X Close

The case for the sexual revolution Women understand that desire isn't risk-free

Did Fifty Shades of Grey corrupt us? Credit: IMDB


May 24, 2022   7 mins

If Nineties America was consumed by panic over teen pregnancy, sex bracelets, and the terrifying (albeit entirely fabricated) scourge of “rainbow parties”, today’s big concern is the absolute opposite: now, we’re very worried about all the sex young people aren’t having.

The litany of concerns is familiar: that young people today fear catching feelings the way people 20 years older feared getting AIDS. That they are not just less sexually active than previous generations but eschewing physical connection in general, preferring to interact through the intermediary of a screen. That the little sex they are having is fraught and not very good. The birth rate is plummeting, anxiety is skyrocketing. If you were feeling especially catastrophic, you might imagine human beings becoming one of those species, like pandas, who fail so categorically at the whole sexual enterprise that our very survival becomes imperilled.

The path we beat to this point runs from the sexual revolution in the Sixties, to the purity-obsessed Nineties, to the hookup culture that reigns today. And here we find ourselves in a peculiar moment, in which the average young woman in search of romance sits around analysing the text messages of her current hookup like it is a cipher from the Zodiac killer. Does he like her or not? It’s an emotionally naked question that it is still taboo to ask, even if you’ve been literally naked together a dozen times.

At the heart of all this lies the eternal puzzle: what does a woman want? Sigmund Freud spent a lifetime plagued by his inability to solve it. Countless writers, from Russian classicists to pickup artists, have attempted to to tackle it. But now Louise Perry, in her new book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, takes a novel approach to the conundrum of wanting, and wanton, women: what if it’s the women themselves who are answering this question all wrong?

Observing the sexual marketplace — the anxiety, the unhappiness, the decline of intimacy and the rise of porn, the growing prevalence of strangulation as part of the sexual repertoire of ordinary couples — she sees not just a crisis but a broken promise. Sexual liberation was supposed to be, well, liberating — freeing women to pursue their desires free of shame or stigma. That the present state of affairs makes so many of us miserable instead is proof that the movement has failed us: women, she claims, have been sold a bill of goods.

Perry isn’t the only one to question whether women are being ill-served by the total dissolution of the old rules surrounding physical intimacy, or to see the sexlessness of GenZ as an attempt to correct for the curse of having too much freedom. Katherine Dee predicted a backlash to sex positive feminism among the young people who “feel rightfully burned by America’s imbalanced relationship with sex”. Washington Post columnist Christine Emba released a book, Rethinking Sex, in March, which treads similar territory to Perry, albeit from a different angle. (Emba was raised evangelical with all the sexual suppression that entails, then “ping-ponged a bit, from purity culture to a rebellion against it to something in between”.) This isn’t your grandmother’s sexual moralising — no Bibles have been thumped in the making of this ideology — but the New Prudes nevertheless reach the same conclusions as the old ones. Sex is meaningful, and deep, and dangerous, and no amount of pretending otherwise will make it so.

Perry’s most compelling chapters make this point via evolutionary psychology, the hard-wired differences that once ensured the survival of the species and now lurk, like easily-enflamed vestigial organs, against the backdrop of contemporary sexual mores. Given our limited gestational capacity and the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth, women evolved to be exceptionally picky about who we have sex with; men, who are technically capable of fathering as many children as times they manage to ejaculate, have a similarly strong evolutionary imperative to do as much indiscriminate screwing with as many women as possible.

Of course, biology is not destiny; of course, innovation throws a wrench in things. Against 200,000 years of evolution, the advent of birth control is a formidable foe — but as a species, we’re still in the infant stage of learning how to live (and love) having thrown off the shackles of reproductive biology. The sexual revolution and its attendant technologies have given us a world of commitment-free, casual sex, aka the ability to “have sex like a man”, whether you are one or not. Perry argues convincingly that this has not been a gift to women.

But what perplexes her, and where the book falters, is that women themselves often refuse to see it that way.

Like the generations of prudes before her, Perry struggles to comprehend the notion that women might want sex, even enjoy it, on its own merits. The Case Against the Sexual Revolution argues openly that Some Desires Are Bad (this is the title of Chapter 3), yet cannot quite bring itself to levy this judgment against women; instead it suggests that women suffer a form of false consciousness when it comes to the pursuit of the kind of sex Perry considers not good for them (of the slapping and choking variety, for instance). They don’t really want this, she insists — and she attributes the fact that the woman themselves might disagree to “more or less subtle coercion”, fuelled as much by the dynamics of the sexual marketplace as pressure from individual partners.

