The Sexual Revolution Reconsidered in a New York Times Article?

Columnist Ross Douthat at the New York Times has posted some interesting information and reflections on the sexual revolution. I want to present excerpts from both his column and blog. The bold black italics are his remarks, the red normal face type are my reflections.

My column todaymakes what I hope is a non-utopian argument for why social conservatives are right to welcome the recent evidence that American teens and twenty-somethings are waiting somewhat longer to have sex…. [I]t makes a huge difference not only whether people have premarital sex, but how early and how often and how casually, and that this is what social conservatives think changed for the worse starting in the 1960s…. It is a helpful distinction to indicate the trifold: whether, how early and how often. It would be preferable if there were no-premarital sex at all, for it would refelct God’s clear teaching on this. But even if we can’t fully roll back the fact that some do have pre-marital sex, at least its impact can also be minimized by chipping away at how early and how often young people engage in sexually sinful behaviors.

But I think it’s worth saying something about [another] question, because it’s crucial to the debate over how we should think about the sexual revolution and its consequences: Did the social trends of the last 50 years bring about “unprecedented gender equality”? Absolutely. Did they bring about “unprecedented personal fulfillment”? Well … for some people they did. But it’s very easy to find indicators that paint a more complicated picture. Female happiness has dropped since the 1970s, despite enormous female economic gains. Marital happiness has dipped as well, even though fewer people get married and it’s easier to leave an unhappy union. And then of course there’s the impact of higher divorce rates on children’s psychological well-being, the impact of rising single parenthood on child poverty, and so forth.All this is a way of saying that the only obvious gains women have made are economic and career related. Big whoop….It seems clearer, in other areas, that women are generally the big losers in the sexual revolution. Mr. Douthat has detailed a few of them here. I might add that women are far more likely to contract STDs, be used and cast aside, be left to largely raise children alone, and have far less social leverage over men. Men pretty much come and go as they please and for some reason women seem to tolerate it. Most of the social structures, that in the past, insisted that men do right by women have been stripped away. Pregnancy places few obligations on a man. He may have to pay some child support, but even here, many men get away with underpaying, paying late, or not paying at all.  

In many cases women have fewer options, if you ask me. Many, if not most HAVE to work. Many feel strong pressure to have sex casually in our promiscuous culture. Many feel strong pressures, economic and social to (sinfully) take strong medicine that radically alters their hormonal balance and suppresses the perfectly normal and healthy process of ovulation. Many are pressured to have abortions when “inconvenient” pregnancies occur. Women, perhaps as never before, because of our strongly visual and media driven culture, feel enormous pressure to look perfect and have bodies that are unnaturally thin and yet also curvaceous. This has always been the case to some extent but it has gone into high gear due to the widespread celebration of lust that has come from the sexual revolution. In so many ways, women have been the losers in the sexual revolution IMHO. Some will say, as a man, I cannot really have an opinion here. But perhaps some of the women who read will want to express their view.

The crucial question, to my mind, is whether all of the social changes that swept America in the 1960s and the 1970s are a package deal. [Some feminists and progressives] seem convinced that everything goes together — that the cultural shifts that have made our personal lives more unstable and (possibly) less fulfilling are inextricably bound to the shifts that made female equality a possibility, and then more or less a fact. Hence their reflexive hostility to the idea that anything could have changed for the worse in American sexual culture: To suggest that the general welfare might be enhanced if teenage sexual activity were a little more stigmatized or divorce a little harder to get, in their eyes, is to implicitly suggest that women belong in kitchens and finishing schools, rather than boardrooms and the Senate. It’s the slippery slope in reverse: Many progressives and feminists have committed themselves to an absolute defense of everything that changed during the sexual revolution, out of a fear that one concession will cost women every gain…..[T]he fact that smart feminists… feel compelled to act all blasé about the pornography industry, lest they give an inch to the forces of reaction, seems like one of the more regrettable aspects of the contemporary cultural debate. This is very well said. There is a kind of all-or-nothing thinking that seems to dominate the feminists and other progressives. It leads them to a strange sort fo silence about things that actually harm and degrade women. They make this deal with the devil for their economic gains and seem almost to fear common-sense traditional morality.

