Is this the dawn of a sexual counter-revolution?
The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century
By Louise Perry | Polity Press, 2022, 200 pages
Louise Perry’s book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution shines a light on the costs of the sexual revolution to both men and women. But it is the devastating costs to women which usually make people care.
Perry speaks with an insider’s knowledge. She read Women’s Studies, developed and provided consent workshops, gave one-to-one rape counselling, and campaigned to improve the law on sexual violence. A critical thinker working at the coal face of the feminist project, she garnered insights and experience which give her book an almost ethnographic feel. It also has the potential to be profoundly damaging to the feminist cause.
Perry shows how relationships between young men and women have been sacrificed at a feminist altar dedicated to the destruction of tradition and patriarchy. They have been replaced by “hook-up culture” where emotion and commitment free liaisons are encouraged, leaving women to pay the highest price.
Hook-up culture has emerged out of the feminists’ obstinate belief that there are no real differences between men and women. For feminists men’s greater socio-sexuality is a product of patriarchy which controlled and repressed women. The feminist solution has been to teach women, through TV series, films and books to “fuck back”.
To facilitate this there is a whole genre in women’s magazines to help young readers suppress their instincts and avoid “catching feelings”. Advice includes telling young women to think of another person or avoid making eye contact during sex, or take cocaine or methamphetamines to dull the dopamine response.
So women have become involved in pseudo-relationships where desire for monogamy and commitment, let alone love, is seen as weird.
Where loving, meaningful relationships have been erased from the equation young women assess their worth in terms of quantity of male attention. They compete to make themselves sexually available to men without the expectation of anything in return.
Alienated from their bodies, not understanding their emotions and believing the feminist myth that men and women are the same, women think they are loved when men desire them for sex.
This leads to strange and dark places. Women post pictures of themselves online and assess their worth by desirability measured in numbers of clicks. For those who have had all self-protective boundaries destroyed by adverse childhood experiences, pornography and even prostitution become ways of making money. This is eased by a feminist narrative which portrays these as routes to empowerment and expressions of being the liberated sex.
Where sex has become a substitute for love, sexual practice becomes extreme. Women engage in bondage, domination and sadomasochism (BDSM), believing these are expressions of sexual agency encouraged by books such as Shades of Grey. When women are killed or injured in sexual activity the possibility arises that this was based on consent.
She gives the example of strangulation in which she says over half of sexually active 18-24-year-olds take part. When the life-giving meaning of sex goes, people start to revel in a culture of death.
And where men and women know so little about loving relationships, the exercise of power is interpreted as an expression of love.
Perry does not shy away from the implications of the sexual revolution even if it means destroying the shibboleths which prop feminism up.
She points out that the culture of sexual hedonism which the feminists promoted and the anxiety over campus rape emerged, tellingly, at exactly the same time.
Feminists developed the concept of consent as a tool to negotiate this new sexual playground. But with the link between sex and reproduction long since demolished and with young women encouraged to suppress their natural instincts, they no longer knew when, or how to say “no”.
She explains how feminists have created legitimacy for a system which serves the interests of men. This is at the expense of the poorest, most vulnerable and often youngest women. But for feminists this is a small price to pay if the family, marriage, and patriarchy can all be destroyed at the same time.
Perry distances herself from traditionalists and conservatives -- but this feels more like strategy rather than true divergence of belief. She wants to be read by progressives and liberals so this distancing enables her to adopt more traditionalist ideas while avoiding the wrath of the woke.
For example, she advises that we should: “Aspire to love and mutuality in all our sexual relationships”; “Hold off having sex with a new boyfriend for at least a few months”; “Only have sex with a man if you think he would make a good father to your children”; monogamous marriage and so on.
Perry’s advice is sensible. I would much rather she wrote sex-ed programmes for our young people than the activists and ideologues currently in charge. However, in terms of bringing about the counter sexual revolution which she advocates, I am not sure that her suggestions are up to the job.
She talks about the importance of “virtue”. But in a secular environment, with competing moral frameworks, when it comes to knowing virtue, who is to be the judge?
She advocates chivalry. But chivalry occurs where male strength is valorised, which includes allowing men to be providers and protectors. If men are denigrated and accused for these male behaviours it is naïve to expect chivalry to take root.
She talks about sexual restraint. But the will to exercise sexual restraint in the absence of understanding sex as sacred is, I suspect, limited. Without God human our will to exercise restraint is at the mercy of our desire. And without faith, sexual restraint could be reduced to a form of power play or even be interpreted as a lack of trust and love.
The Christian view
We require much more powerful weapons to switch the sexual revolution into reverse.
We need to reintroduce the idea of sex as something sacred and marriage as something holy. This is an arena into which Perry fears to tread. But when it comes to creating a counter to the sexual revolution, I believe that Christianity would prove remarkably robust.
Perry traces the roots of the sexual revolution to abortion and contraception. These rendered sex a recreational activity and removed the potential for responsibility by tearing procreation and sex apart. But when we see the harm which has resulted, the Catholic assertion that any form of unnatural contraception is intrinsically evil suddenly makes surprising sense.
Perry is keen on sexual restraint which she observes men in particular need to exercise. In the Christian understanding, sex is seen as uniting a man and woman in “one flesh” and therefore is linked exclusively to the sacrament of marriage. This unitive function of marriage protects and supports the life-giving aspect, which supports the unitive in return. Such perfectly functioning system surely provides a recipe for restraint.
The biggest lie of the sexual revolution was the denial of the difference between men and women. But Christians believe we were made male and female at the dawn of our creation, it is integral to our humanity. What this means can be discerned throughout the Bible and is written into our bodies in a multitude of ways.
Perry is concerned with the way in which sex has become meaningless and the body commodified. Our bodies participate in a self-gratifying transactional dance.
In Christianity the body has the highest meaning. Eve was flesh of Adam’s flesh and bone of his bone. Christ’s body was His gift to us. Our body is one with our soul and made in the image of God. It is hard to imagine how anyone who has learnt the Christian conception of the body could engage in casual sexual activity let alone activities as damaging as strangulation, prostitution or BDSM.
For Christians the body is a sign of our whole personhood which we give as a gift in marriage. In the world the body is too often taken for self-gratification driven by lust.
Perry wants to promote self-restraint, virtue, marriage and monogamy. However, it will take more than sensible ideas to overcome the hedonistic worship of sex promoted by the global sexual revolution. Promoting a Christian understanding of family, marriage and relationships between men and women will put us in charge of the agenda.
The Christian theology of the body has the capacity to produce a bottom-up transformation of our understanding. It is not enough to respond defensively to the new world order’s attacks on our humanity using sexual extremism. We need to call on the help of God.
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