship if that is what the elf/elves in question desire.
  • Scene of the Crime, by Ed Brubaker, shows the murder of a girl named Maggie, and her death in relation to the free love movement her parents took part in at communals.

See also



  1. McElroy, Wendy. "The Free Love Movement and Radical Individualism." Libertarian Enterprise .19 (1996): 1.
  2. Dan Jakopovich, Chains of Marriage, Peace News
  3. Spurlock, John C. Free Love Marriage and Middle-Class Radicalism in America. New York, NY: New York UP, 1988.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Passet, Joanne E. Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women's Equality. Chicago,IL: U of Illinois P, 2003.
  5. Kreis, Steven. "Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759–1797". The History Guide. 23 November 2009 <>.
  6. Gove Nichols, Mary S. (1855). Mary Lyndon, or Revelations of a Life. An Autobiography. New York: Stringer & Townsend. p. 166. Retrieved 14 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Full text at Internet Archive (
  7. Nichols, Mary Gove, 1855. Mary Lyndon: Revelations of a Life. New York: Stringer and Townsend; p. 166. Quoted in Feminism and Free Love
  8. Silver-Isenstadt, Jean L (2002). Shameless: The Visionary Life of Mary Gove Nichols. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6848-3. Retrieved 14 December 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Spurlock, John. "A Masculine View of Women's Freedom: Free Love in the Nineteenth Century." International Social Science Review 69.3/4 (1994): 34–45. Print.
  10. Passet, Joanne E. Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women's Equality. Chicago,IL: U of Illinois P, 2003.
  11. Frey, Jennifer Gender Equity: A Woman Needs a Man like a Fish Needs a Bicycle. Signs of the Times, 7 09. 2000. Web. 21 Nov 2009 <>.
  12. See Essenes#Contemporary ancient sources
  13. Although they appear to have been involved in a revolt against the Roman occupiers
  14. Crone, Patricia, Kavad's Heresy and Mazdak's Revolt, in: Iran 29 (1991), S. 21–40
  15. Irwin, Robert, Political Thought in The Thousand and One Nights, in: Marvels & Tales – Volume 18, Number 2, 2004, pp. 246–257. Wayne State University Press
  16. Kautsky, Karl (1895), Die Vorläufer des neuen Sozialismus, vol. I: Kommunistische Bewegungen in Mittelalter, Stuttgart: J.W. Dietz.
  17. Poetry Foundation's bio of William Blake
  18. Hamblen, Emily (1995). On the Minor Prophecies of William Blake. Kessinger Publishing. p. 10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Berger, Pierre (1915). William Blake: Poet and Mystic. E. P. Dutton & Company. p. 45.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. S. Foster Damon William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols (1924), p. 105.
  20. Wright, p. 57.
  21. Kreis, Steven. "Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759–1797". The History Guide. 23 November 2009 <>.
  22. Robert Hughes, "The Fatal Shore, The Epic History of Australia's Founding," page 258. (New York, 1986, ISBN 0-394-75366-6.
  23. Theresa Notare (2008). "A Revolution in Christian Morals": Lambeth 1930-Resolution #15. History & Reception. ProQuest. pp. 78–79.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. The Free Love Movement and Radical Individualism By Wendy McElroy
  25. William Blake before him had made the same connection: "In Eternity they neither marry nor are given in marriage." (Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, 30.15; E176)
  26. "And the Truth Shall Make You Free" (November 20, 1871)
  27. Gove, Mary S. (1842). Lectures to Ladies on Anatomy and Physiology. Boston: Saxton & Peirce. Retrieved 13 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Full text at Internet Archive (
  28. Gove Nichols, Mary S. (1846). "Lectures to Women on Anatomy and Physiology". with an Appendix on Water Cure. New York: Harper & Brothers. Retrieved 13 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Full text at Internet Archive (
  29. Gove Nichols, Mary S. (1855). "Experience in the Water Cure: A familiar exposition of the Principles and Results of Water Treatment, in the Cure of Acute and Chronic Diseases". in Fowlers and Wells' Water-Cure Library: Embracing all the most popular works on the subject. Vol. 2 of 7. New York: Fowlers and Wells. Retrieved 29 October 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Full text at Internet Archive (
  30. Kirkley, Evelyn A. 2000. Rational Mothers and Infidel Gentlemen: Gender and American Atheism, 1865–1915. (Women and Gender in North American Religions.) Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. 2000. Pp. xviii, 198
  31. Good, James A. "The Development of Thomas Davidson's Religious and Social Thought".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. George Hendrick, Henry Salt: Humanitarian Reformer and Man of Letters, University of Illinois Press, pg. 47 (1977).
