Louise Perry’s The Case Against the Sexual Revolution promotes itself as a “counter-cultural polemic from one of the most exciting young voices in contemporary feminism.”
Hilariously—and encouragingly—much of it could have been written by a straight-up Catholic grandmother—or a human being of either gender and any age with a modicum of common sense.
Perry, a London-based secular writer and New Statesman columnist, proposes a new sexual culture built around “dignity, virtue and restraint.”
Well, amen. Chapter titles include “Sex Must Be Taken Seriously,” “Men and Women Are Different,” “Loveless Sex Is Not Empowering,” “Consent Is Not Enough,” “Violence Is Not Love,” “People Are Not Products,” and—miracle of miracles—“Marriage Is Good.”
Instead of spouting identity-politics ideology, Perry turns to evolution, biology, and psychology and asks: What is best for the well-being of women? What do women really need?
She starts by stating one glaringly obvious fact: the sexual revolution has inured almost entirely to the benefit of men. To cut to the chase: Why wouldn’t the guy take off after having sex? He suffers zero consequences. No social stigma. No moral censure. And what with the availability of birth control (which Perry generally applauds) and abortion (not so much), in the case of pregnancy, you’re on your own: your choice, your baby.
To reduce the incidence of rape, she points out, it’s not a good idea for a woman to get drunk and walk around alone at night. This might sound obvious, but such basic “let’s play heads-up ball” notions are viewed by many feminists as victim-blaming and therefore discouraged.
This urging, under the banner of “freedom,” to abdicate all agency and responsibility for our behavior is typical of cultural feminism. Instead of celebrating and cherishing our womanhood, we have professed to despise men, and then proceeded slavishly to imitate the worst of them: the casual philanderer, the bad boy.
If we want to imitate men, is my thought, why not take as our model the faithful husband and father? Better yet, why imitate them at all? Why not truly “take back the night” and start advocating for our own deepest hearts? Why not support our sisters by emphasizing that the time to exercise control of our bodies is before we have sex with someone who’s not irrevocably committed to us?
Hello: women are smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable than men. We’re lower on what psychologists called “psychosexuality”: the desire for sexual variety.
And because we are built, on every level, around the fact that we can carry new life into the world, we look for different things in a sexual partner than men do. So listen to your mother, says Perry. Ask yourself: Is this a man who would make a good father to my children?
Here’s a radical idea: sex is a social justice issue. As Perry points out, if we watch porn, we’re promoting sexual violence and human trafficking. If we’re ignoring our inner alarm system, we’re encouraging other women to do the same.
If we’re indulging in loose sexual behavior, I would add, then we’re promoting loose sexual behavior in everyone else: our neighbors, our sons and daughters, our parish priest, the men halfway around the world who are going to abandon the impoverished women whom they impregnate.
Perry emphasizes that monogamy, while not in line with our natural inclinations, makes for a more robust economy, more stable communities, a deeper sense of purpose and meaning, and in the end more happiness for both men and women.
She makes a related important point: that heterosexual monogamy weighs way more heavily on, and calls for more constraint on the part of, men than it does on women.
In doing so, she unintentionally rebuts the accusation that the Church is anti-female. In fact, almost every page of Perry’s book reminded me that the teachings of the Church are perfectly designed to protect and cherish women and children upon whom the emotional and physical brunt of uncommitted sex, pregnancy, and poverty always fall most heavily.
The Church calls both men and women to celibacy outside the sacrament of marriage.
This is hard, but the good news is that in laying down our lives for our friends, we are given the very meaning and purpose of which our culture is so largely devoid.
In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1981), Pope John Paul II wrote: “Virginity and apostolic celibacy not only do not contradict the dignity of marriage but presuppose it and confirm it’. More specifically, ‘Virginity keeps alive in the Church the awareness of the mystery of marriage and defends it against all attempts to impoverish it or reduce its importance’.” [no. 16].
Still, the one main place I part ways with Perry is that the resolutely secular program she outlines—sound in almost every respect—goes so strongly against our human grain that almost no-one would follow it except out of supernatural love.
“Who then can be saved?” ask the disciples about another hard teaching (Matthew 19:23-26).
“For human beings this is impossible,” Christ replies, “but for God all things are possible.”