The End of the Sexual Revolution

[March 12, 2013]

The sexual revolution is going to reverse itself; in fact, the process is about to begin. Sex between women and men is going to move away from the promiscuity of the last several decades, and back to commitment-first in relationships. (I’m talking about heterosexual promiscuity, now, not gay rights; that’s a separate phenom.)

Here’s an early sign. In a January column in the London Telegraph, Allison Pearson writes: 

A friend’s daughter recently started at a highly regarded boarding school. When her mother asked how she was enjoying the mixed-sex environment, the girl said quietly: “You have to give the boys oral sex or they get cross.” Reeling with shock, the mum protested that her darling daughter did not have to do anything of the sort. “Oh yes you do,” replied the girl. “And you have to shave down there or the boys don’t like it.”

Any reader will immediately feel, as Pearson does, that this is just overwhelmingly sad. It’s one thing when adults choose to fool around, but 14-year-old girls? This poor girl even seems to think she has to do this so boys won’t get angry; she thinks it’s one of her culture’s rules.

The obvious next thought is: How can we stop this? How can we protect those girls?

It’s no mystery that the SexRev has broken through to the early-teen set. Online porn is available to children as soon as they learn how to Google. Now children can view, not just ordinary sex, but every variation imaginable and some unimaginable ones. Their minds record those images, long before they know what it means to fall in love.

Pearson writes:

If your dear son is consulting YouPorn on his mobile, then, believe me, he will have some pretty strange ideas about the act of physical lovemaking. I spent three minutes looking at YouPorn yesterday and I felt like I needed at least three years in a darkened room listening to the B minor Mass to reconstitute my soul.

Many children learn about sex this way, long before they see the private parts of a real-live member of the opposite sex. Mainstream movies and TV, targeted at adults but available to every age, instructs even those who manage to avoid real porn that commitment-free sex is the norm. “Mainstream media has made porn-inspired sex seem compulsory for girls at ever younger ages,” Pearson says. She praises Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph:

Biddulph says that about five years ago (around the time that sexting and camera-phones were taking off) psychologists began to notice a marked and sudden plunge in girls’ mental health. The average teenage female was “stressed and depressed in a way never seen before”. Girls were growing up too fast, much faster than their mothers had. Our 18 is their 14, our 14 is their 10.

It’s not just girls. In a post on his blog at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher quotes an email from a friend who, he says, usually takes the liberal line—but he and his wife were stunned to discover their young son was viewing porn.

“Not hard-core (XXX) stuff,” he wrote, “but things profoundly inappropriate for a 10-year-old boy: clips from HBO shows like Game of Thrones and The Tudors showing lesbian sex and masturbation and straight sex and oral sex, etc.”

A 10-year-old boy. His first introduction to sex.

This is so manifestly bad news, even horrifying news, that you may wonder how it shows the SexRev is beginning to wind down. It’s because stories like this are horrifying to everybody — even liberal and secular people. This time it’s not just Christians wringing their hands because people they don’t know are having fun (or so it appears to the other side). When Christians scold about sexual prodigality, it actually makes it more fun. Beside the inherent pleasure, there’s the added thrill of rebelling against authority and making narrow-minded prudes feel upset.

But when young teens and preteens are swept up in porn and its practice, it’s no longer flirty fun. It’s a tragedy, and much wider range of adults feel that something has to change.  At the end of her column, Pearson says:

As a society we really do need to teach children a healthy, emotionally connected view of sexuality that has nothing to do with the porn version that has saturated their parallel world. Sex education should be as much about psychology as biology.

“Emotionally connected” is the key. In fact, sex already is emotionally connected. The porn mindset simply ignores that fact, but in real life it can’t be erased. What Pearson urges is that we begin reclaiming that territory. When we teach about sex, teach psychology as well as biology. Increasing rates of distress among girls is a measure of how little support they have had from the adult world about this. No one has told that they have the right to resist and refuse; that they have the right to be treated as whole, and very precious, persons.

