Free Love Is Neither

Liberation Fatigue & the New Sexual Renegades

Fr. J. Budziszewski, now in his fourth decade of teaching, recently observed a noticeable difference between students today and those of a few decades past. "In the '80s, if I suggested in class that there might be any problem with sexual liberation, they said that everything was fine—what was I talking about?" the professor wrote. "Now if I raise questions, many of them speak differently. They still live like libertines . . . but it's getting old. They are beginning to sound like the children of third-generation Maoists."

Large numbers of them engage in hooking-up, but they hardly seem to enjoy it. Many of them get drunk first, just to be able to go through with it. "Not many of them look happy. Each year they have less sense of humor. They show all the signs of exhaustion," personifying, he notes sadly, the hedonistic paradox: A life lived in pursuit of pleasure ultimately ends in misery.

A Cornucopia of Rotten Fruit

What the grandfatherly professor witnesses year by year on campus, sociologist Mary Eberstadt has researched, examined, and analyzed on a sweeping scale. Her conclusion confirms his observations: the sexual revolution, somewhere around a half-century old, is bearing a cornucopia of rotten fruit. Eberstadt's recent book, Adam and Eve After the Pill, surveys the damage done on four categories of people.

"One of the most fascinating aspects of the sexual revolution," she writes, "is that its presumed beneficiaries, upon inspection, turn out to have problems and issues that their supposedly benighted pre-revolution forebears did not." The whole notion of "sexual liberation" began with women in 1960, when the Pill, which proposed to liberate them from the natural consequences of sexual intercourse, was officially introduced; so it is ironic in the extreme that contemporary popular media overflow with expressions of female discontent.

Single women wonder, Where have all the good men gone? And when they do find men who make at least remotely favorable candidates for marriage, they lament, Why won't they commit? Married women grumble, too. "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," Sandra Tsing Loh implored in The Atlantic as she announced the dissolution of her 20-year "domestic construct."

These women's wiser, pre-revolution grandmothers might discern better than they what's driving all this carping: the abject disappointment of unmet longings in relationships. The female heart, relational to its core, desires faithfulness, permanence, and relationship intimacy, but these marks of authentic love remain doggedly elusive when sex is the hub around which a relationship revolves.

A significant factor in this female malaise is the profusion of grown males who, raised from childhood in a sex-saturated environment, still have not developed the psychological and emotional mettle to relate to a woman as a whole person. Many of those who would have aspired to become husbands, fathers, and hard-working providers are instead content to be video gamers, beer pong champions, and porn users.

Eberstadt lays responsibility for this squarely on the sexual revolution. For when sexual intercourse is contemplated as "an activity that may result in a child," both members of a libidinous-but-otherwise-unattached couple are more likely to pause and think, What if? and consult their higher faculties before barreling ahead. But when the natural, cause-and-effect relationship between sex and babies has been artificially severed, the more noble male instinct to protect can quickly give way to baser drives, rendering sex as nothing more than a pleasurable-but-otherwise-meaningless recreational activity.

Furthermore, this careless pleasure-seeking inevitably leads to an atrophying of the male inclination to provide, because detached men have no one to provide for. This shift from procreative to recreative sex, writes Eberstadt, "has led not only to a marriage dearth, but also to a birth dearth." As an old saying goes, "Adults don't make babies; babies make adults." It's not that "all the good men" have gone somewhere; many who might have become good men are simply still living as boys because they can.

Fortunately, one taboo, the taboo regarding pedophilia, yet survives the disintegration of the natural sexual order. But it, too, is very much under threat, as a moral numbness toward both pedophilia (sexual attraction to children) and ephebophilia (sexual attraction to adolescents) has allowed a brazen "pedophilia chic" to debut from intelligentsia on high.

Perhaps sex between men and boys is "a willing encounter with positive reactions," wrote three psychologists in 1998 in the prestigious Psychological Bulletin, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). Furthermore, the high-flown experts advised, when referring to such an encounter, tendentious labels such as "victim" and "perpetrator" should not be employed. It should simply be referred to as "adult-child sex." Thankfully, the article was met with outrage, but a heretofore sacrosanct boundary was successfully breached, and an entire generation of children was promptly placed at increased risk.

Young Adults:
Happily, many children still grow up under the responsible care of wisely protective parents. But many of these children then leave the nest and head for Toxic U. "At Toxic U," writes Eberstadt, "there are no authorities; instead, there are predators and prey."

