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Weary of the revolution

Young writers start to question casual sex


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By the time I graduated high school, old barriers were tumbling down. LSD was supposed to take you places you could never go without pharmaceuticals. The Pill made old fears obsolete. At church, pastors railed against “the new morality” and “situation ethics,” but bumper stickers preached otherwise: “If it feels good, do it.” The playing field had leveled, and girls could play on equal terms with guys. Women were liberating themselves! Adventure awaited!

Within a decade, social observers were calling it the sexual revolution: a profound and permanent shift in traditional mores. Now, though, after 50-plus years of experimentation, a growing number of young people who have never known anything else are seriously ­questioning whether it was true liberation.

In March, Washington Post columnist Christine Emba opined, “Consent is not enough. We need a new sexual ethic.” British journalist Louise Perry complained on Substack, “I’m 30. The Sexual Revolution Shackled My Generation.” In another Substack article titled “Generation Swipe,” Suzy Weiss wondered about the hookups facilitated by Tinder and other dating apps: “Why are my peers lonelier and more sex-deprived than ever?” Bridget Phetasy, outspoken blogger and editor, created waves of clicks with her frankly titled column, “I Regret Being a Slut.”

In a way it’s not new. Within a generation after the revolution began, women were questioning its assumptions and expressing shock at the crass behavior of certain men. A few feminists were categorizing all sex with men as virtual rape, but most, while insisting that women had the right to any kind of adventurism, demanded that men control themselves. Oberlin College published a list of steps to increasing intimacy, requiring the initiating partner to get verbal consent for each one. Absent consent, “No means no.”

Treating physical intimacy like a football game wasn’t fun, and it didn’t work. Healthy young adults did not conduct their personal lives with a checklist in hand, and too many dates fueled with alcohol or drugs led to disillusion, dissatisfaction, and sometimes pregnancy. Women felt guilty for feeling guilty—what was liberation about, anyway? Why couldn’t they just have fun with hookups?

Meanwhile, the cads only grew more caddish. The #MeToo movement trained a glaring spotlight on a shocker known from the beginning of time: that in spite of the best efforts of public social directors like Oprah, some men were still acting like cads.

But maybe, as Emba and Perry and Weiss and Phetasy suggest, it’s time for women to take some responsibility as well. It might be time to admit that men and women are different, and that sex can neither be conducted by a scorecard nor regarded as a level ­playing field where the only rule is “consent.” It’s “our most unruly activity,” according to Emba, which has “vast consequences.” Who knew?

We knew. Not just Bible-believing Christians, but almost everyone born before 1960 knew these basic facts of nature, yet chose not to know them in anticipation of a brighter, freer future. It hasn’t freed anyone. Suzy Weiss reports conversations with young men who, as much or more than women, are paralyzed by the dating scene. Dating apps create unrealistic expectations, social media generate anxiety, and hookup sites like Tinder cull all but the alpha males and females. Some young singles have given up, not just on marriage, but on sex itself.

It used to be easy, or at least natural, to meet people in classrooms or at church or social events, to cultivate a circle of friends of both sexes, and to settle on one as a potential life mate. Mistakes were made, sometimes leading to broken families, but the solution was not to tear up a playbook that had generally worked for millennia and replace it with a wild experiment. We don’t need a “new sexual ethic,” as Emba suggests. What we need is a Biblical one: of persons created, male and female, in the image of God, blessed by Him to complement each other and be fruitful. And eternally happy.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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