The discovery of fire, and more importantly learning to manage fire, was the moment when civilisation took a leap forward. The discovery of sex for its own sake and the mishandling of sex, may send our culture toppling backwards.
Fire and sex share much in common. Used well they work to warm and create; used badly they destroy.
Judaism and Christianity offered a clear moral code for sex. However much fun it may be, it is best contained within marriage and for making children. Outside marriage, uncontained, it has the capacity of a forest fire to burn out of control and lay waste.
In the 60’s the overthrow of this ancient morality was presented as the promise of ‘Free Love”. Like so many progressive moves it wrapped an immoral outcome in a moral packaging. In this case the trouble was it wasn’t free, and it wasn’t love.
The cost of this swopping of old morals for new ones is only just being calculated. We have learnt a bit more of it from the University of Chicago’s recent General Social Survey. Young Americans are not ‘loving’ each other any more. Move beyond the euphemism, and what it really means is that there has been a large increase in the number of people aged between 18 and 29 who have had no sexual intimacy for the whole of the last year. Amongst men in particular, the number has tripled.
Much of recent American manhood, badly served by a feminised education system and an assault on masculinity, is stuck in its parents’ basements, addicted to the fake make-believe world of pornhub.
On the other side of the sexual chasm, there is the ‘me-too’ movement. It has turned exploratory flirting into a prospective criminal charge of near-rape.
‘Me–too’ women and pornhub men have something in common. They both objectify and feel objectified by the opposite sex. They both experience or practice sex in a way that is dehumanizing. They both feel, if for different reasons, unwanted for themselves. They have both become very angry, and in the case of some of the men, violent.
Elliot Rodger was a 22-year-old man who made videos to describe how he was “rotting in loneliness.” “For the last eight years of my life since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness and rejection.” In 2014 he took a gun to the University of Santa Barbara, and wantonly killed six people before turning it on himself. His enraged violence was celebrated by the incel (involuntary celibate) community.
Sex has been used to sell everything from cars to computers. Expectations have been raised that is should be available. And when it isn’t, it isn’t very surprising that frustrated rage follows.
But raising expectations about sex may not have been wise for a number of reasons. It turns out that sex is more closely connected with our self–worth than we thought. Not only was it not free love, it was not even free sex. The sex has come with a price. It has come almost as a surprise that our sense of self-worth depends on not being or feeling ‘used’.
At least the use of sex is a personal choice, and people can decide which moral rules protect them best, but it’s a shame to make the same mistake over sucking the morality out of marriage.
The recent move to remove all sense of fault from the divorce laws look as freeing and as convenient as the idea of free love. But connected to the idea of fault is the promise of moral responsibility. Fault only exists if there was some agreement to being morally accountable.
Without fault, marriage becomes not a venture in loving each other through thick and thin, but a contract of convenience. The new laws will allow one person to break the contract at any point, without any reason and without accountability. Even hire purchase agreements have more protection than that.
And like sex, marriage doesn’t work like that. Unilaterally breaking a marriage and discarding a spouse will also produce more objectified, discarded and dehumanized ex- partners; and not surprisingly, more anger.
When spouses separate, they have a deep need for some form of emotional reckoning; some longing for what feels like justice in the face of injustice. If they are not allowed to own the real reasons for the breakdown within the legal framework, they will focus their displaced anger somewhere else.
When people feel dehumanized, betrayed or used, they become angry. We have abandoned the older moral categories that kept sex safe, and marriage something greater than a hire purchase agreement. We are paying in terms of loss of dignity and self-worth.
Swopping the older more demanding moral framework for something apparently easier and more convenient has come with a price. A growing rage has emerged between the sexes. We seem to have inflamed more anger and self-doubt, than we have created freedom and deepened love. We have burned rather than warmed ourselves.
Time to think again.