Why the Sexual Revolution was Bad for Women

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October 6, 2022

7 min read

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Millennial journalist Louise Perry claims in her new book that the sexual revolution has made women its victims, not its victors. She’s right.

The table of contents of Louise Perry’s newly-released book, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, isn’t what one would expect to find in the writing of a self-proclaimed feminist.

In fact, it reads much more like something from another era. Her chapter titles sum up her conclusions into familiar, old-fashioned phrases. A few examples: “Sex Must Be Taken Seriously,” “Men and Women are Different,” “The Virtue of Repression,” and “Marriage is Good.”

At first glance, this sounds like a book your grandmother might have written. Yet this millennial journalist is definitely not your grandma. She grew up with a very different world view than what she espouses in this book. Most of the ideas she argues against are ones she held herself as a college student. It wasn’t until she graduated and began working at a rape crisis center that she started the journey of questioning our accepted cultural norms around sex, which culminated in her book.

Perry steps back to look at the broader sociological change and asks, “Has this been good for women?”

Working at a rape crisis center sparked her questioning accepted cultural norms around sex.

A little history before we dive into her claims. As Perry explains in her book, the introduction of the pill led swiftly into a deconstruction of societal taboos against premarital sex. With the belief that women now had control over their contraception, women could be freed from the shackles of marriage and motherhood, historically used to confine them.

While Perry acknowledges that there is certainly truth to this, she suggests that the alternative we’ve come up with – a sexually promiscuous, “consent-is-everything” social culture — is not an advancement in women’s rights, but quite the opposite, a claim she painstakingly details throughout the book.

Perry’s book is purely secular. She mentions religion only insofar as it affected cultural norms around marriage and sex. (A note to the potential reader: the book is, as one Amazon reader aptly put it, “rated R.”) And yet her conclusions are highly compatible with Judaic wisdom. Let’s take a look at a few of her main points and see what Jewish wisdom has to say on the topic.

Sex Must Be Taken Seriously

Perry argues that sexual disenchantment – the idea that there’s nothing uniquely special or powerful about a sexual encounter – is a social lie. Most people intuitively know that physical intimacy is not the same as, say, making someone a cup of coffee. She quotes several of the writers from the #MeToo movement – women who were not raped, but felt violated and were grappling with understanding their own feelings despite having participated in a technically consensual act.

Physical intimacy is not the same as, say, making someone a cup of coffee.

Perry’s background as a journalist advocating for women’s rights with a focus on sexual violence, with her stint working in a rape crisis center, exposed her to some of the worst that can happen to a woman. Yet she points out that it’s not only in the extreme cases where women are losing out, but the overarching social pressure that tells women to tune out from their gut instinct (i.e., not to go home with a drunk man 30 pounds heavier and stronger who you barely know) and play the part.

Judaism views the act of physical intimacy as one of the holiest deeds a person can do – and like everything holy and valuable, it is surrounded by guard rails and guidance, validating our intuitive understanding that sex matters.

Loveless Sex is Not Empowering

When the advent of contraception put women more in control of their reproduction, it swiftly led into a “consent is all that matters” culture. The new avatar of the modern, liberated woman was one who participates gleefully in hook-up culture. And while Perry is all for women having more control in their lives, she points out that women lose out when social norms no longer require maturity and commitment from men.

Statistically, men on the whole have a dramatically higher level of socio-sexuality (preference for variety, aka “sowing wild oats” behavior) as compared to most women. While there are exceptions to the rule, the average woman playing the modern dating game isn’t doing what comes naturally to her, but what works best for men.

Perry argues that the culture we now live in not only encourages promiscuity, but pressures women into pretending that this is what they want. Having boundaries around sex is seen as prudish, strange, or only for the very religious, as opposed to a reasonable response of someone who bears the responsibility of a potential pregnancy, is significantly more likely to be a victim of sexual or domestic violence, and is statistically less likely to even enjoy casual encounters.

In today’s culture, particularly on campus, women are left in the awkward position of having to justify why they don’t want to have sex.

Social culture is a force to be reckoned with. In today’s culture, particularly on campus, women are left in the awkward position of having to justify why they don’t want to have sex. And competing in a dating world in which casual sex is the norm, a woman who would rather have commitment is painfully aware that this will diminish her dating prospects.

When a traditional Jewish couple dates, they first identify what they’re looking for in a spouse (See the recent New York Time’s article: Dating is Broken. Going Retro Could Fix It.) Only when their main criteria have been met do they even meet in person. More importantly, they don’t even start this process until they’ve decided that they’re ready for marriage.

This is obviously a system that works best at the cultural level, but individuals can take something from this approach. Women can ask themselves, is this someone I’d consider marrying? If not, do I really want a physical relationship or am I responding to what I feel is expected of me?

Marriage is Good

The very thing that feminists considered most confining to women – the institution of monogamous marriage – turns out, from a sociological perspective, to be the most pro-woman option out there. Women who were trapped in terrible or dangerous marriages were rightly liberated by the increased access to divorce, but what came in its wake from a cultural standpoint was a wave of divorce among the not-so-terrible marriages. Today, unless a marriage leaves a person completely self-actualized (a tall order for a busy generation that can rarely eke out time for a weekly date), the relationship is completely called into question. And while divorce rates have started to go down, we shouldn’t get too excited–this is only because it’s becoming increasingly uncommon to get married in the first place.

And yet marriage, on a societal level, is consistently associated with more success for the entire community. The breakdown of marriage doesn’t benefit women mainly because it doesn’t benefit anyone.

In addition, Perry describes the surprising phenomenon that single motherhood has skyrocketed since the advent of the pill (she explains that the 91% reliability gave a false sense of security leading to dramatically more unwanted pregnancies). She also cites the evolutionary advantage of women being closely bonded with their children, a situation enabled when two parents are available to share the burden of income and child care. And she argues that when social norms pushed men into marriage mode, women particularly won out as the men had to develop the responsibility and self-control necessary to play the role. “The problem with our current sexual culture is that it encourages men to be their worst possible selves,” Perry shared in a recent interview. Men aren’t unwilling to enter into the mature persona that Perry calls “dad mode” because they just have no reason to.

More than anything, what Perry’s book offers the reader is an opportunity to challenge the status quo. The norms we grew up with require critical evaluation. And while societal norms have a huge impact on our lives, we each have a say in what we want those lives to look like.

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