The problem, per Perry, is that sex is something you do with other people. Everything a man desires, from the mundane to the pathological, creates a vacuum that requires a woman (or, in one much-riffed-upon hypothetical, a raw chicken) to fill it. It’s a remarkable vision of sexual economics, one that places women permanently and exclusively on the supply side; that they might have desires themselves is not only dismissed, but simply never even considered.

Versions of this idea have been advanced before, usually by social conservatives, often with a misogynistic bent. In the Victorian era, a sexually desirous woman might be diagnosed with nymphomania and put in a sanatorium; more recently, she’d be slut-shamed and derided for her lack of self-respect. But The Case Against the Sexual Revolution takes a different angle: women in this view are too infantilised to be condemned. Brainwashed by the notion that anything goes as long as it’s consensual, they unwittingly “promote paedophilia” by engaging in schoolgirl role-play fantasies with a partner or encourage violence by allowing (or even inviting) partners to tie them up and spank them. Perry bemoans the consent-focused framework of our present-day sexual landscape that “does not allow space for moral intuition” — which is to say, prevents women from realising that what they want is actually, in some greater cosmic sense, wrong.

On this front, the book’s most scathing criticism (and an entire chapter) is saved for BDSM, which surged into the sexual mainstream in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey. Ironically, the popularity of Fifty Shades is perhaps the greatest example in recent memory of women’s demand-side power in the economy of sex, a fact which Perry acknowledges.

“Here’s the troubling thing,” she writes. “A lot of women loved it.”

More than anything else, to find women’s affection for Fifty Shades “troubling” seems a failure of imagination. Perry sees the mainstreaming of BDSM as beneficial primarily to abusive men who can now beat up women under cover of consent, and secondarily, to the purveyors of leather sex toys who are doing a booming business selling accessories. But she cannot fathom that it might offer something to women, too, especially in the MeToo era.

It is surely not a coincidence that Christian Grey became the heartthrob du jour at the same time as the fear of finding themselves at the wrong end of a sexual assault charge has turned many young men into consent-seeking automatons, nervously asking their female partner’s permission every time they want to shift the position of their hands. (Friends who have encountered one of these sexual interrogators in the wild report that there is no greater mood-killer.)

The obsession with consent as our sole framework for sex (which is roundly and compellingly critiqued throughout The Case Against the Sexual Revolution) has thrust women into the role of sexual gatekeepers, required to know exactly what they do and don’t want. As Katherine Angel has noted, this is ostensibly freeing for women “since it emphasises women’s capacity for — and right to — sexual pleasure”; but in practice, she suggests, it simply creates a new form of pressure: in this brave new world, women are expected to signal the okayness of the encounter by maintaining a state of unrelenting enthusiasm throughout.

Under those circumstances, is it any surprise that many women’s greatest fantasy is to just let someone else be in charge?

On the other hand, BDSM can provide a framework in which the usual script vis-a-vis who holds the power can be flipped to women’s benefit. In a post-sexual revolution world where so many old rules and taboos have ceased to apply, and mere consent has proved inadequate for replacing them, perhaps a community full of people who are happily playing with those power dynamics to everyone’s mutual enjoyment could offer some insight into making it all work. But Perry bemoans that “only” 34% of men in the BDSM community consistently preferred a submissive position (it’s not clear that this makes them worse, not better, than the heterosexual male mainstream).

As always, the desire to redraw the lines of sexual ethics so that certain behaviours and desires are simply out of bounds is fuelled by good intentions. There’s no denying that the current wild west of dating apps, hookup culture, and near-zero taboos has left a lot of young people — women, but men, too — deeply unhappy and unable to connect. It is also clear that years of conflating male desire with predation has taken its toll on young women, and not for the better: having been told that trustworthy men simply do not exist and that seeking one out is a fool’s errand, they might be tempted to fall into bed with men they don’t trust, with all the calamity that entails.

So when Perry instructs her hypothetical reader not to sleep with any man who wouldn’t be a good father to her children, she’s trying to reintroduce the desperately-needed notion of intimacy to a population that has been taught to see it as frightening and impossible — and to save young women the pain of blindly trying to navigate a miserable minefield full of cads, jerks, and sexual swindlers.

