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A review of Modern Sex: Liberation and its Discontents. Edited by Myron Magnet. Ivan R. Dee, 2001.

Jul 22, 2006

This is a book about sex. More specifically, it is about the sexual revolution, its promises, and its failure.

The sexual revolution, a subset of the 60s’ cultural revolution, was one of the most significant social upheavals that the West has experienced. Indeed, the counter-culture movement as a whole made an impact perhaps as great as other global revolutions, such as the Industrial, the Russian, and so on.

It is because the sexual revolution offered so much, and made such great promises, that it needs to be critically examined. The authors of the essays found in this book do indeed cast a critical eye over this turbulent period, and unanimously argue that the revolution has been a monumental failure, even on its own terms.

The sexual revolution promised freedom, but resulted in captivity. It promised enlightenment, but led to new darkness. It was, in truth, a god that failed.

The authors featured here are well qualified to speak on this subject. They include some of our finest thinkers and cultural critics. Four American writers, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Wendy Shalit, Kay Hymowitz and Harry Stein are featured, along with two English heavyweights, Roger Scruton and Theodore Dalrymple. Together they offer twelve penetrating essays which analyse and dissect the sexual liberationists, their philosophy and practice.

A number of themes are discussed: the making and breaking of feminism, the divorce culture, the sexualisation of our children, the rise of the porn culture, sex education, the break-up of marriage and family, the meaning of love, and the importance of morality in our thinking and discussions of sex.

Everyone has been a loser in this revolution, as Magnet reminds us in his introduction. But it is our children who have especially suffered. Hymowitz devotes three articles to this theme. And they make for sad reading. We are really letting our kids down big time because of the new sexual paradigm that now reigns. It is a paradigm of non-judgementalism, libertarianism and market-driven sexploitation. And our kids have been major casualties.

Consider the tweens, those aged between eight and twelve. They are a market niche group who are being robbed of their childhood while parents are being robbed of their hard-earned cash. Thus we have kids being sold g-strings and coerced into looking like a porn star, or at least a rock star (often one and the same, as least in terms of appearances).

Hymowitz argues that there are two main themes that run through the lives of tweens, both directly related to the sexual revolution. One is absentee parents, and all the problems associated with that major social malady. Then there is the corporate world which markets tween sexuality, promoting the media image that to be cool is to be sexual, and the younger the better.

Thus peer pressure, driven by the corporate marketeers, is replacing parental authority, as the major formative force in the lives of tweens. And the outcomes do not look good.

Roger Scruton, ever lucid, incisive, and worth reading, argues in one of his three essays that we need to return to social stigma, shame, reproach, even – dare we say it – judgementalism when it comes to sex. We need to remind ourselves that not everything goes, and some sexual activities are simply wrong, and need to be regarded as such.

Mere legislation cannot compensate for the loss of social sanction. The inner directed sense of shame and guilt used to perform a wondrous task of keeping people out of mischief. But now that we have thrown out stigma, we have either the heavy hand of the law, or nothing, to help keep ourselves, and especially our young people, from engaging in harmful and destructive sexual practices.

Sex is a passion too powerful to be left unconstrained, and in the old days, conscience, religion and the personal sense of shame kept sex in check. Today it is running out of control, and stigma needs to be regained. Sexual mores are a matter of public concern, and we need all the help we can get in curbing harmful sexual appetites.

Another essay worth noting is Wendy Shalit’s piece on the popular television series, Sex and the City. A major premise of the show, at least expressed through its female characters, is that equality means having women acting as debauched as men. But aping male promiscuity and crudity is hardly the path of women’s liberation. Instead it drags them down to the same vulgar and animal level. The earlier feminists, as Shalit reminds us, disapproved of promiscuity, because they knew that real power for women came through morality, not immorality.

Sadness best describes the four females on the show. And that is exactly one of the bitter fruits of radical feminism and the sexual revolution. Women were promised freedom but instead have been newly enslaved. Indeed, while men can now much more easily love ‘em and leave ‘em, women are often left literally holding the baby. So much for liberation.

Other penetrating chapters focus on related topics, and taken together they present a good case for the more traditional scheme of things, and a searing indictment of how the West has managed to throw so much of value away in just a few short decades.

While there have been a number of recent critiques of the sexual revolution penned in the past decade, the essays collected here are some of the finest examples of writing and thinking on the subject. Given the very real, and very negative, consequences of the sexual revolution, and how in many ways it has swept everything before its path, it is reassuring to know that not everyone has succumbed to its siren sounds. Saner voices yet exist, warning us the perils of the sexual liberals, and pointing us to a better way. This volume is both timely and necessary.

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One Response to A review of Modern Sex: Liberation and its Discontents. Edited by Myron Magnet. Ivan R. Dee, 2001.

  • This book sounds like a valuably potent antitode to much of the plague of misery the oxymoronic “sexual liberation” has brought on people.

    I would recommend as a complement to this book Danielle Crittenden’s exellent “What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman”, in which Danielle offers a brilliantly perspicacious analysis of the poisoined inheritence feminism and sexual liberation has bequethed to todays modern women.

    Francis Gamba, Melbourne

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