The Case against the Sexual Revolution

Peter Wyatt writes: According to Philip Larkin, ‘sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three’. Until today, this sexual revolution, brought about by more effective forms of contraception, has been hailed as an emancipation of human beings. No longer were we subject to the restraints of traditional morality as policed by religious faith, and family mores. Instead, they could act according to our desires, to find pleasure and happiness in any way they saw fit. Why should society have any opinion on what happened between the sheets, as Stephen Fry once said?

In her provocative new book, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, Louise Perry argues that the picture is far from rosy. Instead of liberation, society has created new forms of oppression: rough sex, hook-up culture, and pornography to name a few. She argues that in all of these women have been the losers. In her view, the much-touted concept of “consent” as the answer to everything has failed and we have arrived at a situation that benefits a minority of men, at the expense of women. 

Her book is fearless in attacking the current orthodoxy, using her own experience as a campaigner in a rape crisis charity, along with extensive research, and she ends the book by quoting the radical feminist Andrea Dworkin (to paraphrase), that it is a lie to equate sexual freedom with freedom. Instead, she offers one piece of advice, ‘get married and stay married’. That is an incredible statement from a secular author! 

In Chapter 1, Perry uses Hugh Hefner (founder of Playboy magazine) and Marilyn Monroe as twin poles of the sexual revolution – winner and loser, male and female. Hefner was famously progressive on abortion rights and contraception, not surprisingly as it benefited his own personal pleasure seeking, with his “harem” of identical looking twenty-somethings in his Playboy mansion. Not for him the risk of unwanted pregnancy or the trauma of abortion. On the other hand, the sexual revolution played out very differently for Monroe. She was the first ever cover star on Hefner’s magazine, for which she was paid a mere $500, and about which she felt humiliated throughout her life. Not for her the money and lifestyle Hefner enjoyed, but substance abuse, multiple abortions and misery.

According to Perry the sexual revolution is not only a story of the liberation of women from the burdens of motherhood and chastity, but the triumph of the playboy. She acknowledges the progress of contraception and legalised abortion but asserts that the benefits have largely gone to men. Her target is not feminism per se, but liberal feminism which places freedom of choice as the ultimate good. Liberal feminism argues that male female differences are either a social construction or of no significance, and therefore women should be able to behave in ways that men have always done so. Perry parts company with that school of thought: in her view, men and women are different (shock, horror!) – this is the theme of Chapter 2. 

This unfashionable view is surely the foundation of her whole book, and she comes at it from a very interesting angle – by looking at the subject of rape. Liberals have argued that rape is not about sex, but a cultural expression of men’s need to have power over women. To put it bluntly, boys are socialised into being rapists by society. Perry says an important book, A Natural History of Rape, totally changed her mind on this. Through careful examination of the data the authors establish that rape is a product of aggressive male sexual desire, not of a wish for dominance. For example, female rape victimisation and female sexual attractiveness peak at exactly the same age, indicating that rape is indeed about sexual desire. Could it be that society’s ills stem from male sexual desire, rather than some societal conspiracy to dominate the lives of women? The implications of this finding, in her view, are staggering and turn upside down much advice given on sexual politics, and this is what the rest of the book explores.

In the light of this, Chapter 3 questions whether all desires are necessarily good. According to liberals, if a man wants to have sex with a dead chicken, then there should be nothing to stop him. The 1968 revolution in Paris stated, ‘it is forbidden to forbid’. But what about incest? What about paedophilia? Both liberals and conservatives alike agree that sex with children is wrong. Both would agree that some sexual desires are wrong and need to be restrained by one means or another. Perry argues, therefore, that the repression of sexual desires is a virtue in many circumstances. Even in normal relations, if you want to have sex with someone and they don’t want it, the law requires you to repress your desires. Yes, sexual repression in the past may have caused harm, but the denial of it requires that the “minnows” of society are regularly sacrificed to satisfy the desires of a few. According to Perry repression is good! 

In Chapter 4, Perry describes how liberal feminists have fought against the patriarchy by advocating that women should have ‘sex like a man’ – in other words, without love and without guilt. By this, women can free themselves from old-fashioned patriarchal expectations of chastity and obedience. If men and women are psychologically and physically the same, why shouldn’t women experience the same pleasures as (high-status) men? But again, Perry argues that men and women are not the same. Biologically speaking, men’s investment is completed at conception. For women, however, pregnancy demands a huge commitment physically and emotionally. Of course, many men invest a huge amount into their offspring in a socially recognised relationship – in other words being a dad. However, men have an alternative model available – being a cad, where objective is quantity of offspring rather than the quality. This is inescapable biology, Perry would argue. Indeed, it is interesting to look at men’s sexuality when the limiting factor of female sexual preference is removed: the mean number of lifetime sexual partners is 6 to 8 times higher for gay men as compared to straight men. And yet hook-up culture is the norm for teenagers in the West but, in Perry’s view, this does not accommodate women’s psychological needs for intimacy and commitment. Of course, these are only average behaviours – some women are sociosexual and many men long for commitment, but this does not negate the point that women have frequently been the losers from the sexual revolution according to Perry.

