Since World War II, in both the U.S. and other Western countries, there has been an ongoing attempt to completely dismantle the Foundational Consensus on sexuality. Unlike earlier “sexual revolutions,” this hasn’t been in the form of just getting the bluenoses to lay off a little so people can unwind. Instead, there have been multiple attacks on the Consensus designed specifically to discredit it and repeal its requirements.
Without many of us realizing it, we have started to converge on a position where the sexual pleasure and fulfillment of adults is presumed to be so absolutely central to the human experience that any legal abridgment of its expression must be met with extreme skepticism. Once this attitude becomes entrenched, it’s very hard for me to see how pretty much all remaining boundaries will not fall. I feel I should emphasize here that this is not the consequence of some master plan by dark conspirators to poison our precious bodily fluids. No, it’s just how things will naturally unfold as people try to muddle their way through moral issues by way of analogy, without recourse to an authoritative source of moral wisdom.
Why now — why did this come about in the post-World War II period, as opposed to some earlier time? It’s not like our 19th century Victorian ancestors were incapable of orgasms, after all. Well, ask yourself: When was the last time you thought about sex in a way that centered around making babies?
Thanks to a combination of unprecedented societal wealth and scientific control over biology, we have reached a point where the conception and rearing of children is no longer an act fraught with existential consequences, as it has been for nearly all of human history. For most of the time humans have been on this planet, every time a man and a woman decided to have sex, it was a potentially life-changing event for both partners. Indeed, the potential for change wasn’t necessarily limited to the father and mother — the fate of entire empires could hang in the balance. Sargon of Akkad, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Mohammed — these planet-shaking lives were all the product of some random girl and some random guy screwing.
When it was impossible for anybody to ignore the fact that every random fuck could determine the rest of your life, your family’s life, and possibly the fate of the human race, it was quite natural for people to believe that what happened in bed — the most private of all human spaces — was society’s business. In this kind of environment, it was easy for people to come to the conclusion that, yes, the government did belong in the bedroom.
Today, the only people who still think in these terms are, of course, the highly religious, whose minds are often concentrated by the fact that they have voluntarily submitted to rules of conduct that preserve the existential peril of the sexual act. To those who have no strong religious beliefs, this probably seems as silly as the Amish refusing to use electricity or internal combustion engines.
For those who do not submit themselves to the strictures of religion, it’s possible for a person to have sex almost entirely without consequence. Thanks to birth control pills and abortion, women have near-complete control over reproduction from the point of potential conception to near the moment of birth. (Men have slightly less control over the process — but only slightly. There is not yet a “birth control pill for men,” and a man cannot legally compel a mother to either abort his child or give birth against her will. Even so, a prudent, sexually active man in 2016 has far more options than his great-grandfather could have dreamed of.)
If a woman does decide to give birth, then once birth occurs, she can give the child up for adoption and wash her hands of the whole matter; conversely, she can choose to raise the child alone. No matter which choice she makes, no stigma or shame will attach to her. Furthermore, if she chooses to raise the child herself, today’s mother has resources available — many provided free of charge by the government — that would have been unimaginable to the women of antiquity. No woman living today in an advanced society need ever face the agonizing dilemmas faced by her ancestors of only a few centuries ago. (Again, things are a little trickier for men. But us guys should be wary of making too much out of this. Things are still far easier for a sexually active man today than they would have been in, say, 1816.)
Thus, through our wealth and ingenuity, we have successfully constructed an environment in which the link between sexual pleasure and babies has been completely severed in the mind of the average person. We have done to sex what video games like “Call of Duty” have done to the act of killing: We’ve devised an arena which allows us to enjoy all the pleasure of the act while removing all possible consequences. In doing so, we’ve managed to transform “moral” constraints on sexuality into entirely arbitrary barriers, which are maintained purely due to inertia. These traditional “barriers” now have all the strength of tissue paper, and can be shredded with the slightest application of pressure. The cold knife of moral reasoning via analogy will whittle everything down to a least-common-denominator version of morality. It’s not very difficult to shoehorn pretty much every form of sexual deviancy into that generous standard.
Coming next: Why you think this cannot happen, and why you are wrong.