Every Society Without Sexual Restraint Has Failed
It is not normal or healthy for a culture to talk about sex this much. From Pride month to education to companies telegraphing their commitments to inclusion and diversity, to just about every commercial, movie, or TV show produced today, sexual identity is treated as if it is central to human identity, purpose, and happiness. And this vision of life and the world is especially force-fed to children, who are essentially subjects of our social experimentation.
There were some who saw this coming. The best example is Oxford sociologist J. D. Unwin. In 1934, Unwin published a landmark book summarizing his research. Sex and Culture looked at 80 tribes and six historical civilizations over the course of five millennia through the lens of a single question: “Does a culture’s ideas of sexual liberation predict its success or collapse?”
Unwin’s findings were overwhelming:
Just as societies have advanced from savagery to civilization, and then faded away into a state of general decrepitude, so in each of them has marriage first previously changed from a temporary affair based on mutual consent to a lifelong association of one man with one woman, and then turned back to a loose union or to polygamy.
The whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it has been absolutely monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs.1
Unwin saw a pattern. If three consecutive generations abandoned sexual restraint built around the protections of marriage and fidelity, the society collapsed.
Simply put, sexuality is essential for survival. However, sexuality is such a powerful force that it must be controlled, or else it can destroy a future rather than secure it. Wrongly ordered sexuality is devastating for both individuals and entire societies.
Unwin’s conclusions can be boiled down to a single issue. Are people living for the future, with the ability to delay gratification, or are they focusing only on the here and now? When a culture fails to restrain its sexual instincts, people think less about securing the future and instead compromise the stability, productivity, and well-being of the next generation in the pursuit of sexual pleasure for themselves.
Unwin claims that he had no moral or ideological axe to grind in this research. “I make no opinion about rightness or wrongness,” he wrote. But his work is nevertheless profound, as are his conclusions, which we seem to be living out in real time.
The early days of the sexual revolution reframed the morality of sexual behavior, but today it’s gone further, undermining the already fragile identity in the rising generation, fraying it in the various directions of the ever-growing acronym of sexual identities. Anywhere from 1 in 5 to nearly 40 percent of young people identify as LGBTQ today. Or, in the case of one junior high class in the Northeast I heard of recently, “all of them do.”
Christian faithfulness in this cultural moment must involve the protection of children and a commitment to the future of society. At the very least, that means speaking up, especially when it is unpopular to do so. Along the way, we will have to reject the “inevitability thesis,” the notion that all is lost and that things will only get worse, so nothing we do matters. With courage and unconditional love for our neighbor, we continue to speak the truth.
Human sexuality is not some arbitrary construct like a speed limit. It is as much a part of the fabric of life as gravity. We may deny that, but we will not avoid the pain of hitting the ground if we do.
—No Civilization without Sexual Restraint first appeared at Breakpoint.org. Used with permission of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
1. Symposium on the Family (JCR Vol. 04 No. 02).
John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center and co-host of BreakPoint, the daily commentary on culture begun by Chuck Colson.Get Salvo in your inbox! Kasey Leander
Kasey Leander is a BreakPoint contributor at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.