Activity 1: Public and private
This activity relates to the entry ‘1957 (Legal) Wolfenden Report’ that appears in the timeline in Section 2.1.
Would you anticipate that all sexual activity between consenting adults would be deemed to be in the private sphere? If you think that sexual activity between consenting adults would in certain circumstances be viewed as public, set out in the text box below the circumstances when you consider that it should be viewed as public.
In assessing this question did you, for instance, consider any of the following:
- where the sexual activity took place?
- the chances that others might see (or hear) the activity?
- the nature of the sexual activity?
After you have looked at the note on the 1967 Sexual Offences Act have a look at the Act to see how the legislation dealt with the public/private divide.
Between 1960 and 1966 there were six attempts by backbench MPs to introduce law reform by means of motions, 10-minute-rule Bills and Private Members Bills. Finally, the Labour government allowed Leo Abse MP enough time for his 10-minute-rule Bill to be passed.
At the time the Wolfenden report was published all sexual activity between men was illegal. When the law changed in 1967, the new law placed restrictions on sexual activity between men that did not apply to sexual activity between men and women. These restrictions related to whether or not the activity took place in private. Section 1 of the Act decriminalised ‘buggery’ and ‘gross indecency’ between men, so long as both were aged 21 or over and the act took place in private. The Act did not equalise the law’s approach. The age of consent for heterosexual couples was 16 and there was no requirement that heterosexual acts should take place in private.
The 1967 Act only decriminalised buggery between men. Anal intercourse between a man and a woman remained an offence whether in private or not. Sexual activity between women was largely ignored by legislators; as a result, sexual activity between women was generally governed by the same legislative approach as applied to sexual activity between men and women.