Did the sexual revolution backfire?

LOUISE PERRY: Before, I was completely convinced by the standard sexual revolution narrative that it was definitely a good thing. I began to doubt this, I believe, at first at the university. Around this time, my dominoes began to fall, although I did not expect that this would end with me writing a book called The Case Against the Sexual Revolution. A phrase I often hear is: “We don’t want to go back to the 1950s, do we?” Or The Handmaid’s Tale obviously hangs in the background like this dire threat if we question any narrative of sexual liberation. I don’t think this is a binary choice: there is a lot of room between the two extremes of total permissiveness and theocracy. The problem is that sex-positive feminism, in practice, aims to excuse all kinds of really offensive, really pretty dark sexual practices, and ends up becoming a kind of ideology that just lies in wait to justify any action. imbalance of power in sexual relations. We make decisions within an incentive structure that has a path of least resistance, and the path of least resistance currently is to view having sex like a man as desirable. However, this is not required. There are choices to be made and I think more and more young women are doing this and realizing the disadvantages of sexual empowerment.

I’m Louise Perry. I am a journalist and writer and my book is called The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century.

If you look at human history, you will see that there is a rollercoaster effect in sexual culture where you have periods of more permissiveness, periods of more restriction, a kind of alternation. The difference, I think, with our sexual revolution is that ours is stuck, and I think the reason ours is stuck is because of the pill. This puts a woman’s fertility on hold and does so without the women noticing. It was so radical, and it was accompanied by all sorts of changes in the economy. Things like washing machines, central heating, microwave ovens, diapers, tampons, everything related to modern home life that our ancestors didn’t have access to. All this means that it has become much easier for modern women to live like men, to emulate traditionally male roles, whether in professional life or in terms of sexuality. I think we have seen that the new social incentives shift the female bell curve toward the male bell curve, encouraging women to imitate male sexuality and be more casual, more interested in pornography. to experiment more sexually and so on. For some women, this is normal, this is a good result. From many women, you sometimes hear a slightly non-specific feeling of dissatisfaction and anxiety.

We now live in a sexual culture where women feel they have little choice but to emulate male sexuality; that it’s actually seen as a rite of passage to get through a period of dating and insensible sex, as well as trying to have sex like a man. This is a phrase that is used in the first ever episode of “Sex and the City” where the main character in the first episode has sex with an ex-boyfriend and she is fully aware of the fact that it is emotionless. She says in voiceover:

CARRIE BRADSHAW: “I realized that I did it. I just had sex like a man. I left feeling strong, powerful and incredibly alive.”

PERRY: So it’s considered desirable and I think it’s a social culture that doesn’t really serve the interests of young women.

Up until the invention of the birth control pill, sex was perhaps the most important thing a woman could do. You have more than nine months of pregnancy, dangerous and difficult childbirth, many years of baby care, including breastfeeding. The implications for women are enormous, and so it certainly makes sense in this context that women have evolved to be more discriminating. A slightly controversial point that I do in the book is the chapter called “Men and women are different.” The reality for our species is that only one half can get pregnant, the other half can get pregnant, and that the half of the population that can get pregnant is also smaller and physically weaker than the other half, with profound social implications. Most men can kill most women with their bare hands, but not vice versa. Men, on average, can punch about twice as hard as women and can bench press twice as hard.

And then there are the psychological differences: there’s a trait that psychologists call “sociosexuality” that’s not exactly the same as sex drive; it is your interest in sexual diversity. Thus, someone with unrestricted sociosexuality will be more interested in watching porn, experimenting with kinks, and having casual sex. So what you’ll see on dating apps is that women tend to team up with the most desirable men: the richest, the most handsome. These men can have different dates with different women every day of the week, assembling such digital harems. In a system where some people are inherently more powerful than others, if they are given more freedom, there is a risk that they will use that greater freedom to exploit people who are weaker than them. There is a phrase by the socialist historian R. H. Tawney: “Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow.” Now he was talking about economics, but I think we should understand sexual culture in the same way. Someone with low levels of sociosexuality will be much more focused on monogamy and commitment, much less willing to jump into bed with someone they just met. I don’t think any observer would be surprised to learn that men are, on average, more sociosexual than women, with more variation, obviously. But you know, if you’re talking at the population level, we’re talking about millions or billions of people, you have what I call the “sociosexuality gap” where you have at the population level, you have a lot more men who aspire to jump into bed with women, and there aren’t many women who really want to do it.

How do you bridge this gap in sociosexuality? Different cultures have found different solutions. One solution to this is prostitution, where you have a class of poor women destined to absorb all that excess male sexual energy. I won’t accept it. It is terribly harmful for these women to have a group of women specially designed for this purpose. I also think that the current culture where you see all women being encouraged to sort of be pulled up to male standards is also clearly leading to disaster. I think essentially the feminist claim is that unwanted sex is worse than sexual frustration. So I think that a feminist project, a truly feminist project, should not try to convince women to become more like men. To have sex like a man, you really need to focus on convincing men to have sex like a woman.

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