In both Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, the thorny issue of consent is examined by Perry in two different contexts – in the pornography industry and in the context of rough sex. For liberal feminists, consent is the golden ticket, the get out of jail free card – as long as there is consent, then no harm is done. However, this presents consent as simple and clear cut, whereas in reality consent is messy, one-sided and deeply flawed. Perry suggests that in both contexts the current cultural background plays a huge part in ‘softening up’ women—that is the ubiquity of porn, and the depiction of rough sex as a normalised activity. This background leads to very real pressures on women. In the porn industry, actors often start on ‘tame’ projects but are quickly ratcheted up into more hardcore work, especially as work offers dry up. The porn industry defence is always that ‘the actor said yes and who are you to argue with that?’ But according to porn-industry survivors, the reality is abuse, no respect for boundaries and the exploitation of vulnerable (mostly) women. She argues that consent is only meaningful when there are viable alternative choices, which for many women in the industry, there are not. 

In the other context, Perry makes the case that rough sex also has a consent problem. She takes the example of a practice known as choking. Even if it is meaningfully possible to consent to being strangled, you are faced with the problem of how the law can distinguish between consensual and non-consensual forms of sexual violence, especially if someone is dead! In a campaign that Perry herself was involved in (We Can’t Consent to This), in 67 cases where women died the killers claimed that the deaths were a sex game gone wrong. She claims that with the prevalence of rough sex depicted in pornography, young women are groomed into saying yes to activities they would find distasteful in normal life. The liberal feminist faith in consent relies on the fundamentally false promise: that who we are in the bedroom is different from who we are outside of it.

Chapter 7 looks at sex work, which liberals now hold up as a worthy profession, freed from the stigma of patriarchy. But does this explain the universal cross-cultural reluctance that most women feel when faced with the idea of sex work? Again, Perry calls upon evolutionary biology to explain the difference: the asymmetry of investment in bearing a child creates a different experience for men and women. Perry states that sex work is just a paid form of rape – the person being paid must ignore her own lack of desire, or even bone-deep revulsion in order to service another’s pleasure. It’s no wonder that the industry only attracts the poorest or most desperate. 

Finally, Chapter 8 outlines Perry’s proposal for a corrective to the sexual revolution: marriage. Some feminists argue that marriage is the single biggest vehicle for the oppression of women, but Perry argues that marriage solves several extremely difficult problems in society, given that human beings are constrained by their biology. Firstly, it solves a problem she calls dependency. As she says, if you value freedom above all else, then you must reject motherhood, because motherhood creates dependency in the form of a child. Instead, marriage creates a solution and a rationale for dependency, where a father can provide support, resources, protection to the mother and child. Secondly, it provides encouragement for men to adopt the ‘dad’ mode of sexual behaviour as opposed to the ‘cad’ mode. As Perry discusses all the way through the book, the ‘cad’ mode of male sexuality is extremely detrimental to women and the source of many of the ills mentioned in previous chapters. According to anthropologists, monogamous marriage is successful in pushing men away from cad mode, and in providing a stable environment for child-rearing. Perry argues that marriage is not perfect but that there is no better system that has been tried in history.

Her book has been surprisingly well-received even in liberal circles (e.g. the Guardian), and has been discussed on Radio 4. However, several criticisms have emerged. Firstly, that Perry takes up an essentialist position on male-female differences. In response, her argument would be that we can’t escape the biology of human reproduction and that affects male and female preferences on average, although not necessarily in any individual case. Secondly, in the light of male sexual desire, Perry is putting the onus on women to stay safe. For example, Perry says that women should only get drunk in female company, as to do so with men present is to put yourself at risk. Would this not turn society into some kind of Saudi Arabia with male-female segregation? Perry would no doubt say that this is realistic and practical advice—she condemns consent workshops as useless.

Perry seems to have a fairly pessimistic view of human nature and particularly that men can only be saved by being married and being a good dad. This does have echoes in biblical teaching, and as a Christian commentator, I find her book a very encouraging antidote to the liberal feminist orthodoxy which pervades much of the media. Perry has managed to pull off a clever trick by putting forward a conservative voice whilst at the same time gaining plaudits from that same media. She is definitely a name to be looking out for in the future. 

Rev Peter Wyatt is married to Michelle and has two teenage children. He is a Church of England minister in a council estate in Croydon where his church runs various social action projects such as a community food shop, support groups and homeless shelter.

If you would like to review a book about contemporary culture, faith or biblical studies, get in touch with me (Ian) through the contact page.