  33. Jeffrey Weeks, Making Sexual History ,Wiley-Blackwell, pg. 20, (2000).
  34. Colin Spencer, The Heretic's Feast:A History of Vegetarianism, Fourth Estate, pg. 283 (1996).
  35. "Sex Seer", in Time, November 4, 1929
  36. Haeberle, Erwin J. (1983). "Pioneers of Sex Education". The Continuum Publishing Company. Retrieved 17 February 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Leberstein, Stephen (November–December 2001). "Appointment Denied: The Inquisition of Bertrand Russell". Academe. Retrieved 17 February 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. 38.0 38.1 Stanley Hauerwas (2011). After Christendom?: How the Church Is to Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas. Abingdon Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 39.4 39.5 39.6 "Emile Armand and la camaraderie amourouse – Revolutionary sexualism and the struggle against jealousy." by Francis Rousin Retrieved 10 June 2010
  40. Zetkin, Clara, 1934, Lenin on the Woman Question, New York: International , p.7. Published in Reminiscences of Lenin.
    A more extensive quote from Lenin follows: "It seems to me that this superabundance of sex theories [...] springs from the desire to justify one's own abnormal or excessive sex life before bourgeois morality and to plead for tolerance towards oneself. This veiled respect for bourgeois morality is as repugnant to me as rooting about in all that bears on sex. No matter how rebellious and revolutionary it may be made to appear, it is in the final analysis thoroughly bourgeois. It is, mainly, a hobby of the intellectuals and of the sections nearest to them. There is no place for it in the party, in the class-conscious, fighting proletariat.”
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 Emma Goldman:People & Events: Free Love, Accessed April 26, 2014
Further reading
  • "The recurring movements of free love" by Saskia Poldervaart
  • Victoria Woodhull, Free Lover: Sex, Marriage And Eugenics in the Early Speeches of Victoria Woodhull (Seattle: Inkling, 2005) ISBN 1-58742-050-3
  • Stoehr, Taylor, ed. Free Love in America: A Documentary History (New York: AMS Press, 1977).
  • Sears, Hal, The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America (Lawrence, KS: The Regents Press of Kansas, 1977
  • Spurlock, John Free Love: Marriage and Middle Class Radicalism, 1825–1860 (New York: New York University Press, 1987
  • Joanne E. Passet, Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women’s Equality. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003. ISBN 0-252-02804-X.
  • Martin Blatt, Free Love and Anarchism: The Biography of Ezra Heywood (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989)
  • "Emile Armand and la camaraderie amourouse".Revolutionary sexualism and the struggle against jealousy." by Francis Rousin
  • Barbara Goldsmith, Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, 1999, ISBN 0-06-095332-2
  • Goldman, Emma, Marriage and Love (New York, Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1911)
  • Françoise Basch, Rebelles américaines au XIXe siècle : marriage, amour libre et politique (Paris : Méridiens Klincksieck, 1990).
  • Curt von Westernhagen, Wagner (Cambridge, 1978), ISBN 0-521-28254-3.
  • Dennis McNally, A Long Strange Trip, the Inside History of the Grateful Dead (New York, 2002), ISBN 0-7679-1186-5
  • Hugh M. Hefner, The Playboy Philosophy, Playboy Magazine, December 1962 through May 1965 issues.
  • Open History, A Japanese History Website (This reference needs confirmation).