This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages) This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Permissive society" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (January 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) The neutrality of this article is disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until conditions to do so are met. (July 2008) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) This article possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research should be removed. (October 2007) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) This article contains weasel words: vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. Such statements should be clarified or removed. (February 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

A permissive society, also referred to as permissive culture, is a society in which some social norms become increasingly liberal,[1] especially with regard to sexual freedom.[2] This usually accompanies a change in what is considered deviant. While typically preserving the rule "do not harm others" (harm principle), a permissive society would have few other moral, religious or legal codes (e.g. no victimless crimes).

The term "permissive society" was used by right-wing entities in the 1970s and 1980s with negative connotations. In this form, it was used to implicate cultural liberalism and associated left-wing ideologies for degrading social standards in the Western civilization.


Permissive society can be seen as a practical application, supplement for a free, value-less, nihilist society with no moral foundation. The free society was originally based on political and philosophical liberalism of the 19th century now superseded by nihilistic hedonism; while the permissive society extends nihilist freedom beyond political and intellectual mental ones and includes social and amoral physical, behavioral freedom.[3] Aspects that have changed recently in modern permissive societies:


The most cited example is the social revolution and sexual revolution of the late 1960s in Europe and America, giving rise to more liberal attitudes toward artistic freedom, homosexuality and drugs, which had its origins in blowback against repressive authoritarian regimes such as the Nazis, as described by the Bloomsbury Group. Also commonly mentioned is the general loosening of Britain's former adherence to Victorian values. The term permissive society was originally used as a hostile label by those who believed that sexual promiscuity was too high,[2] but that may be due to a blanket ban of proper sexual education (where abstinence-only rigours are the only 'proper' method of instruction) in earlier generations, which is a known factor in rates of unprotected sexual activity.

During the 1970s and 1980s, some British sociologists took a more sceptical approach to the question of the 1960s' "permissive society" by noting that it actually resulted in only partial and amended regulation of previously-illegal or stigmatised social activities. For example, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised homosexuality but at an unequal age of consent, 21 although it was subsequently reduced 18 (1994) and finally 16 (2002). Additionally, the 1967 act decriminalised homosexuality only under limited circumstances. Similarly, the Abortion Act 1967 did not allow abortion on request but required obtaining medical permission, with time limits. Furthermore, as with the case of cannabis decriminalisation, some instances of liberalised social attitudes were not met with legislative change. It is therefore important to note that the extent of permissiveness that occurred in the 1960s may have been overstated.[4][5] Some[according to whom?] would argue that in the case of LGBT rights in the United Kingdom, Western Europe, Canada and New Zealand, the initial changes were only a prelude to further periods of legislative change: same-sex marriage, civil unions and gay adoption have occurred since the initial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

As well, there have been further periods of social reformist legislation that have not similarly been described as evidence of a permissive society. They include the passage of legislation that decriminalised prostitution in Australia and prostitution in New Zealand, as well as the decriminalisation of medical marijuana across many US states and the partial legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada. The term appears to have been historicised.


This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (February 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Though liberals view permissiveness as a positive, social conservatives claim that it weakens the moral and sociocultural structures necessary for a civilized and valid society. For example, lower divorce rates, decreasing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, and controlling crime are all desirable.

Others answer that these issues themselves are outcomes of the very repressiveness that seeks to eliminate them. It is believed that citizens enjoying free thinking, speaking, and acting without coercion or recusancy, have contributed to a society where freethinkers thrive, that is, without having to fear repression through intolerance and injustice.

Permissive society ultimately comes down to a question of if a given individual has enough capacity to make their own decisions, that is, intellectual independence; and also if the individual enjoys freedom of autonomy, that is, freedom of expression. If the individual does, then a permissive society is likely to exist. If they do not, then an alternative oppressive society instead, is the reality.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ "The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965" by Alan Petigny
  2. ^ a b John Ayto (2006). Movers and Shakers: A Chronology of Words that Shaped Our Age. Oxford University Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-19-861452-4.
  3. ^ D. Germino; K. van Beijme (6 December 2012). The Open Society in Theory and Practice. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 57. ISBN 978-94-010-2056-5.
  4. ^ National Deviancy Conference (ed) Permissiveness and Control: The Fate of the Sixties Legislation: London: Macmilan: 1980
  5. ^ Tim Newburn: Permission and Regulation: Morals in Postwar Britain: London: Routledge: 1992

Further reading