How the Industrial Revolution Created Free Time and
How Humans Used it to Enjoy Sex

            Prestigious historians, economists, anthropologists and scientists have long associated the agricultural and industrial revolutions as times of great innovation in culture among homo sapiens. The logic goes that the less time an individual must spend seeking out food the more time he has to explore other areas of interest. Art, religion and politics are often cited as the product of this excess time. Further, when there is more food we are able to support a larger population, and thus expand. I would like to assert that another “area of interest” that was waiting to be explored by man, and led to greater populations, was sexual pleasure. We see a huge population increase after the industrial revolution, in fact, it is here that our growth becomes exponential and begins to resemble that of a bacteria. This is certainly primarily because we are now able to support such a large population, but I think it is important to credit sexual pleasure along with art, religion and government in allowing our heinous growth.

            The industrial revolution was one of the most important changes in the history of humanity, altering patterns of life and thought. It meant a shift from an agrarian, handicraft, labor-intensive economy to one dominated by machine manufacture, the factory system, division of labor, a freer flow of capital, and the growth of cities. This revolution created huge amounts of excess time for people, in fact, it is estimated that only about “30 or 50 percent” (Cipolla) of the population is actually employed in industry, leaving 70 or 50 percent of the population’s brains and hands available. With all this time, people were able to begin thinking about something other than food, a process that would clearly raise a lot of big questions. Religion was the first thing to come along that could begin to answer these questions, and al serve other important functions. Religion was a big step for mankind. It “evolved to help stabilize hierarchical social structure” (Ehrlich) which was important in order to carry out the increasingly complicated tasks an industrial and enormous society required, especially in the face of a “limited, sometimes deteriorating, resource base”(Ehrlich). Our “problem solving brains” (Ehrlich) when not tied up in the basic necessities of life, will extend, well, to our wildest dreams.
            Among these dreams is our desire to create. We have evidence of art (although who knows the purpose) all the way back to cave times. More recently, in Easter Island we see a society, which, because of its abundance of food, was able to create huge stone sculptures, an adventure that used huge amounts of creative as well as physical energy. The art world continues to flourish, becoming more and more complex and conceptual as we are allowed more and more time to conceive.
            Politics emerged as an “area of interest”. The increasing population also necessitated a more organized political system and settlement strata. Civilizations evolved to have separate cultures, and to live in separate states. The control of territory and resources became an important endeavor and war developed to maintain said control. Complex political systems allowed for complex distributions of power, and a class system formed. Markets became much more important and economic competition developed, creating a system in which people are made to behave themselves (Ehrlich).
            Sexual intercourse from a Darwinian point of view is the entire purpose of life. We live in order to breed. I also see it as an “area of interest” something that, in the excess time we had as a result of the Industrial Revolution, we began to enjoy, even love. In the 18th century sexual expression became more important, though probably more for men than for women. In all, the nations of western Europe witnessed a population increase from 50 to 100 percent between 1730 and 1800. The English population, for example, rose from approximately 5 million in 1700 to over 9 million at the end of the century. ( This happened worldwide. The resulting population pressure forced many people off the land and created a labor force for the new cities and factories. Thus our newfound pleasure taken in sexual activity only served to propel the Industrial Revolution even further.
            Later, of course, a sexual revolution took place, due to the availability of oral contraceptives (due to our improved investment in science, due to our excess time in which to think) .
But the first steps towards a more permissive society began with the industrial revolution: women began working, children were encouraged to pursue education and there was a massive shift from the close-knit rural communities to the anonymity of city life. (Marc Burleigh,
            If sexual activity is the point of life, according to Darwin, then it is little wonder that our society is obsessed with it. It also would follow that as soon as we had the excess time and energy to enjoy sexual intercourse we would start breeding uncontrollably. The Industrial Revolution caused the J-curve in human population growth by giving us the means and the time to breed exponentially.