It’s a noble impulse, but ultimately misguided: it is impossible to protect any one person from sexual disappointment by policing the sex other people are having, particularly when they’re enjoying it. And while The Case Against the Sexual Revolution argues persuasively in favour of measures to reduce sexual violence, it errs towards conflating criminal violation with the ordinary ups, downs, and disappointments of the dating marketplace.

“Young women are forced to learn for themselves that freedom has costs, and they are forced to learn the hard way, every time,” Perry writes. And indeed, learning the hard way — which is to say, by experience — can be one of the more painful parts of being human. But what is the alternative to learning for oneself that the freedom to make choices comes with the possibility of regret?

The only way any woman — any person — can know what she wants is to occasionally bump up against the boundaries of what she doesn’t. And given the choice between learning the hard way and getting no education at all, women have always known which they prefer — whether someone else thinks they should want it, or not.


Kat Rosenfield is an UnHerd columnist and co-host of the Feminine Chaos podcast. Her latest novel is You Must Remember This.

katrosenfield

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

45 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
1 year ago

When men and women are treated as if they are the same, it’s women who are harmed – not men.
Anyone who thinks men and women are alike in their sexual behavior should compare the lesbian community to the gay men’s community.
Where were the lesbian bathhouses?
Where were the lesbians cruising public parks looking for anonymous hookups in the bushes?
What is the equivalent of “glory holes” in the lesbian community?
Women are not “like men” especially when it comes to sex.
Women who equate liberation with being “like men” have internalized an extremely misogynistic message. Why do we have to be “like men” to be worthy of liberation? Why does women’s liberation have to look like men’s?
(Also, “50 Shades of Grey” was not a BDSM book; it was an X rated Harlequin Romance and it was purchased by the same people who’ve been buying HR’s and bodice rippers forever. Besides, Christian Grey’s sex appeal had far more to do with his billionaire status than with his weird sexual practices – which, as in Beauty and the Beast, he was “cured of” through love. Had Christian Grey been an underpaid teacher or social worker, the book would have sold exactly zero copies.)
Men tend to experience sex as a drug, whereas women tend to experience sex as an ecstatic form of bonding. But it’s women, not men, who tend to feel ashamed when their feelings are misunderstood.
Since women often seek bonding through sex, they are more likely to give in to sexual acts that they don’t really desire. I remember as a young woman bursting into tears after agreeing to have my hands tied; as soon as my (ex) partner tied the knot, the painful emotions I’d suppressed overwhelmed me (bursting into tears is a far bigger mood killer than a man being respectful about ensuring consent).
“Cool Girl” feminism has harmed women by pretending that “cool girls” can treat sex like a drug, are up for anything, and can gleefully treat men like objects. Women who can’t do that are labelled “prudes” or “repressed” and certainly not “cool”.
A person with a healthy sex drive doesn’t need kink to spice up their sex lives. if you need kink to want to have sex, maybe you have a low sex drive and that is okay. You don’t have to resort to grotesque practices like strangulation and BDSM and getting peed on to prove that you’re sexually “liberated”.
Sex is a wonderful healthy part of life, but when it’s treated like a drug, it destroys human love and connection.
It’s okay to say “I won;t have sex with you unless you want more than that from me.” It’s okay to say “I think of sex as affection, not just as a physical thrill (which we can all get by ourselves, anyway)”. It’s okay to say “I think most kinks are creepy as hell, and I’m not interested in experimenting with them.”
It’s okay to insist on “I, Thou” relationships with other human beings, rather than the “I, It” relationships promoted by the sexual “revolution”.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Very well argued Penny. An old girlfriend once said to me that if the central male protagonist in 50 Shades of Grey had been a plumber, it would have been filed in the horror section, rather than romance. I laughed. Probably because she was right.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
1 year ago

Whilst its a book i have never read, from what little I know, Christian Grey sounds like a unicorn man, he is extremely good looking with a great body and fantastic bank account!*
Fantasies should stay exactly that, else you’ll be sorely disappointed.

*for sake of argument, a unicorn woman is beautiful, with a great body and NOT completely nuts!

