Five Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, Part I
Academics vary about their definitions of the sexual revolution, but here’s one straightforward, uncontroversial formula. The “revolution” refers to the changes in sexual behavior and mores following the widespread adoption and approval of reliable contraception over a half-century ago. The first accelerant here is the birth control pill, approved by the FDA in 1963, and widely dispersed in the population thereafter. The second accelerant is the legalization of abortion on demand in 1973 via Roe v. Wade – a development that approval of the Pill made all but inevitable. Modern contraception and legalized abortion changed not only behavior but also attitudes. Around the world, social tolerance of non-marital sex in all its forms has risen alongside these other changes, for logical reasons that I’ve talked about elsewhere, including in my book Adam and Eve after the Pill.
Except for the Internet, it’s hard to think of any other single phenomenon since the 1960s that has re-shaped humanity around the world as profoundly as this particular revolution. Some of the resulting record is very well known indeed: four years ago, on the 50thanniversary of approval of the birth control pill, there was an outpouring of commentary and reflection, most of it in a positive vein. The revolution, it was claimed – and acclaimed – by TIME magazine and most other secular sources, had leveled the playing field in the economic marketplace between women and men for the first time in history; it had conferred freedom on women such as they’d never known before.
All true, so far as it goes. But there’s another side of the record that’s been mostly ignored by a mainstream society saturated with the revolution’s pleasures. With every passing year, more evidence accumulates that must someday change that predominant, happy storyline. Towards that end, I would like to discuss five ways in which the revolution has re-configured human reality as we know it, five seeming paradoxes that point to the revolution’s power – in particular, to its awe-inspiring destructive power.