Our sexually-liberated culture is a joke. That is to say, it is “a thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, especially a story with a funny punchline” (Merriam-Webster). Yep, there’s a punchline at the end of The Sexual Revolution, if ever a punchline made you sob, throw up, and hate yourself for the rest of the week. It is this: We’re all Puritans! Again!
Not in our actions, mind you, but in our reaction to the fact of the human body. Sure, the Sixties revolted away from sexual repression in a shining, free-loving flash. But a revolution is only the turn of a circle. The Sexual Revolution has come full circle, ending where it began, entrenched in the same Puritanical coil it so urgently sought to shuffle off. Allow me to explain:
Puritanism hates and fears the human body. The world, the flesh, matter — all this is evil, perishable stuff to be ‘gotten over’. The body is an essentially confusing thing, filled with dirty desires, concupiscence, unwieldily passions, bewildering emotions, depressions, rages and all the rest. The body, as ‘confirmed’ by Descartes, is but cage for the soul, an agressor to be staved off, an opponent to be conquered. (Depressed yet?) For some bizarre reason (certain heresies will remain forever inexplicable to the Catholic sensibility) the English Puritans went to it with gusto, repressing like they were being paid for it.
This sexual repression — as we swiftly realized — sucked, and terribly so. (Thank God it didn’t last.) I find that the first really inspiring rebellion against Puritanism — though I’m aware it had predecessors — was Walt Whitman. It was a far-swinging pendulum, a wild rush to a vague altar of body-worship, but what a refreshing heresy, his!
Through me forbidden voices,
Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil’d and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur’d.
I do not press my fingers across my mouth,
I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart,
Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.
I believe in the flesh and the appetites,
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me
is a miracle.
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am
The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,
This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.
What a fantastic trampling of the ugly face of Puritanism. Frightfully close to Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, in fact, but for a lack of understanding that body is an icon that reveals God, not an idol that replaces him.
Still, if our culture had followed Whitman’s over-exuberance instead of the cold, calculated goose-step of the Sexual Revolution, perhaps we’d be happy. Sinful — without a doubt — but not without hope.
Alack and alas and all that, as it turns out, we ignored the poets and chose to follow a sexy mob of eugenicists, pharmaceutical corporations, wannabe feminists and moral relativists into the Inferno. And what has been the tangible result? This: We live in an age in which the body is more feared than ever. The Puritans would be shocked by our Puritanism, were they allowed a glimpse.
Think about it. We are supposed to feel more comfortable with exposing skin; loving ourselves, displaying our bodies and otherwise being sexually free, yet cutting is more of a problem than it has ever been, bulimia and anorexia remain at their modern highs, and the rate of cosmetic plastic surgery continues to shoot upwards. The Old Puritans fought the body by denying it what it yearned for. The New Puritans hurt the body, reshape it, and abuse it in a vain attempt to satisfy the yearning.
The Sexual Revolution was framed almost exclusively as a fight for women’s happiness. Yet, in a culture that has consistently promoted this liberation of women — which seems to involve granting them the safe contraception, sterilization, and abortion they’ve been desperately needing for 250,000 years — women are more depressed than they’ve ever been. (I note the fail and press on.) We’ve opened up this safe-sex world to include teens; made porn, masturbation and pre-marital sex a norm, and waddayknow? Teens are more depressed than ever. (This isn’t to claim a direct correlation — though I imagine there is one — but to point out that whatever it is doing, this body-fear certainly isn’t helping.) It was said that this revolution would improve our previously sheltered sex lives. 63% of American women say they’d rather be watching a movie than having sex with their spouses. For all the glorification of the body, we are more distrustful and bored by it then the Puritans ever managed to be. (It doesn’t help that we’d rather take pills that decrease our sex drive than understand the beauty of our bodily sexuality.)
In fact, we’re somewhat worse than the Old Puritans. Their attack on the body was at least aimed towards eternal happiness. Our modern attack on the body — through contraception, pornography, and all the rest — doesn’t make us happy in the slightest. It make us bored addicts. All of this self-loathing moves beyond the fear of the sexual nature of our bodies: Men are no longer comfortable with nakedness in locker rooms, showers etc. — certainly not as comfortable as the generations preceding them. In a somewhat crazy turn of events, we are scared of the sound our crap makes in public bathrooms. This from a race of human beings who used to do this:
..and now invest in speakers that make constant flushing sounds so no one can hear you do exactly what everyone knows you’re doing. As a plus, you can scream “liberation!” and no one will hear that either. I understand that the upside of all this is that we can marry our own sex, but somehow it doesn’t quite balance the scales.
The Old Puritans had at least the courage to call their bodies evil and to fight them. The New Puritan is cowed into a corner by the body, as if it were a ghost. We prescribe pills that shut down a woman’s ovulatory cycle to treat her acne. In fact, we prescribe pills for every possible Woman’s Health Problem that exists, be it endometriosis, PCOS, PMS, cramping, heavy bleeding, or what have you, though we’re fully aware it never addresses the underlying problem. Addressing the underlying problem, of course, would mean confronting the fact of fertility, another concept we’re scared to death of, though we know those who address their fertility have better marriages.
Now to be clear, I’m fully aware that there may be other factors involved in the shaping of our culture into the sad-women, depressed-kids, and timid-men we’ve managed to become — materialism being one of them. But might I give a single observation? We’re doing it wrong. Whatever culture allows us to thrive, it ain’t this one.
So just to see what happens, let’s stop hating on the most beautiful thing in the world — the human body — and instead see it as it is: The image and likeness of God, here on earth. Let’s love our bodies. Let’s not be scared of them. Let’s have awesome, mind-blowing, sacramental sex with them. Let’s see ourselves not as a soul in competition with the body, but as a soul and a body, inseparably intertwined. Let’s avoid the Puritanism that represses as well as the Puritanism that fears. In a word, let’s be Catholic. If nothing else, it’d be the polar opposite of this depressing, modern culture. Until next time!