I don’t think this is the right way to look at it. The connection between feminism and sexual permissiveness strikes me as historically contingent rather than strictly necessary, and the economic and social gains that women have made since the 1960s seem robust enough to endure — or, more likely, continue apace — even amid a reconsideration of some of the social changes that accompanied them. Yes, an ethic of sexual restraint can be turned to patriarchal ends, but so can an ethic of sexual permissiveness, as anyone who’s hung out in a frat house for any length of time can attest. Exactly.

Mr Douthat then turns his attention to the relationship between traditional morality and happiness.

Two sociologists, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, in their recent book, “Premarital Sex in America.”….look at sexual behavior among contemporary young adults, [and] find a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression. This correlation is much stronger for women than for men. Female emotional well-being seems to be tightly bound to sexual stability — which may help explain why overall female happiness has actually drifted downward since the sexual revolution. Imagine that! Following the norms that God and Natural Law prescribe actually might make us happier! How can this be? We were all taught by the social revolutionaries of the 1960s that free love and a casting off of the restraints would be liberating, and bring for contentment without guilt, and happiness. Now after all that, some forty years later, we come to find that God’s had it right after all.  🙂

When social conservatives talk about restoring the link between sex, monogamy and marriage, they often have these kinds of realities in mind…..The ultimate goal is a sexual culture that makes it easier for young people to achieve romantic happiness — by encouraging them to wait a little longer, choose more carefully and judge their sex lives against a strong moral standard. And I would add, wait till marriage. Because the bottom line is that promiscuity is destructive of marriage. Most men figure, “Why get married?” After all they get what they want, or what they think they want, without it. Why commit? So I would just go a little further than Mr. Douthat here and encourage women to insist that men wait until the wedding night. Of course, until a significant number of women start insisting on this, it is likely men will continue to stray and shun commitment. Now, some will comment that I am putting the onus on the women here. Perhaps I am. Men should behave and, Lord knows,  I’ve surely preached this to them. But I’m also being realisitic here. Women hold the cards in this matter and need to set the limits. I’m not excusing men, I’m just saying that women have most of the power and that men will, and are able, to follow their lead here.

Liberals argue, not unreasonably, that Planned Parenthood’s approach… — in which teen sexual activity is taken for granted, and the most important judgment to be made about a sexual encounter is whether it’s clinically “safe” —…. is tailored to the gritty realities of teenage sexuality. But realism can blur into cynicism, and a jaded attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, the Christian view is rooted ultimately in hope and the vision that chastity is possible. Realism can be a virtue but, as Mr Douthat rightly points out, there is a false “realism” which is actually not realism at all but is cynicism in disguise. The theological virtue of Hope is the confident expectation of God’s help. Showing young people the way and having high expectations of them is rooted in a confidence that comes from Hope .

Social conservatives look at the contemporary sexual landscape and remember that it wasn’t always thus, and they look at current trends and hope that it doesn’t have to be this way forever. In this sense, despite their instinctive gloominess, they’re actually the optimists in the debate. Amen!

38 Replies to “The Sexual Revolution Reconsidered in a New York Times Article?”

  1. “I’m just saying that women have most of the power”

    How very right you are. I would go so far as to say “all the power.” One day in autumn, I was driving along a country road past a dairy farm. Down near the corner of the pasture, a bull was standing, surrounded by a half dozen eagerly aggressive cows, fighting each other for pride of place for the bull’s attention. I have also observed ewes flirtingly but aggressively vying for a ram’s attention. I thought, “Well, at least animals are not afraid to admit the truth that human beings refuse to acknowledge.”

  2. My grandmother always said, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Perhaps it isn’t the most flattering way to put it, but it does highlight the reason why men often won’t commit to marriage if they can have sex without it.

