Others say, it is true freedom to have community with all
women, and to have liberty to satisfy their lusts and greedy
appetites: but this is the freedom of wanton unreasonable
beasts, and tends to destruction.

Gerrard Winstanley, The Law of Freedom (1652), 17.

God has given these natural affections and lusts to be gratified
with reason, to make life sweet and agreeable. . . . the gratifi-
cation of carnal lust to the injury of none, is no evil; nor is the
lust or desire itself.

‘Gideon Archer’ [i. e. Peter Annet], Social Bliss Considered
(l749h uh 83.

Love is free: to promise for ever to love the same woman, is
not less absurd than to promise to believe the same creed. . .
I conceive that, from the abolition of marriage, the fit and
natural arrangement of sexual connection would result.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab (1813), 147, 151

There remains [one argument] which we believe to be decisive, namely, the importance which society and the law ought to give to individual freedom of choice and action in matters of private morality. . . We accordingly recommend that

homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private
should no longer be a criminal offence.

Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and
Prostitution (1957), 24-5.

The most profound cultural development of the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the spread of religious division. After decades of civil war, sectarian strife and attempts to re-establish uniformity, by force if necessary, the Toleration Act of 1689 legalized religious plurality. The reverberation of these momentous theological and political disputes gradually destroyed the theoretical foundations of sexual discipline. Sexual toleration grew out of religious toleration.

Its evolution was, in fact, a central feature of the European Enlight­enment. The principle of sexual liberty engaged many seventeenth – and eighteenth-century thinkers, and epitomized the most fundamental intellectual developments of the age. What is more, although it origin­ated in the theological and philosophical debates of a particular time and place, its influence has been felt ever since. Its emergence perman­ently altered how we think about sex. Even today, in very different social and intellectual circumstances, it continues to inspire new devel­opments.