What the sexual revolution has wrought - or not

I'm married to a guy who doesn't think very highly of the sexual revolution. He blames it for just about everything that's going wrong, like the diminished importance of marriage, no-fault divorce, sexual misconduct, the increasing irrelevance of the social conservative ideas he espouses, etc.

I disagree. I don't think these things are related. Or if they are, the relationship is a correlation, not a causation. That the kind of people who believe in free sex might also be the kind of people who believe adult happiness matters more than the pain divorce brings to kids. Although I'll say this: I was pretty free-sexy in some of my previous lives but I always thought one ought to put the kids first. And I can say this, too: Sometimes, being a kid living with married parents who aren't particularly happy together (as I did growing up) causes its share of pain. Humans are hard to get along with, and we all have a few scars because of that. Some more serious than others. Some more debilitating than others.

But where I really disagree is on whether the sexual revolution caused some men to start groping and assaulting or raping women. I don't think the two are related at all. I believe sexual predators come from a much darker place than the free-love fellows. I'm also pretty certain sexual predators were around and active before the 1960s.

One thing the sexual revolution (and, crucially, easy contraception and access to abortion) brought along is the empowerment of women. I'm not keen on the Pill myself (I hate the hormones that are already present in my body; I won't add more, thanks very much), and I'm against abortion except in rare cases because I believe we have a responsibility not to conceive when we're not ready to parent; in every abortion there's another human being's life in the balance. But I've always been in control of when I would have babies (I've also, ahem, been lucky), and always felt free to decide that moment myself. I would never want my daughters to be in a situation where they wouldn't have that autonomy. You have babies when both prospective parents are ready and willing, and not sooner. I also don't want my little girls - ever - to believe that the route to success is providing a man with sexual services, inside a relationship or not. They're still too young for that sort of talk, but I intend to raise them to believe themselves worthy of respect regardless of what men think of their bodies. And that a proper relationship is one where they feel valued and equal, and in which sex is something each partner gives the other - equally and lovingly. And to be strong and independent so they never feel they have to give in to a sexual predator just to get ahead or what have you. (They're also learning karate, because sometimes the only thing that works is a good old palm strike.)

I read this piece by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times yesterday and found this last paragraph very intriguing:

Maybe feminists feel free to express their fury about the path sexual liberation has taken because they no longer need to defend sexual liberation itself from conservatives. In the 1990s, porn culture seemed subversive and chic. Now it’s become repulsively presidential.

Like I said, I don't agree that sexual assault by powerful men is a natural consequence of the sexual liberation. But I can totally see the point about no longer having to defend our right to love who we want however we want (in situations where there are no children involved) from conservative moral crusaders. Their objections have become irrelevant. In part because in many cases their own behaviour isn't something I'd want anyone to emulate (looking at you, Roy Moore). I'm not saying sleeping around is going to make you happy. It didn't work for me. But I wouldn't say that about straight-laced marriage either. People are complicated, and their love lives reflect that.

The sexual revolution has given women more power and agency, and the cultural changes that have happened in the same decades (very much including the increasing irrelevance of social conservatism) have contributed to that as well. Women are free to be strong, and usually praised for being so. To the point where now it's stories like this one that get blasted - not because the fellow was a predator, but because the woman didn't appear to want to be in control of the situation from beginning to end.

I was born in 1970. I believe I have benefited from the sexual revolution. I never felt I couldn't be who I am or do what I want because I was a girl. (Sure, some jerks still stay stuff like that, but they don't matter.) I graduated from law school. I earned a living doing jobs I'd chosen. I quit those jobs when they no longer suited me. And crucially, I am now strong enough to tell anyone I don't like to f*** off when normal words aren't enough. Today I am pleased to see the #metoo movement, for the most part, rightly insisting that we believe and respect women who complain about predators. I don't think it was caused by the sexual liberation, but it certainly goes well with it. 

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