Freudian slips and coteries of vice: the Sexual Offences Act of 1967

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The Sexual Offences Act 1967 made the first inroads to decriminalising men's homosexual sex since buggery was made a capital offence under Henry VIII. The act was drafted at the direction of the 1957 Wolfenden report, but bore the distinct hallmark of individuals of the 1967 parliament. More complex than the dictated product of Wolfenden, and more idiosyncratic than a simple reflection of the social climate of the 1960s, the private member's bill was a Labour initiative with bipartisan support, driven in the Commons by the bizarre motivations of its sponsor, Labour member for Pontypool, Leo Abse. Contrary to popular myths about the aims of decriminalisation, Abse's crusading Freudian motivation was concerned with discouraging, more than allowing, homosexual behaviour. Similarly, ‘privacy’– the gift of the house of lords to sexual regulation – was aimed largely at curtailing men's sexual practices, along with secreting them away. Thus, while the act is typically associated with a general ideal of freedom, much parliamentary motivation concerned control and the prevention of sexual activities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-409
Number of pages17
JournalParliamentary History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Sexual Offences Act
  • homosexuality
  • homosexual law reform
  • Leo Abse
  • Wolfenden report


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