Tom Wolfe's 2004 novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, tragically far too true to life for even R-rated sensibilities, portrayed in excruciatingly lurid detail the arrival on campus of one bright but naïve girl from the hills of North Carolina. This promising, fresh face might as well have had "New Blood" etched in her flesh, for over the course of her freshman year, her liveliness, innocence, and virtue was mercilessly targeted, cornered, and devoured piecemeal by alpha males living out the spirit of sexual license to its fullest extent.

To be sure, not every square inch of academia qualifies as Toxic U, but a paradigm that relegates sex to the category of a recreational sport and nothing more emboldens the virile and leaves lambs at the mercy of wolves.

Liberation Fatigue & the Will to Disbelieve

Helen Gurley Brown, the woman who singlehandedly turned Cosmopolitanmagazine into the recreational-sex circular it is today, died recently at the age of ninety. In a sort of anti-eulogy op-ed, Cal Thomas had this to say on her passing:

In any revolution . . . there are casualties. . . . Sex sells, but it also brings misery when it's misused. . . . Just as there are laws in nature that, if violated, bring repercussions, so too are there moral laws that, if violated, cause physical, emotional, social and spiritual consequences.

Indeed. From all quarters, we see a human landscape strewn with the casualties of sexual disorder.

The third-generation liberationists suffer, though often unawares, from liberation fatigue. Not only that, but, worse, they also suffer from a devilish blindness that prevents them from seeing the cause of their distress. I wish men would stop treating women as sex objects, bemoans feminist author Ann Patchett, utterly blind to the inexorable connection between consequence-free sex and sex for sport, between sexual liberation and women's bodies being ogled, fondled, and played with like toys to be used and then discarded once boredom sets in. The more apropos question, the one her wiser foremothers might pose, is, Given permission to pursue commitment-free, consequence-free sex, why wouldn't men treat women's bodies as sex objects? Thomas echoes Eberstadt when he comments wryly, "Women are finding they don't much like some of the things men do when released from social constraints and expectations." Touché.

Unfortunately, there are times when it's too late to say, Maybe we shouldn't have knocked down that load-bearing wall. Worse, once the deed is done, confirmation bias sets in among the demolitionists. "Here's the thing about revolutions—there is no taking them back," Patchett writes triumphantly.

If you feel that the sexual revolution destroyed the American family by giving women power over their reproductive choices, and that power turned daughters and wives, by and large, into a bunch of wanton hussies, well, stew over your feelings all you want, but you might as well give up thinking that it is possible to herd us up and drive us back into the kitchen.

In other words, it's done, get over it. Pay no attention to that rotting fruit behind the curtain. The will to disbelieve is mulishly intractable.

Open Rebellion

But despite her imperious tone, Patchett does go on to offer a helpful suggestion for dissenters. Well, sort of. "Let me tell you how I deal with aspects of progress that are personally distasteful to me: I do not participate in them. . . . If the sexual revolution offends you, stay away from it." Notwithstanding the evidence that the shotgun wedding between the Pill and the sexual revolution hasn't given birth to much of anything that would count as "progress," and while, moreover, no one can live in modern society and "stay away from it," she still lets out a reasonably good point. One can chooseto "not participate" in it. Better put, one can openly rebel. Amid all the sexual disorder, one can, in what amounts to an act of open defiance, live an ordered and chaste life.

Consider two cases in point. While he was still in college, Tim Tebow, never one to be shy about his Christian faith, was asked by a reporter if he was saving himself for marriage. "Yes, I am," he answered frankly, and then went on to poke a little fun at the reporter's obvious discomfort. Now 24 years old and still unapologetically chaste, the NFL quarterback is "definitely single and having a good time." During the off-season he focuses on helping kids through the Tim Tebow Foundation, which he launched in January 2010.

Dawn Eden's defection came at age 31, after years of disappointing, looking-for-love-in-all-the-wrong-places promiscuity. It was only then that she began to enjoy liberation, especially, ironically, as it pertained to relationships with men. "There's a great sense of freedom when you're able to experience the world around you and have friendships with people without the constant awareness that you're being perceived as a sexual person and that you have to perceive others as sexual," she writes in The Thrill of the Chaste.

You still are a red-blooded woman, of course, and you're sure to meet men you'll find attractive. However, the farther you get out of [the hookup scene], the more you'll be able to see men as they are—and appreciate them even more than you did before.

Living chastely does not mean being prudish. It means being in control of your drives and respecting the natural sexual order. With this as your touchstone, you can relate to a person of the opposite sex as a whole person, you can enjoy the relationship without getting drunk first, and nobody need be treated like a sex object. That, future rebels and defectors, is a superior liberation. •

From Salvo 23 (Winter 2012)
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 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #23, Winter 2012 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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