  3. No one can suspend Natural Law. It is an act of self-delusion. It always ends badly.
    As a child of the 70s I have always keenly felt that we were the first victims of the misguided “progressive” (which in reality is regressive) agenda that came out of the sixtees. We get always lumped together with the baby boomers of the 60s, but my sense is we are very different. Much of the cultural landscape which gave a solid moral and ethical foundation to the sixtees generation, and many of them subsequently rejected, was already destroyed when we were in our formative years. We were hurt by that. I was hurt by that. The lesson I took from these painful experiences is that I have categorically rejected the sexual “revolution” (and other misguided stuff from the 60s) – and so far have lived a happily married life for the past 28 years and tried to pass on these values to my sons to the best of my ability.
    I wonder how many of us baby boomers of the 70s have come to the same realization but our voices have been drowned out by the cacophany of the culture that surrounds us.

      1. “the 70s was a terrible time to grow up”

        I think growing up now might be worse. Right or wrong as their action may have been, at least the 70’s generation had something they were fight against. Now, there are no social standards against which our children will rebel. No, society doesn’t want to dictate to anyone, even our youth, about how people should live. By and large, there are no generally accepted moral standards to buck.

  4. One blogger, Nicole C at Mom & then some, recently coined a great phrase to describe Planned Parenthood’s approach to premarital sex: “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. “Set the lowest standards possible, because you think people can’t achieve anything more, then dress it up in ribbons and lace, and act like it’s making everyone equal.” I’ve called the approach “making the world safe for stupidity” because it enables poor sexual judgment by accepting it as a given.

    Ross Douthat is to the New York Times what John Allen is to the National Catholic Reporter: An intelligent person capable of making the orthodox Catholic case in an institution full of “progressive” bilge and radical hardliners. His contention—that the connection between sexual liberty and women’s economic progress is historically contingent—is one we on the pro-life should have been making for years, to counter the argument that contraception and abortion were necessary for women’s equality. And the whole piece ties nicely into the recent WSJ article that Jennifer Fulweiler blogged about recently.

    Is the tide starting to turn in our favor? It may be too soon to tell. But it’s worth noting that finally we have voices in the MSM starting to tell our side of the story.

    Thanks again for all you do, Monsignor!

    1. “the soft bigotry of low expectations”

      Just for the record, that phrase was coined by George W. Bush (as ghost-written for him by speechwriter Michael Gerson).

      It is an apt phrase that unfortunately has too many applications.

      1. Thanks, Bender. I never was a fan of Dubya, but I still like the phrase.

  5. As a forty year old woman with a degree in engineering, I will say with confidence that some things in the realm of education and economics have advanced for women. As the stay-at-home mother of four wonderful children, I will say that I am blessed to have everything–including a stable Catholic marriage. Contraception and abortion have opened the floodgates for using women as objects and have absolutely served to redefine marriage and what being a woman really means. I had the opportunity to be a ‘powerful career woman’, but chose the path that I felt that God was calling me to follow.

    The homosexual agenda seeks to redefine marriage—I would argue that contraception already has. When the ‘marital act’ has nothing to do with marriage and is not open to life, it’s just another ‘thing to do’. Even a married couple that contracepts sorely damages the unitive elements of the ‘marital act’.

    If we want to reclaim our womanhood—get rid of contraception. Save the ‘marital act’ for marriage and understand your fertility through Natural Family Planning. Happy couples make happy families. Happy families and happy mothers grow happy women.

  6. “Gender equality” remains “unprecedented.” The so-called equality was a combination of reverse discrimination, and the (millenia-old) self-indulgent refusal of the strong to acknowledge the weakness of the weaker gender. Combine this with cheerleading from wealthy, beautiful female celebrities and you get the abusive delusion of sexual equality that has battered countless women’s lives.

  7. The Feminists have sold their souls to the Devil.

    Plain and simple. Everybody knows this deep down.

    They sold their souls for money / higher wages, the judicial right to sleep around, and the judicial right to kill their kids if they wanted to.

    Feminism is The Whore of Babylon.
    If you do not believe me, watch an episode of “Sex and the City”.

  8. Dear Father, you do know that the author of this piece, Ross Douthat, is a Catholic convert and social conservative? He’s a token on the NY Times editorial board and doesn’t really represent any change of thinking there.