AndyPandy
AndyPandy
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Though I’ve never read the book, I had a few years as a kinda Mr.Grey (moderately attractive and good enough body; nice suit and fancy ish hotel rooms; all on my cards; at the hook up end of things, no relationships; no S&M palaver, just M&S Prosecco and much enthusiasm).
The biggest aphrodisiac, in my view, especially for the women?
Trust.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Men tend to experience sex as a drug, whereas women tend to experience sex as an ecstatic form of bonding. […] Sex is a wonderful healthy part of life, but when it’s treated like a drug, it destroys human love and connection.
Well now. The 1st statement implicates all men of frequently or regularly negatively experiencing a behaviour. It is perfectly valid to object to this negative generalisation about a whole group based on the fact they are male.
And then through that negative, prejudicial generalisation, implicating all men in destroying the regular positive experience in that behaviour for all women.

Molly O
Molly O
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Well said!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

I’m a gay man, and I think your analysis is pretty much spot on. A whole sex industry aimed squarely at gay men – hook-up (not ‘dating’) apps, saunas, backrooms etc for gay men and not women – rather proves this. [Observe what people do (or buy!) and not what they say they do!]
The only thing I’d say is – while we need to generalise to make sense of the world, we should always bear in mind the danger of sweeping generalisations about ALL men and ALL women – it seems to me many of our political bones of contention are based on this fallacy (rather often exemplified on this forum). A small minority of women do indeed enjoy sex for the sake of it while a (larger) proportion of gay men do not, and of course some people of both sexes are fully or largely asexual. I always thought having open relationships and the guilt-free ability to have sex with more than a single partner (while loving him) was one of the main benefits of being gay. I think I am a happy person – perhaps I am deluding myself!
People should be free to make the choices that are right for them.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Mark Duffett
Mark Duffett
1 year ago

The New Prudes nevertheless reach the same conclusions as the old ones. Sex is meaningful, and deep, and dangerous, and no amount of pretending otherwise will make it so

How about that, eh? Almost as if it might actually be true, and your (religious) grandmother was right all along.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

“The s e xual revolution and its attendant technologies have given us a world of commitment-free, casual s e x, aka the ability to “have s e x like a man”, whether you are one or not.”

This phrase, for me, sums up two of the fundamental misconceptions at the root of the feminist project.

The first is the equation of equality with imitation. Why would women want to do anything “like a man.” By all means fight for the removal of legal and social barriers to equality of choice, but after that, surely, you’d want to do everything like a woman.

Second is the assumption that men want commitment free casual sex. Yes, between the ages of, say, 15 and 25, the urge is overwhelmingly powerful and indiscriminate; I suspect in a way that women don’t fully understand. After that, most men figure out that intimate, committed s e x is, well, much better s e x.

It’s not a huge leap to posit evolutionary pressure to sow a lot of seed in the early days of a precarious existence, to ensure genetic longevity, morphing into a desire to protect offspring if the high risk years are survived.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

” to ensure genetic longevity, morphing into a desire to protect offspring if the high risk years are survived.”
Not when you cannot be certain that they are your own and therein is the problem

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I agree – men do tend to outgrow the desire for exclusively casual sex, and the ones who don’t end up lonely and bitter.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Hardly. They always seem to be having the time of their lives. Lonely and bitter bachelors, if they exist, seem few and far between. Middle-aged single women on social media however do report being lonely and desperate in large and increasing numbers.

Last edited 1 year ago by William Shaw
leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
1 year ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Hah! Keep telling yourself that.
As a “middle-aged single woman” I’ve been bombarded w/ offers from older men who want a second wife who’s attractive, smart, compassionate, emotionally mature, a good stepmother if relevant, makes them look good at collegial parties, and doesn’t upset their children or their peers. If you’re a divorced attractive woman between 35-55, and you’ve managed to keep your Helen Mirren bona fides up, you’ve hit the jackpot.

AndyPandy
AndyPandy
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Hmmm
 plenty of men who are in long term relationships seem to have sequinned jackets and patent leather dancing pumps; l doubt they’re getting any rumpity pumpity at all.
Serial monogamy seems like a decent strategy in middle age, if suitable funds are available and enough effort is made to keep everything tip-top. It might mean periods of loneliness, to be sure, but bitterness? That’s apparent in both sexes, I should coco. There are as many middle aged single women bemoaning both the quality of men available and that they want younger models; as there are frustrated and angry men needing a makeover and some decent chat.
Carpy bream, as they say on POF .

