The Problem of Sex

Pretty soon, writes Douglas Murray in the The Spectator, "there'll be no sex at all." With the paralyzing spate of assault accusations roiling the West, it seems that the sexual revolution begun in the 1960s has reached the Reign of Terror stage. Fear hangs over political offices and workplaces everywhere. Murray writes:

We are in the middle of a profound shift in our attitude towards sex. A sexual counter-revolution, if you will. And whereas the 1960s saw a freeing up of attitudes towards sex, pushing at boundaries, this counter-swing is turning sexual freedom into sexual fear, and nearly all sexual opportunities into a legalistic minefield.

The rules are being redrawn with little idea of where the boundaries of this new sexual utopia will lie and less idea still of whether any sex will be allowed in the end.

If sex is finished, it will be bad news for the human race not simply because homo sapiens, like nearly every other species, rely on it to stave off extinction, but because sex has defined humanity's hopes and posterity for millennia. From Robert Jordan urging Maria to leave with the rest because "what I do now I must do alone" to Rick Blaine explaining to Ilsa that "where I'm going you can't follow," sex forms the bridge between a mortal individual and the immortal species. For generations, there has been nothing so masculine as to die for the woman you love.

But like all powerful urges, sex was dangerous. Only by taming it was civilization possible. Communities required the invention of the family, and at the family's core lay the injunction against molesting women within it. Though its origins are lost to history, the incest taboo remains one of the most universal and enduring of human prohibitions. Its ubiquity is indicative of its importance. "All human cultures have norms that exclude certain close relatives from those considered suitable or permissible sexual or marriage partners, making such relationships taboo... Debate about the origin of the incest taboo has often been framed as a question of whether it is based in nature or nurture."

However, its utility was not in question. The family and other social institutions like gender segregation prevented women from being dragged off caveman style. They provided the original "safe space." For all their defects -- some studies today show 15 percent of girls and four percent of boys are molested by "someone they knew well" -- these institutions performed a key role in society until the sexual revolution tore them apart.

The Sexual Revolution, also known as a time of Sexual Liberation, was a social movement that challenged traditional codes of behavior related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships throughout the United States and subsequently, the wider world, from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sexual liberation included increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships (primarily marriage). The normalization of contraception and the pill, public nudity, pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, and alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion all followed.

The sexual revolution was the joint product of 20th-century social theories and technological innovations that together allowed women to leave family settings and move into the workplace. It seemed unstoppable. Gender segregation gradually declined and women were thrown together with men at all levels, from sailors in submarines to interns at the White House. With dazzling rapidity, the family itself began to be regarded as vaguely sinister and definitely reactionary.  Heterosexual marriage was disestablished and gender itself became a construct. It became permissible and even virtuous for biological men to use women's locker rooms provided they identified as female. No major problems were anticipated by the prophets of the new morality and the architects of the remade world prepared to celebrate their victory.

Suddenly a strange thing happened. The increased opportunities for sexual interaction promised by '60s prophets, rather than kicking off an endless party, raised the curtain on a darker prospect. The '60s chant "if it feels good, do it" gave way to a new, more fearful phrase: rape culture. "Rape culture," warned one university department, "is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. ... Most women and girls live in fear of rape."

What happened?

What the sexual prophets had forgotten to anticipate was the re-emergence of the sex problem. The forces which institutions had successfully contained for centuries were on the loose again. Without new control systems, these primal urges unexpectedly re-emerged as the sexual assault tidal wave sweeping through Hollywood, the media and politics without any easy solution in sight. The challenge, as Douglas Murray intuited, was to find a new way to solve the sex problem without littering society with legal minefields. Without some way of establishing the ground rules between men and women, sex threatened to become a battleground rather than an avenue for human relationships; a dirty word rather than a bridge to the future of mankind.

Clearly what was needed was some clear and stable definition of what is in or out of bounds. How far can one interact with the opposite sex without infringing on their "safe space"? How could consent to initiate a relationship be unambiguously obtained? Which words not uttered, what actions not done? Formerly these red lines were widely known within a given community.  However the search for a such a code is complicated by the fact that many of the advocates of the sexual revolution are also fervent believers in multiculturalism.

We are learning the latter complicates the former. Without a dominant culture there is no dominant reference point, no North Star. On the contrary, in a multicultural world consisting of victim groups united in their oppression by the white imperialist supremacist patriarchy, the dictum that "the personal is political" must inevitably imply the political is personal. All interpersonal relationships are modified by hundreds, if not thousands of political circumstances.

Is it right to regard a former president as a sexual abuser if he was a friend of the women's movement? Can a film director be accused of pedophilia if he is a Holocaust survivor? Shouldn't the indiscretions of a certain mogul be overlooked if he pledged to atone for them by taking on the NRA? Could anyone presume to judge the sexual practices of other cultures without engaging in national triumphalism? In the kaleidoscopic, ever-shifting value system of political correctness who can be the judge of sexual crime?

Not Lena Dunham, who despite her best efforts found herself caught on the horns of a whole plethora of dilemmas. Faced with a sex controversy involving people she knew, Dunham found that the contradictory imperatives of loyalty to a political comrade and the requirement to believe every woman's accusation of sexual assault could not possibly be reconciled.

When news of the accusations broke on Friday, Dunham — and “Girls” co-showrunner Jenni Konner — issued a statement standing by Miller. “While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year,” they said in a statement.

But her defense of Miller provoked backlash on social media, with many pointing to an August tweet of Dunham’s, where she wrote: “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape.”

Wrote Asia Argento, “You wrote me an email of support a few weeks ago, and now you defend a rapist? WTF @lenadunham?”

Dunham's second statement apologizing for her first statement illustrates how difficult it is for anyone to solve the sex problem in our post-moral, post-family world.  Can anyone delineate a consistent code of sexual conduct acceptable to our hyphenated world without appealing to some external truth or commonly held foundational myth? Is Hollywood going to do it? Or the churches? Washington? Perhaps the media? Or are we doomed to the War on Men and its corollary, the War on Sex?

Rick: Here's looking at you kid.

Ilsa: Major Strasser, I want to report that Rick has verbally sexually assaulted me.

Major Renault: Round up Roy Moore.

Gendarme: Roy Moore hasn't been born yet. Casablanca is set in 1941, not 2017.

Major Renault: I was misinformed.

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Man's Search for Meaning, Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945, Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. His theory, logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning") holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. An epic, moving history of a scientific idea coming to life, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies. But woven through it, like a red line, is an intimate history – the story of Mukherjee’s own family and its recurring pattern of mental illness, reminding us that genetics is vitally relevant to everyday lives.

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