Which Is More Hazardous to Sexual Health—the Bible or Freud?
If Sigmund Freud were alive today, he might argue for a trigger warning on Bibles—something like, “WARNING: Exposure to this book can lead to unhappiness, depression, psychosis, and in some cases, suicide.”
Freud believed that happiness resulted from the fulfillment of sensual desire, particularly sexual desire, and that the repression of those desires led to certain mental and emotional pathologies. Within a few decades, his ideas gained currency and effected a sea change in our moral imagination.
Before Freud, the Bible was generally accepted as a reliable guide to human flourishing. After Freud, the Bible, with its proscriptions against sexual immorality, became viewed as unhelpful at best and harmful at worst to our wellbeing. The result was an influence on cultural mores that was reflected in popular media—notably, in the pre-code films of Hollywood.
Made in the 1920s and 1930s, pre-code movies included nudity, sexual promiscuity, and suggestive language that, by current standards, would hardly earn a “PG” rating, but would surprise people today who presume a certain moral innocence in that generation.
The enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1934 held back the smut for a while, but by the late 1950s, as Hollywood began taking cues from foreign movies not subject to the U.S. code, cinematic sexuality had resurfaced in The Tarnished Angels (1957), The Apartment (1960), and Lolita (1962). But it was in the hit film Splendor in the Grass (1961) that Freudian thought was especially writ large.
From the first frame to the last, the message of Splendor is that repressing our sexual impulses will drive us mad, even suicidal.
Starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, Splendor is about two high-school sweethearts in a 1928 Kansas community. Deanie Loomis (Wood) and Bud Stamper (Beatty) are starving for answers about their sexuality.
Bud is the son of a local oil baron, and Deanie is the daughter of parents of modest means. They are in love, a hormone-awakening love that is at once new and confusing. As their sexual tension intensifies, each seeks the advice of parents.
Deanie approaches her mother, only to be told that “good girls” never feel “that way” about a man. When Deanie asks her whether she ever felt that way about dad, her mother winces, saying that she “just gave in” to sex because a wife “has to” to keep her husband happy and, oh, by the way, to have children. Since Deanie feels “that way” about Bud, she must not be a good girl.
Bud, who is bewitched and bewildered by the fury of his libido, understands what the adults around him fail to: “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Bud tells his dad that he wants to marry Deanie, but his father insists that he first finish college. In the meantime, he should find a “different kind” of girl, saving Deanie unspoiled for marriage.
Bud rejects his father’s suggestion, but with his sexual frustrations mounting, he seeks the counsel of a trusted physician. When Bud asks what he should do about these new feelings, the doctor shrugs and tells him to come back the next week for sunlamp treatment and a dose of iron. Bud rolls his eyes, stands up, and slouches toward the door.
Love Misconstrued & Wrecked
Realizing that being with Deanie only inflames passions that torment him, Bud decides that they should stop seeing each other. Crushed by Bud’s decision, Deanie slips into depression, while Bud succumbs to his father’s advice, taking up with a girl of easy virtue.
When Deanie finds out about Bud’s dalliance, she attempts suicide, fails, and is committed to a sanatorium. Upon her release, two and a half years later, she meets Bud one last time, only to find that he is married, with one child and another on the way.
As they muddle through the awkwardness of the moment, it is clear that love still flickers, but the past is the past, and there is nothing to be done except to brave the existential plight of their situation. They part, and in the closing scene Deanie steels herself with a passage from Wordsworth: “Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we will grieve not; rather find strength in what remains behind.” Hence, the movie title.
Splendor depicts the tragedy of what could have been, would have been, should have been, were it not for those harmful Victorian (read: biblical) values: values that are obstacles to true love and are the cause of unnecessary frustration and misery; values that, for Deanie and Bud, led to anguish, depression, attempted suicide, and finally lost love; values that should come with a warning label or be “discontinued.”
Following Splendor, Hollywood began making films celebrating the shelving of those values. Tom Jones (1963) and Alfie (1966) were award-winning pictures, along with a string of James Bond hits (1962–1967), whose title characters betray nothing of Bud Stamper’s confliction. With nary a hint of restraint, the new protagonists breezily move from scene to scene, following their rutting impulses in free, no-consequence serial bundling.
Summer of Love?
By 1967 the foundation laid by Freud, built upon by his apostles, and showcased in film, led to the “Summer of Love,” a social movement that swept through Europe and America that was characterized by countercultural rock music, alternative lifestyles, mind-altering drugs, and free sexual expression.
The Summer of Love marked the final break with the moral strictures of the past. It was supposed to bring about, as one newspaper put it, “a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind.” But instead of a utopian renaissance, the summer ended with violent riots in Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, and problems of crime, hunger, and drug addiction in the epicenter of the movement, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
By the fall of that year, the death knell had sounded for the “turn on, tune in, drop out” culture, but the Freudianism that gave birth to it endured with the social experiments of “no-fault” divorce, abortion on demand, and the increased social acceptance of extramarital sex, cohabitation, and open marriage.
The Freudian Legacy
Fifty years hence, it is clear that the legacy of Freud is not the increase of our collective happiness, but of our dysfunction, as evidenced by the dizzying escalation of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and single-parent families, with all of their concomitant side effects.
For example, between 1960 and 1980, the U.S. divorce rate more than doubled,1 increasing the number of single-parent families and fatherless homes, which put children at greater risk of experiencing domestic violence, poverty, and developmental issues, which in turn are associated with poor academic performance, behavioral disorders, depression, and substance abuse.
Exacerbating those outcomes has been the explosion of out-of-wedlock births, which jumped from around 6 percent of all births in 1960 to about 43 percent in 2009, where it has remained.2 Even back in 1999, when the rate was 33 percent, Isabel Sawhill, Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution, testified in a congressional hearing that the increase in single-parent families over the past few decades could “account for virtually all of the increase in child poverty since 1970.”3
Then there’s the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, which hit all-time highs for six consecutive years as of 2019,4 despite decades of comprehensive sex education about “safe” sex and the availability of low-cost or no-cost contraceptives.
Most tragically, Freud’s ideas about sex and happiness helped change the parental instinct to protect unborn life into the maternal “right” to end it. In the five decades since that right was declared to be the law of the land, over 62 million children have been sacrificed at the altar of personal happiness.
Given that most of these pathologies could have been avoided by strict adherence to Jesus’ elucidation of the Seventh Commandment (Matthew 5:27–28), it would appear that the works of Freud, not the Bible, should carry a “trigger” warning.
1. Wendy Wang, “Number 1 in 2020: The Divorce Rate Has Hit a 50-year Low,” Institute for Family Studies (Dec. 31, 2020): https://tinyurl.com/53dpwjk6.
2. Robert VerBruggen, “How We Ended Up with 40% of Children Born Out of Wedlock,” Institute for Family Studies (Dec. 18, 2017): https://tinyurl.com/msh8fxbf; Love, Marriage, and the Baby Carriage: The Rise in Unwed Childbearing (December 2017):lee.senate.gov/services/files/3a6e738b-305b-4553-b03b-3c71382f102c.
3. Ibid.; see also, Isabel V. Sawhill, “Non-marital Births and Child Poverty in the United States,” Brookings Institution (June 29, 1999): https://tinyurl.com/45eeym4k.
4. “Reported STDs Reach All-Time High for 6th Consecutive Year,” CDC (April 13, 2021): https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0413-stds.html.
Regis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and physicist, a Colson Center fellow, and a Christian commentator on faith and culture. He is the author of Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters, available at Amazon.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #63, Winter 2022 Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo63/warning-libels