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

“Yes, between the ages of, say, 15 and 25, the urge is overwhelmingly powerful and indiscriminate; I suspect in a way that women don’t fully understand.”
I’ve often wondered about an analogy with the CIA acid experiments in the mid 20th century. Like those afflicted veterans, teen guys are unwittingly drugged with extreme doses of testosterone and struggle to explain their overwhelming new emotions and impulses in the context of their own personalities and the culture in which they live. As a woman, I can tell you that the wash of hormones during PMSS, menopause, and especially pregnancy are as strong or stronger than most prescription drugs I’ve taken.
Doesn’t make us morally unaccountable for our behavior, of course. Plenty of us feel murderous rage once or twice in our lives, but manage not to act on it.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

Freud was wrong. The question is not what women want, but what they expect. And what they expect is: “Women expect to be protected.”
So whether it is marriage, children, career, divorce, BDSM, abortion, hookup culture, or romance, women still expect to be protected.
Men are different. “Men know they are expendable.”

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

“Men know they are expendable.”
I doubt very much that many men “know” anything of the kind. Believing that would make human life unendurable (although knowing others turn them into expendable objects is precisely what has always made hope–and rebellion– possible). Besides your analogy is confused, one that relies on a non-sequitur. It might well be that women expect to be protected by society, including men. From this, however, it follows that men would expect to be rewarded by society, including women, for doing so.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago

Well put, but you forgot the most important bit.
Above all, women want to be protected from the consequences of their own actions and their demands to be treated equally as men, or the basic accountability that comes with “equality”

To give one example – a man getting completely drunk at a party, running around half naked and waking up next morning with a ugly, loathsome woman does not get to complain about how he has been “used” or try to put the woman in jail. If he does, it would be met with derision and contempt.

Women as per feminism should want to sleep around and indulge in casual sex like the imaginary, make believe men that hardly exist outside college dorms.
They also want to be protected from the consequences of that behaviour like a 18th century damsel in distress.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

Back in the middle of the last century sex was avidly sought… but with the expectation that satisfactory partners would get married and raise a family. This provided meaning and purpose to the relationship.
People have generally thrown over the idea of a ‘conventional’ life, and found themselves having to invent their own individual purposes and meanings. Most people are frightened by the prospect because they have no traditions or archetypes to inform then.
Yes, you can have it all. What are you going to do with it?

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
1 year ago

After many years of research, my findings suggest that young women prefer men who are (a) solvent and (b) not looking for a replacement mother. The relative scarcity of such men at the moment explains much of the current malaise.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

So, what women are saying is
A. We want men to continue fulfilling their traditional roles of breadwinners and working long hours at horrible jobs so that we can work part time or give up our jobs when we have kids
B. Why should I spend more time than you in cooking or making sure the house runs fine, you male chauvinistic pig?

And you say there is a scarcity of men jumping in for this opportunity?
What a surprise.

J Hop
J Hop
1 year ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Or maybe, women don’t want to have to financially support a deadbeat in addition to themselves and prefer a man who can do basic adult tasks like a load of laundry or cooking a simple meal?
Seriously, what did she DO to you?!

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago
Reply to  J Hop

“what did she DO to you?!”
Turned out to be a Liverpool supporter

Firstly, every man I know knows how to do laundry or do at least simple cooking (if not more). It’s not really a big deal.

Secondly, it’s interesting how the definition of “deadbeat” varies.

I know plenty of men who are married to women who hardly earn anything and never had the slightest motivation to have a career. Those men are fine with it, they don’t feel they “married down” or their wives are “deadbeats”

Not a single woman I know (including some high earning professionals) married, or would consider marrying a man who earns less (or often even men on similar pay are persona non grata)

Which is fine. Marriage ideally is an unequal relationship where you bring different things to the table

The problem is simply when you are not honest about it and start jumping about “equality” only when it suits you.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 year ago

It seem to me the problem starts with the assumption that all women are the same and all men are the same – the question “What do women want” is ridiculous – Women, like men, are (approximately) 50% of the population with a diverse set of desires and opinions.
We can’t really have a meaningful dialogue if you try to force half the world’s population into a single midnset box.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

“Sex is meaningful, and deep, and dangerous, and no amount of pretending otherwise will make it so.”

I’m sure I’ve heard this somewhere before. Weren’t there people saying this in the 60’s and 70’s? Of course, it was just the Christians, and we all know they’re prudes who can be ignored.

“Versions of this idea have been advanced before, usually by social conservatives, often with a misogynistic bent.”

So when Christians say that women might be better off in a world of less sexual openness, that the vast majority actually want long term companionship and motherhood, and that the modern dating / hookup culture hurts women… they’re doing it out of hate for women.