    1. Well, I was unaware about the Mr Douthat’s conversion, good for him. But I am being a bit tongue in cheek about with the title and am under no illusions as the NYTs on-going views

  9. The sexual revolution was and is the biggest con job of the last century. Before the “liberation”, men were working steady jobs, watching their drinking, watching their language, attending mass, acting like gentlemen, all to prove their worth as a husband and father. If they worked hard enough, maybe, just maybe, they would be deemed worthy of the gold ring and it’s rewards. Then along come some unwashed dope smoking hippies who want the rewards without any of the effort or responsibility, so they con all womanhood into a liberation that allows men to impregnate them and say so long babe. Women have been taken from the top of the social scale to the bottom, and liberals still call it liberation. As far as economic benefits, when you consider all the single and deserted mothers, I doubt very much that women on average have gained economically, thus making the whole con job a loser from beginning to end.

  10. On the other hand, Cosmopolitan Magazine has now taken to promoting prostitution.
    And their blog has become a contact center for women who want to get into prostitution.

    This is not a joke.
    As I said: Feminism is the Whore of Babylon. Litterally.
    Behold the rotten fruits of womens lib:
    Read the comments at the bottom of page 1 & especially at the bottom of page 2.

    1. I thoroughly agree with you on that. A few years ago I started receiving a right wing Protestant e newsletter someone seems to have put my name in for. It’s not to my taste but, I do get a little good information on it now and then. Anyhow, a few weeks ago they had an article on the progression of some feminists and the courts likely hood to favour a mother’s custody rights and then put long delays in even listening to the fathers’ side of the story. A few days (less than a week) later my daily scriptural reading took me to Isaiah 47 which reminded me of Apocolypse 17.
      Some may consider this coincidence but, I consider it timely.

    1. Thanks Nick for sharing these useful links.

      If only more women could consider other better options on how to make good use of time by way of learning new skills, uncovering potential talents (e.g. sports, music, arts, culture, language etc) and reading works of prominent personalities with good moral standing then the risks associated with misuse of sex will be mitigated.

  11. Here is the most recent divorce I witnessed:

    The woman got the house. But she knows nothing about plumbing, or how often a house needs a new roof, or how often a house needs to be painted. She’s gung-ho about learning, but I think in reality she is probably overwhelmed though she doesn’t realize it. She is in-between jobs, and doing a bit of part time work. Their child and dogs are living with her. The man got his mother’s house who had recently passed away. He seems to be blowing through vehicles and cash. Oddly, the two still visit each other and talk on the phone. Maybe they will get back together again. They were married for about 25 years.

    Divorce needs to be discouraged, but our civic leaders are too embarrassed to admit that there may be a God, that there may be morality, and that our civil society has been headed down the wrong track. Heck, where I live the major newspaper just came out endorsing the legalization of marijuana. With the legalizating of gambling and state lotto, I’ve seen pawnshops and payday loan places spring up all over. I can only wonder what the legalization of drugs might do.

  12. The “sexual revolution” has permitted and encouraged men and women to use and exploit, rather than support, one another. Since the release of the birth control pill in 1965, rather than committing and requiring a man to commit to marriage, many women have chosen to “use” a man for short-term sexual gratification and financial gain. The ready availability of casual sex without a marriage commitment has prompted many to avoid commitment to marriage. Men use women for casual sex. Women use men for casual sex. That is the sort of “equality” that has resulted from the “sexual revolution.” We use and exploit one another, rather than love and nurture one another. Which orientation, mutual use or mutual love, is more likely to result in security and happiness? Whilst it has always been true that women choose men, the “sexual revolution” has permitted them to set their goals and standards too low, to undervalue themselves for short term gain. As a young man in college in the 60s, I was dismayed at how many and how rapidly young women of my acquaintance seemed to abandon their formerly held religious/ethical views almost overnight in favour of sleeping around. Whilst last Friday, my date would have limited my advances by appeal to her religious values and God’s displeasure, this week, I was told “Lets go for it – I’m on the pill!” No wonder many young men today avoid marriage and commitment, as other commentators have remarked. The evil trend of undermining marriage and families that has taken a pernicious toll on individuals and on society must be be reversed. Christian individuals must act under the direction of the Holy Spirit to achieve a deeper and more widespread happiness that comes from understanding and obeying God’s law.

