Prior to the sexual revolution, our society had a certain legal and moral consensus on sexual behaviour. Then certain factions in society started pushing for a cultural shift that produced the sexual revolution based on a desire to liberalize sexuality in western society.
The argument went that it’s nobody’s business what consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes.
And this was a powerfully persuasive argument and continues to be one today, but unless you’re a libertarian or an anarchist, it leaves you open to a serious contradiction.
Because this idea of consent absolving the parties from any wrongdoing depends on the premise that it’s impossible to be a victim of something if you consented to it. But we don’t think that way for other aspects of our lives. When it comes to economic transactions, we don’t hold this same principle. In fact, we decry it.
Take the housing crash of 2008. Virtually everyone, but especially people on the left, came away from that blaming the bankers and lenders. Very few people had the audacity to say that the people who signed on to mortgages that they couldn’t afford were just as culpable in that blame.
In that scenario, we have two consenting adults, agreeing to something but most people seem to agree those kinds of consenting transactions should be regulated and limited by the law.
Take another example. The left has been consistent in promoting the cause of minimum wage. In other words, it’s not enough for two adults to look at a price for labor and agree to it between the two of them.
And if you believe that, then you HAVE to concede that consent between two adults isn’t enough to prevent society or the state from taking an interest.
So if you’re someone who believes that consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want when it comes to sex, but when it comes to economics, we can’t allow that, then you’re harboring a serious contradiction.
So, we have this bizarre double standard and contradiction when it comes to our sexual ethic and its no wonder we’ve been suffering from an outbreak of STDs, unintended pregnancies, a serious decline in mental health, and a staggering lack of success in marriage.
If it isn’t obvious, I’d say the solution is to treat sex like everything else we exercise prudential judgement with whether it be financial transactions or something like nutrition.
And nutrition’s actually a really good example because it is a biological function with a clear purpose but also has the potential to produce pleasure and influence social dynamics just as sexuality does.
But notice how cautious we are when it comes to our nutrition. Nobody would ever endorse a nutritional approach that says, do whatever feels good as along as everyone’s consenting.
And what informs our good decisions around nutrition is that we have never lost sight of the fact that the purpose of eating is to fuel our bodies. Pleasure is merely an effect, but if we mistook pleasure as the purpose, then things would go downhill fast.
And that’s what we’ve seen with sex. Imagine, for example, if you were able to be transported to an alien world in which people would routinely logon to the internet just to watch other people eating delicious food, or if there were adult clubs in which someone would come out from behind a curtain and perform a little dance while holding a plate of burgers.
You’d probably say, their instincts for food have gone off the rails. Well, that’s basically what’s happened to us with sex.
So, if the purpose of nutrition is what informs our choices when it comes to eating, maybe we can learn from that and ask ourselves what the purpose of sex is because pleasure isn’t it. It has a very explicit biological purpose, but we’ve divorced ourselves from it. We’ve tried to have all the pleasurable effects of sex without the effects synonymous with its biological purpose in the same way that someone suffering from bulimia might try to enjoy their favorite foods but vomit them up so that they don’t produce the undesirable consequences.
But the thing nobody wants to hear is that the only fail-safe solution to our problems is monogamy. We’ve embraced a new sexual ethic that promised to liberate us from those constraints. But seriously, how constrained is it.
I’ve only ever had one sexual partner in my life, but I’m willing to bet that I’ve enjoyed far more consistently fulfilling sexual experiences than bachelors who are my age.
And I’ve been able to do so liberated from all baggage of wondering if I’m going to get infected or accidentally get someone pregnant. I’ve never had to worry about what allowing someone into my life in that way will do if I don’t intend to have an ongoing relationship with them. And I’ve always been able to experience sexuality with the full knowledge that the person I’m experiencing it with is committed to loving me.