When progressives say that unfettered sexual conduct has hurt women, made it harder to obtain long term intimacy, and bash modern dating / hookup culture… they’re doing it out of caring for women.

“It’s a remarkable vision of sexual economics, one that places women permanently and exclusively on the supply side”

This has always been the case. Men have always wanted more sex and with more partners. Women have always been the gatekeepers. Go read Camille Paglia. 
Think of it in terms of economics. Women used to function as a “union”, which had rules about members’ conduct. Different classes and races altered the rules somewhat, but overall, the rules kept women from having to viscously compete with each other sexually for the limited supply of marriageable men. Just like a union prevents an economic race to the bottom among workers, these social rules about acceptable sexual behavior among women (and men to a certain extent) prevented a sexual war of all against all and corresponding race to the bottom.

What’s changed is that reasonably attractive women (as a group) stopped gatekeeping after the 60’s. It’s hardly surprising that the ensuing decades have been a race to the bottom sexually, every girl for herself all the way down.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brian Villanueva
Jason Highley
Jason Highley
1 year ago

Very well said.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
1 year ago

Liberated sex is a race to the bottom?

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 year ago

The eschewing physical connection by young men today is hardly surprising given the minefield that any interaction with a women has become. One false step or dissatisfied encounter and she’s making life changing accusations
 usually without any repercussions for her. There’s plenty of entertainment available that appeals to young men that doesn’t involve women.  The option with least risk and least cost is actually to pay for it; it’s a lot less expensive than a girlfriend or wife and kids.

Last edited 1 year ago by William Shaw
Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
1 year ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Indeed, though that’s just part of it. Much as a case can be made that the sexual revolution was good for some, another side effect was that it exposed average & below average men to more of a sexual market place – where they find they have no buying power at all. I think probably over 20% of young men are effected in that way, most of them don’t join the ‘incel’ sub-culture, but the word does describe them as a life circumstance. So women still do act as gatekeepers, just in a different way than before. Another aspect is the rise in anxiety which is a libido killer for at least some young people. And as per various comments above, much as it’s valid to see men as adversly effected by recent social change – that is maybe equally true for women, allbeit in different ways.
For now, I think long term relationships and dating are still working out fine for over half the population… Hopefully things will improve without dating having to become a nightmare for the majority.

Molly O
Molly O
1 year ago

“So when Perry instructs her hypothetical reader not to sleep with any man who wouldn’t be a good father to her children, she’s trying to reintroduce the desperately-needed notion of intimacy to a population that has been taught to see it as frightening and impossible — and to save young women the pain of blindly trying to navigate a miserable minefield full of cads, jerks, and sexual swindlers.
It’s a noble impulse, but ultimately misguided: it is impossible to protect any one person from sexual disappointment by policing the sex other people are having, particularly when they’re enjoying it.”
This seems disingenuous: does she “instruct” them to do this, or is this simply her advice? And how would this advice be “policing” anyone else? If you want to say – this is bad advice, then say that. But you seem to be framing her advice, her *opinion* as an attempt at policing, which she shouldn’t make (e.g. basically she was “wrong” to give her view).

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
1 year ago

Excellent article.  My guess is that the main mistakes of many writers on sexual ethics is they have an overly ridged view of the differences between the sexes, and confuse their personal preferences with moral intuitions. (And some of their personal preference may reflect not just individual taste, but mistaken ideological concerns – e.g. confusing sexual submission with being second class or subservient outside the bedroom)  Here are some numbers which I believe are fairly accurate for cis heterosexual men & women:

Preference for being submissive (in the broad sense of preferring the partner to take the lead): women 90% / men 40%.
Preference for enduring loving relationships over variety (at least for most of their lives): women 75% / men 10%

How this plays out in terms of human happiness is all in the detail of course. More than half of women who might prefer the man to take the lead wont generally enjoy extreme BDSM so the likes of Perry is right to decry the rise of choking etc. The imbalance in subs outnumbering doms is great in terms of making humans an effective social species (as its efficient for there to be more followers than leaders) – but its not as bad for compatibility in the bedroom as it might seem, as many people have the capacity to switch, or enjoy being both dom & sub.  On the faithfulness thing, being loyal to a single woman for most of their lives can be perfectly compatible with a satisfying life for many men, especially if its buttressed by religion than gives it meaning, and if they sublimate the excess sexual energy into productive activity. I  agree with Christine Emba that benevolence, wanting the best for one’s partner, is generally superior to consent (albeit at least implicit consent is obviously still vital.) Sadly benevolance between the sexes is not being helped by the nonsene spread by extreme feminists or their counterparts in the manosphere.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

What do you mean by “cis heterosexual”?

