Reversing the Revolution

Reversing the Revolution December 22, 2015

Jeremy Neill is currently bullish on the sexual revolution: “If I were a broker and the sexual revolution were a stock, at this point, I would still be urging my customers to buy shares” (Public Discourse). But it won’t last forever. No revolution does. Someday, the children of the rebels will rebel against their parents, and when they do there will be no place to go but “back to where it started: in classical sexual restrictions.”

Neill’s analysis rests partly on his claim that the internet is responsible for the latest wave of sexual revolutionism: “In terms of its sheer power to alter human opinions, no amount of rational argument can ever hope to compete with the raw habituating force of the internet’s thousands upon thousands of sexual novelties. In half an hour of web surfing, a dedicated pornography seeker can encounter more sexual innovations than his grandfather could witness in a lifetime. Nothing other than brute media habituation could possibly explain how it is that so many humans have changed their opinions so quickly over the last decade about fundamental sexual issues.” We’ve become habituated to sexual perversions because they’re a click or two away at any moment.

But “there are limits to our psychologies and our bodies that suggest that the sexual revolution will not be able to continue in perpetuity. The novelty will eventually run out. Pornography addiction is characterized by a quest for a harder and harder chemical ‘hit.’ Eventually, though, the experiences sought get old and clichéd, and no longer are capable of delivering the desired high. What could be more boring than nonstop, unlimited online nudity?”

It’s a heartening prospect, and Neill is surely right that the revolution cannot continue indefinitely. What comes after the deluge, though, is not so straightforward. There are, after all, sexual restrictions and sexual restrictions, not all of them healthy. Even now, we don’t lack norms of sexual behavior; we simply have abandoned traditional norms and replaced them, as Chesterton could have predicted, with a new set of micronorms. Having sexual restrictions doesn’t necessarily mean the restoration of sexual sanity. Everything depends on what’s restricted and what’s permitted.

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