  13. I am one of those who born in the 60’s was a guinea pig for teaching of the sexual revolution of the 70’s. The culture and the classroom taught me that there was one thing to live for, getting laid. By the time I got to college in the early 80’s I would search out women on “the pill” so I would be released of any responsibility for my actions. I would take pride in my ability to bed several different women in the space of a week.
    It was a bizarre dichotomy for I fully considered any woman my equal in the classroom and then later at the office but come nightfall they were only an object for pleasure.
    Fortunately things have changed greatly for me. I am now happily married and monogamous. I realize casual sex may have brought momentary pleasure but left me far from happy. I read once that Freud believed that we would be all happier if we were all freed of the sexual constraints then largely in place. Those constraints are long gone but happiness is elusive for the majority.

  14. The sexaual revolution and it’s ill’s, including abortion, can be traced to one root cause… contraception.


  15. Men have been blaming women since Adam bit the apple.

    In fact, men began abandoning families in droves beginning in the 1950s, with the advent of a Playboy ethic, when men began to prefer getting a householder’s salary, while remaining single.

    Hence, women raising children alone required greater access to the workplace and equal salaries. The women’s movement was, in part, a response to that reality.

    I’m not sure it was the movement that caused greater access to jobs, rather than the economic reality of a flattening economy in the 1970s.

    I’m glad for the opportunities offered — but the reality is, I didn’t have a choice.

    I’m proud that I could raise kids, manage a household, and have a great career with no financial support, or much of any other kind of support, from a husband who just wouldn’t work, and then wouldn’t pay child support of any kind. Men seem caught in some sort of adolescence. I am “fulfilled,” I guess, but very tired!

    The big loser in the sexual revolution? Sorry, I say the guys. They are often entering old age alone, without the connection to the kids they abandoned.

    There’s an awful lot of male rage out there — they found that “getting some” was a temporary fix for an existential problem. They valued their penises way too much — way more than their responsibilities. They “get some” for a few years, and then the torch passes to younger men, and they are left behind. There’s also a lot of male violence towards women, along with resentment and anger.

    W.F. Buckley said truly that behind every abortion is a man who could not or would not take responsibility. It’s not just those wayward women out there. Two sentences would stop a lot of abortions: “Honey, I love you. Let’s work with this together.”

    1. I expected at least one response like yours. But perhaps there is a middle ground between the “It’s all women’s fault (as you propose is the position by me or others here – it is not, by the way) and the “men are pigs” position which I think you proclaim

  16. I’d argue that what really happened was that since the Industrial Revolution, the male model of family life was broken. His work away from the family took precedence over the family. He was defined more by his time away from the family then time spent with family. The movies in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, started glorifying the man unfettered by family constraints who could put career first and eventually his social life away from the family first. Women appropriated an already broken model of human work when they entered the work force. Part of this schema is that success in the work place also equates to greater sexual mojo — that is one can trade up and get a better spouse. How many films in the 50’s and 60’s glorified the affair, the trading in of the old wife who can’t keep up with the upwardly mobile male?

    We should be recovering the true meaning of family and a proper framing of any time spent outside of the home relative to the family. One’s life is best when it is ordered to God, then family, then friends, then work. Right now it is ordered to what I have accomplished, work and colleagues, family, maybe God, and occasionally friends. Life is topsy turvy and we are all the worse off for it.

  17. One issue that I don’t see raised often is that of sexual abuse. I believe that the media is sexually abusing our children. From my own experience I can say that it is difficult for a person to be chaste when she does not believe her body is her own. When young people grow up surrounded by pornography it may have much the same effect. And I don’t just mean cable TV. Look at any billboards, magazine covers, and other incidental media young people will view throughout the day. And, yes, then there’s the truly toxic media of TV, radio, and movies.

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