Culture at the Crossroads
The McDonaldization of Sex 1 (Sex and Christianity 10)
Applied to sex, Ritzer's argument points to a similar dynamic. Contraception has enabled people to treat sex as a low-priced commodity—an item to consume and thereby build social capital. Instead of sacralizing sex as earlier cultures have done, we have mass-produced it. We have disenchanted it by treating it simply as a bodily function leaving the mediation between lovers to pharmaceutical and other corporations. The church has been pushed out of the bedroom, and the pharmaceutical corporation has been invited in its place.
Compare Ritzer's observations to that of the philosopher Paul Ricoeur. Writing a half-century ago, he lamented the transformation of sex in the post-Freudian era:
The removal of sexual prohibitions has produced a curious effect, which the Freudian generation has not anticipated, the loss of value through facility: sexual experience having become familiar, available, and reduced to a simple biological function, becomes rather insignificant. Thus the extreme point in the destruction of the cosmo-vital notion of the sacred also becomes the extreme point of the dehumanization of sex. (from "Wonder, Eroticism, and Enigma," Cross Currents 14, no. 2 [Spring 1964], p. 138)
Both Ritzer and Ricoeur recognized that rationality in human affairs only goes so far. Applying their observations to contraception, signs of massive cultural change begin to emerge. We have made sexual imagery and sexual behavior ubiquitous and de rigueur for everyone beginning in early adolescence. Sex is social capital, but in this context the messy—yet beautiful—negotiation of real relationship is lost. We are having more orgasms, but we are losing the ability to love each other in ways that give life meaning. We may be going the way of Japan and losing interest in real interpersonal relationships altogether.
Tim Muldoon holds a Ph.D. in Catholic systematic theology and is an award-winning author and Catholic theologian of the new evangelization.