The Sexual Revolution had a long gestation period. While many may see it as something that suddenly sprung up in the 1960s, its vision had been cast in Western Civilization at least two hundred years before. Thinkers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, Margaret Sanger, Margaret Mead, and Alfred Kinsey all had advocated for a breakdown of the traditional Christian taboos. While they each had different angles, all believed that such a revolution would be immensely liberating and promote human flourishing. I quote Margaret Sanger as an example.
“Restraint and constraint of individual expression, suppression of individual freedom “for the good of society” has been practised from time immemorial; and its failure is all too evident….Remove the moral taboos that now bind the human body and spirit, free the individual from the slavery of tradition, remove the chains of fear from men and women, above all answer their unceasing cries for knowledge that would make possible their self-direction and salvation, and in so doing, you best serve the interests of society at large.” ¹
Sanger made some grand promises. How have they turned out? We’ll start with the issue of the increase in rape since the 1960s. Some would like to attribute this to “patriarchal attitudes” (see here), but the actual statistics belie that claim. As can be seen here, the total amount of rapes in the United States in 1964 was about 21,000. By 1971, it had doubled to 42,000, and by 1984 it had doubled again to 84,000. The number as well as the rate per capita has stayed high ever since. If patriarchy drives rape, then American society has become exponentially more patriarchal in the past fifty years. While this correlates well with the onset of the Sexual Revolution, it is likely going too far to say that this is the only factor, as many other crime rates were rising at the same time. But there are good reasons to think that it has been a significant factor.
A student at Columbia University provides some perspective on this in the wake of some high profile college rape cases. In a culture where people are engaged in casual sex, intentions can easily become murky. What actions constitute consent? What about when alcohol is involved? This has led a number of men to require that a woman give their consent in writing, which women feel demeans them. So even if a relatively small number of people may be involved in rape case, many others are affected. Towards the end of the piece, she summarizes the climate of increasing tension between men and women.
“Competing tensions that make men feel endangered and women silenced have created a climate that has actually quieted discourse about how to improve sexual assault prevention and enforced antagonisms that perpetuate gender-based misconduct instead of prohibiting it. Men are scared of women on campus now, and fear breeds anger and prejudice. Women are frustrated by men, which inspires a lack of desire to collaborate for solutions.”
Rather than providing liberation, these scenes seem to be closer to resembling C.S. Lewis’ version of hell in The Great Divorce. While it should be stressed that these things are not universally experienced in our society and that some young people today are still forming loving and lasting relationships and marriages, it should with equal force be stressed that the loosening of sexual freedoms has not only failed to deliver what it promised, but inevitably been a wedge between the sexes. So I think a comparison is in order.
Lewis’ book starts in a dreary town, which is hell. Along with some denizens of the town, the first-person protagonist boards a bus that takes visitors up to heaven to visit. While on the bus, he asks why the town is so empty. His neighbor replies,
“as soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbor. Before the week is over he’s quarreled so badly that he decides to move. Very like he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarreled with their neighbours….finally he’ll move right to the end of town and build a new house. You see, it’s easy here. You’ve only got to think a house and there it is. That’s how the town keeps growing.”²
When the narrator asks about the earliest arrivals to the town, the man replies,
“….They’ve been moving on and on. Getting further apart. They’re so far off by now that they could never think of coming to the bus stop at all. Astronomical differences.”³
There is still a way for men and women to get further apart than Rousseau or Sanger ever thought possible – the sexbot. As a 2015 UK Guardian article (strong PG-13 rating) explains, the technology is now becoming feasible for humans to have sex with robots. One thinker in the article is quoted as saying that “We may actually prefer the kinship of machines to relationships with real people and animals”.
If this revolution was fulfilling the human soul and the promises of Sanger and others, would we be discussing this? Obviously, we’re still seeking for a final solution. Much like Sanger and her fellow revolutionists, one of those working towards this technology is quoted in the Guardian article as making grand claims of liberation –
“Love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans,” he wrote. The dream is, as one would expect, utopian. Prostitution will become obsolete. Artificial intelligence will be the answer to many of the world’s problems with intimacy..Levy predicted “a huge demand from people who have a void in their lives because they have no one to love, and no one who loves them. The world will be a much happier place because all those people who are now miserable will suddenly have someone. I think that will be a terrific service to mankind.”
However, one could also see those who don’t lack a the opportunity for a human lover also deciding that a robot who is never going to be disagreeable is to be preferred. The Christian view of sexuality is that within a marriage relationship where respect and true love (in the sense that both partners seek the well-being of the other), sex is a powerful force in driving a man and woman closer together. But just like in Lewis’ vision, men and women are moving farther apart.
- Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, p. 91 (Can be seen here)
- C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce. p. 20
- Ibid, p. 21