After the sexual revolution — brokenness, boredom, hedonism, nihilism…
The debris of the sixties sexual revolution continues to wash up onto our cultural shores. Hooking up. Pornography. Anorexia. Bulimia. Abortion. Cutting. STDs. We all see the devastation.
But some see it better than others. Some because of where they stand in the culture. Some because they are better seers. Some because of both.
J. Budziszewski has both advantages. As a college professor, his daily work puts him in contact with large numbers of students who represent varied segments of the culture. As a philosopher of the “law written on the heart,” he sees clearly the consequences of both individual and cultural departures from that natural law.
In spite of the promises of liberation and fun, the sexual revolution has resulted in a tedious sort of exhaustion. Here’s how Budziszewski explains the changes he’s seen in students over the past twenty-five or so years.
In the ’80s, if I suggested in class that there might be any problem with sexual liberation, they said that everything was fine—what was I talking about? Now if I raise questions, many of them speak differently. They still live like libertines, sometimes they still talk like libertines, but it’s getting old. They are beginning to sound like the children of third-generation Maoists. My generation may have ordered the sexual revolution, but theirs is paying the price.
I am not speaking only of the medical price. To be sure, that price is ruinous: At the beginning of the revolution, most physicians had to worry about only two or three sexually transmitted diseases, and now it is more like two or three dozen. But I am not speaking only of broken bodies. Consider, for example, broken childhoods. What is it like for your family to break up because dad has found someone new, then to break up again because mom has? What is it like to be passed from stepparent to stepparent to stepparent? What is it like to grow up knowing that you would have had a sister, but she was aborted?
The sexual revolution has also become tiresome for its leaders.
Even some of the diehard proponents of that enslaving liberation have begun to show signs of fatigue and confusion. Naomi Wolf, in her book Promiscuities, reports that when she lost her own virginity at age fifteen, there was “something important missing.” Apparently, the thing missing was the very sense that anything could be important. In her book Last Night in Paradise, Katie Roiphe poignantly wonders what could be wrong with freedom: “It’s not the absence of rules exactly, the dizzying sense that we can do whatever we want, but the sudden realization that nothing we do matters.” …
Nothing we do matters! Here, in the raw, is the nihilism that lurks at the core of the sexual revolution—no recognition, no understanding of the natural boundaries that circumscribe human sexuality. And chaos naturally follows.
A young man remarked in one of my classes that he longed to get married and stay married to the same woman forever, but because his own parents hadn’t been able to manage it, he was afraid to get married at all. Women show signs of avoidance, too, but in a more conflicted way. According to a survey commissioned by the Independent Women’s Forum, 83 percent of college women say marriage is a very important goal for them. Yet 40 percent of them engage in “hooking up”—physical encounters (commonly oral sex) without any expectation of relationship whatsoever. Do you hear a little cognitive dissonance there? Can you think of a sexual behavior less likely to get you into marriage? The ideology of hooking up says that sex is merely release or recreation. You have some friends for friendship and you have other friends just for hooking up—they’re called “friends with benefits.” What your body does is unrelated to your heart. Don’t believe it. The same survey reports that hooking up commonly takes place when both participants are drinking or drunk, and it’s not hard to guess the reason why: After a certain amount of this, you may need to get drunk to go through with it.
The fact is that we aren’t designed for hooking up. Our hearts and bodies are designed to work together. Truly, don’t we already know that? A writer who interviewed teenagers who hook up supplies a telling anecdote. The girl Melissa tells him, “I have my friends for my emotional needs, so I don’t need that from the guy I’m having sex with.” Yet on the day of the interview, “Melissa was in a foul mood. Her ‘friend with benefits’ had just broken up with her. ‘How is that even possible?’ she said, sitting, shoulders slumped, in a booth at a diner. ‘The point of having a friend with benefits is that you won’t get broken up with, you won’t get hurt.’”
But let there be no mistake: When I say we aren’t designed for this sort of thing, I’m not just speaking for females. A woman may be more likely to cry the next morning; it’s not so easy to sleep with a man who won’t even call you back. But a man pays a price, too. He probably thinks he can instrumentalize his relationships with women in general yet remain capable of romantic intimacy when the right woman comes along. Sorry, fellow. That’s not how it works. Sex is like applying adhesive tape; promiscuity is like ripping the tape off again. If you rip it off, rip it off, rip it off, eventually the tape can’t stick anymore.
Dr. Budziszewski concludes his article with two important sections that summarize his response to “Western sexuality … that … flouts the embedded principles and the inbuilt meanings of the human sexual design.” “Why Hooking Up Is Letting You Down” was originally published as Chapter 2 in On the Meaning of Sex (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2012).
“Why Hooking Up Is Letting You Down” was republished as part of a recent symposium conducted by Intercollegiate Review. Here’s a list of articles that have appeared in the “Sex and the Polis: Perspectives on Marriage, Family, and Sexual Ethics” symposium.
· Ryan T. Anderson, The Social Costs of Abandoning the Meaning of Marriage
· John Zmirak, Legalize Christian Marriage, Too
· J. Budziszewski, Why Hooking Up Is Letting You Down
· Michael Bradley, Can Pornography Teach Us About Love?
· Jason Jones, I Lost My Daughter to the Culture of Death
· Chris Damian, Defining Marriage Isn’t Defending Marriage