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
1 year ago

I’d guess you’re being rhetorical, but I mean folk who are not LGBT+. Specifically, cis is a latin loan word meaning the opposite to trans.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

Interesting essay. My youth seemed uncomplicated in comparison to now. Boy meets girl. They have a good time. It’s chemistry at play – texts can’t convey chemistry. Sometimes it lasts and sometimes it doesn’t.
“Of course, biology is not destiny” It is actually, as in game set and match. You argued as much yourself and then decided that you didn’t like the idea very much.
“…aka the ability to “have sex like a man”, whether you are one or not. Perry argues convincingly that this has not been a gift to women.” Ah, free love! The cruellest trick that men of my generation played on girls. None of my girlfriends fell for that. The curse of finding clever girls attractive (Well I needed some help)
“..is it any surprise that many women’s greatest fantasy is to just let someone else be in charge?” Not to me it isn’t, provided, rather crucially, that “the someone” else is a man they find sexually attractive. This isn’t new.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
1 year ago

Maybe the problem arises when women confuse the notion of equal to the notion of same.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
1 year ago

This article falls into the same trap as so much discussion around male/female differences. It asks ‘What are women like?’ assuming they are just one thing.
We are all at least two things: we are the primeval descendents of non-conscious ancestors who have raw feelings and cravings. We are also the modern, human, conscious being who can ‘think about’ their actions and decide to overrule or postpone our desires.
One possibility is that men are much more in conscious-contact with the animal selves than women. When asked to describe the woman they fancy, men mostly describe physical characteristics. When offered dating, they choose the same types. Women, on the other hand, will describe a man who is, for example, in touch with his feelings, funny, kind etc, but when dating will choose the big guy with the big wallet and nice car.
If this is true, then the sexual revolution is a cheat on women. For millennia, religious and cultural taboos kept them safe, persuading then to control their urges till they found a suitably supportive partner/father of their children. The modern world tells her to follow he instinct…. and then wonders why she is not fulfilled.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 year ago

The sexual revolution was really just to turn women into sl@gs. “Oh, you’re not really free, because you won’t let me sh@g you!!” Then, as soon as the 60s were over, those very same people ended up running corporations, and suddenly the so-called “liberators” were the ones lining their own pockets, just like every other revolution before or since…..

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

BDSM (how I hate that acronym!) is squalid and disreputable and the people who engage in it ought to know better. They should grow up and behave like decent human beings.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
1 year ago

Am I alone in finding the public discourse of private individual lives both dull turgid and banal? The key is in the term ‘private’. Do no harm, consensuality etc. And keep it to yourself and closest ones. Pry not. Then again I’m not a career journo thinking up stuff for my next piece of Grub Streetery.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
1 year ago

A central dilemma for men today is that relationships are just too risky. Out of the blue you can be accused of this and that, lose contact with children, have your house taken – and all state funded for your children’s mother.
Good summary here: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/4-lQvxpHrAc

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

I suggest that the lesson that we try to avoid is that sexual differences evolved to serve our genes, not us.

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

Cads, jerks and swindlers. An apt description. Though the so called revolution in the sixties promised greater freedom for women, it just left them more vulnerable to abuse and the cads, jerks and swindlers. Men pretend to like adventurous women but will usually marry a virgin a bit on the prudish side.

maria Brogna
maria Brogna
1 year ago

You are quickly becoming my favorite living writer. You are spot on here with your understanding of the BDSM community. Its all consent all the time & boundaries are put in place so that the pleasure doesn’t become completely one sided. Which is a respect lacking in many “normal” relationships (whatever that means).
Love New Prudes, very funny & true. Personally I love the term neo-puritan, but New Prudes sounds like it’d make a cool, ironic band name. And I mean that as a compliment.

Love your writing.

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
1 year ago

What are you trying to convince me of, exactly?

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
1 year ago

Second-wave radical feminists were contemporaneously decrying the misogyny of the “sexual revolution,” as evidenced by constant pressure on women to just lighten up babe and prove that that they weren’t uptight conventional prudes, and particularly with the rise of the pornography industry.