Saturday, March 24, 2012

Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Anyone?

OK, maybe we'll offer this.

Today's WSJ offers two articles, taking opposite sides on the question, "Has the sexual revolution been good for women?" Hoover Institution think-tanker Mary Eberstadt says no: women are demonstrably less happy than in the past. Novelist (!) Ann Patchett says yes: women now enjoy control over reproduction.

SWNID will reframe the question and provide a clearer answer.

To the question, it is: Has the sexual revolution been good for anyone?

Note well that this is not merely the question of contraception, which is Ms. Patchett's only real consideration. It is the question of sexual mores. Specifically it is the question whether people in general are better off if society endorses sexual congress outside of permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Neither author is willing, for whatever reason, to name the issue so specifically.

The SWNIDish answer to the question is no. Of course.

How can we argue this apart from an appeal to divine authority? We argue thus.

When women are sexually available to men apart from marriage, men lose a significant motivation to become the socially and economically responsible individuals who can become successful marriage partners. Arguably men are by nature slackers, but their testosterone can be leveraged for model citizenship if model citizenship is the best means of their finding a consistent sexual partner.

The so-called sexual revolution did not simply disconnect sexual intercourse from procreation. It also argued that avoiding unwanted pregnancy was the primary or sole reason for avoiding sexual intercourse. Hence, with the prospect of unwanted pregnancy removed, little or no reason remained for chastity.

Arguably women are by nature at least ambivalently chaste, but with society's disapproval of promiscuity largely lifted, they become subject to pressures and incentives, only partly carnal, to have sex outside of marriage.

Succumbing to such pressures has various social effects, all of which we now witness. Men in the West economically have become downwardly mobile relative to women. Children are increasingly born to women without men's support, marital or otherwise. The spiral of social decline steepens and tightens.

Charles Murray has most recently and cogently described this grim matter. Cultural elites have either ignored his observations or interpreted them like functional addicts: some of us can handle this better than others, managing to stay afloat in prosperity and relative mental health without Judeo-Christian sexual taboos, so mind your own business, prudes.

But this isn't about what some can manage better than others. It's about what makes for a healthy society for all.

Imagine a world in which contraception exists but society makes the commitment to support chastity and monogamy. Women and children are thereby protected while women are still empowered in choosing when to bear children. Men are thereby incentivized to get off the sofa, put away the gaming console, and leave the beer in the fridge. The world looks different. It looks . . . responsible and caring, like a neighborhood that's good for raising children. Which is more or less the point.

Christians nostalgic for the Golden Age before 1960 should remember well what The Pill's introduction revealed: that the commitment to chastity in the West really was based on the fear of unwanted pregnancy alone. We don't know whether there's ever been a time when lots of people were chaste for reasons beyond that one. So now we're in a new phase of human experience, social terra incognita.

What will change the miserable legacy of the sexual revolution will, we think, be one of three things: the complete unraveling of society and its subsequently slow and agonizing recovery, the self-interested realization that people are better off in a chaste society, or religious conversion. The realistic fear of the first can motivate either the second or the third.