It’s not just girls, of course; this free-for-all damages boys, too. When you get down to it, it hurts grown women and men as well. Everyone has a deep need to love and be loved. We all want to belong to someone. We all want to be cherished. The sex drive is the sugar coating that makes us seek a partner, but the inner need is for love. And this need is so profound, so woven into our being, that it will inevitably rise to the top. It can be ignored for awhile, but not forever, and when we see children harmed by these excesses we are most motivated to call for chain. So the porn business can’t be stopped—nothing that makes that much money can be stopped. But it can be stigmatized. Those who indulge in it can be seen as mentally enslaved and emotionally unsafe as partners.

This change can come about because, they way things are now, people are so lonely. I’ve noticed that, if I’m giving a talk and I say the word “loneliness,” people hold their breath. It is a tender point, this widespread ache of feeling unolved and alone. Everyone thinks, “Does it show? Does everyone know how lonely I am?”

That’s the price of unlimited freedom. The freedom to do whatever you want, free from judgement or criticism, severs your bonds to the community that might have disapproved; but that’s also the community that could have helped and loved you, along with that occasional disapproval. The freedom to be left utterly alone means that eventually you will be utterly left alone.

The part nobody talks about, in the supposed paradise of free love, is that everyone is getting older. A new batch of 21-year-olds rolls off the conveyer belt every single year. Participants in the free-sex paradise simply age out of the market, and faster than they expect. A speed-dating organization attempted to set up events to introduce young men to “cougars”—middle-aged women looking for hassle-free sex. Plenty of cougars signed up, but young men weren’t interested. After a few spins of the calendar, you literally can’t give it away.

Sex is such a primitive drive that people will keep going out into the night seeking it, but they’ll also keep going home empty afterwards. Sexual desire is only a decoy, for we are seeking a deeper connection than that. When love is the context of sex, it really does make love, it creates love, fosters it, multiplies it in the world. Without that, sex is like non-fat ice cream. No matter how much you eat, it can’t satisfy the underlying hunger.

When I hear someone like Pearson talk about “emotionally connected” sex, I think something new is on the horizon. When people start thinking that there might be something wrong with uncommitted sex, interesting things might take place.

Here’s a guess as to how it might unfold. It could start with the realization that young teen girls are being exploited and abused. It could seem obvious that they should be taught about “emotionally connected” sex, and empowered to refuse any other kind.

Then, I think, we could start hearing adult women say, “That’s true for me too.” They might begin airing their own pain over the absence of that emotional connection. A lot of women obeyed the free-sex cultural imperative, and aged out of the system without ever finding a lifetime mate. There’s a lot of pain there. That pain might find a voice.

It would be no surprise when men started saying the same. Loneliness hurts, no matter what your age or gender.

With no fanfare, the whole culture could be moving toward once again recognizing the reason for sex to take place in a context of commitment. The hunger to be free and the hunger to be loved are in tension, and we’ve had enough evidence over the last several decades of how unlimited freedom works out. Everyone wants to feel safe and secure and loved. The dilemma has been that people don’t necessarily want to provide safety, security, and love to someone else. So, for almost fifty years, we accepted the no-commitment bargain. We tried the approach, “OK, nobody has to make any commitment.” Now, I think, we could be ending that cycle, and preparing to re-enter “Everybody has to make a commitment.”

Monogamy: that would be the one to bet on, in the long term. It’s what humans have lived by for most of human history. Even monogamy that winks at male adultery still comprehends the significance of life-long mating.Among mammals only 3% are monogamous, but we’re in that 3%. (The simple, and not very romantic, reason is that at birth human babies human newborns are extremely underdeveloped, in comparison with other mammals’ offspring. Survival of the species works best with a two-parent household.)

Did you notice that religion plays no role in this process? There doesn’t have to be revival across the land, for this to take place. The only thing necessary is awareness that uncommitted sex causes too much pain. The urgency could begin with teen girls and spread from there. This change wouldn’t even have to be couched as a moral issue. In fact, welcoming it in moral or religious terms could only delay the process.

Many Christians believe that the Sexual Revolution is so entrenched that nothing but a full-fledged revival could combat it. I disagree. It’s happened before; some things were accepted, or even seen as necessary or fashionable, over the course of the 20th century—like smoking, or excessive drinking—faded from social approval without a moral or spiritual renaissance, simply because people stopped ignoring how much pain they cause. (I’ve written about this phenomenon here.) This type of change is a long, slow, organic process, and in the case of free sex I expect it will take decades. But it can happen. I think it will.

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

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