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81 thoughts on “The Case against the Sexual Revolution”

  1. Does Louise Perry define ‘marriage’? I ask this because I know of couples who are faithful, deeply in love and make full provision for one another and their children (if they have them), but in the formal, legal sense have not ‘pledged their troth’ in a public setting, nor have any intention of so doing. In the absence of the legal protection that registered marriage provides, is it not also right to understand those spoken of above also as being ‘married? I would value the thoughts of others. That asked, when I make the address in weddings after the scripture reading, I make a big point of ‘Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.’ I say that family and friends present have a responsibility, as far as is proper, to ensure that the couple’s marriage flourishes, which is to reinforce the value of public marriage. On a lighter note, when I do marriage prep with couples, as they are all now already cohabiting, I ask, ‘Why on earth are you getting married?’ The best answer I got from one couple, when their 10 year old son had just come into the room was, pointing towards him, ‘Because he’s told us to!’ Wise lad!

    • I’d begin by saying co-habiting is not marriage. We must keep this distinction clear. Even in the best of examples it is living in sin. Co-habiting is a rejection of marriage. There may be many reasons for this but it is a rejection of God’s provided relationship for intimacy and family and taken as a whole will be detrimental to family flourishing. I wonder just how many women are happy with co-habiting. Even today the woman is likely to be the vulnerable partner and left holding the baby. Which brings us to one big reason for co-habiting – a co-habiting relationship is easier to dissolve. Marriage involves vows, commitments and legal responsibilities that are considered undesireable rather than a context of safety. Of course, divorce laws have made a mockery of marriage.

      If there is no legal framework for marriage the formal and public announcement that the two have become one I take it would constitute marriage. Where, however, proper marriage processes exist and are rejected for then co-habiting is unacceptable. What do you think?

      • According to John’s Calvinism everyone who isn’t saved is an unrepentant sinner – in every thought, word, and deed. So obviously by that standard anyone co-habiting with someone is living in sin. Just as those not co-habiting with anyone are living in sin.

        His Calvinism prevents him from doing what the gospel does and Jesus clearly did in his interactions with people – affirm people in their right choices – not just confront them in respect of what in their life stands contrary to God’s being honoured. John might be tempted to believe that his Calvinism affirms people as God made and God loved however his theology renders human beings animalistic both in all their instincts and also in their lack of free will (any belief in compatibilism being entirely without logical basis). He cannot do what Jesus does with the scribe in Mark 12:34 – affirm his right answer even while expressly saying that he is not yet in the kingdom – or what Paul did in Acts 17 when he affirms the Athenians for their worship of the unknown God – even though it exists alongside their worship of other Gods – he cannot affirm any area of the lives of non-believers in which there is agreement with God.

        His problem is either that his Calvinism makes him a Pharisee – or his Pharisaism makes him a Calvinist. Instead of saying to those whose devotion to their partner above all others models Christ’s absolute devotion to the church – even if it is marred by sin – “keep doing what you are doing but know that the only reason to do it is because of God’s character – and for God’s glory – and know that you were only ever supposed to be able to do this in connection with God” – you instead say to people – “what you are doing counts for nothing because it wasn’t done from the start in God’s name”.

        Which is absolutely not true.

        Romans 2:25-29 ESV
        For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written coded and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

        Here in black and white we find out that outward profession of faith means nothing if not accompanied by a changed life. But then the passage reveals the opposite – something which should be the absolute dread of those who delight in excluding those humbled by the truth without publicly identifying themselves with it – God finds their worship acceptable. It doesn’t matter that they would not say they don’t know him – it only matters that God would say that he knows them.

        Anyone who uses the truth to place obstacles between people and God is at war with God. The entire bible is about a God looking for a means by which he can honour every expression of love made to him by people – whether knowingly or unknowingly. While Calvinism turns that on its head – making God a mysterious excluder of most people who have ever lived.

        John therefore has no means by which he is able to make the following statement – his first sentence:
        “I’d begin by saying co-habiting is not marriage. We must keep this distinction clear. Even in the best of examples it is living in sin”.
        How dare he.

        And then he says “Co-habiting is a rejection of marriage”. How can John prove that someone’s co-habiting with someone is not an expression of godly desire in respect of a God about whom they are ignorant? In 1 Timothy 1:13 Paul explains that the reason God showed him mercy is not because he acted ignorantly (this completely contravening Calvinism – which would see him only offered mercy if he’s on ‘the list’). But how would John have responded to Paul’s arranging for the death of followers of The Way – out of earnest religious desire? In Paul’s case it was even done in the name of God. Even so I believe that John would still not be willing to consider Paul’s actions worship.

  2. This sounds like an interesting, intelligent and thought-provoking book. I agree that, on average, there are distinctive male and female psychological traits, whether those are innate (as I believe) or socialised in upbringing. However, I also believe there is a wide and scattered spectrum of psychologies and sexual instincts that spread out beyond those averages. The review here says nothing about lesbian relationships.

    The other uncertainty I feel (I should need to read the book for myself) is that it seems to take quite a polarised view. Yes, in a permissive society there will be relationships where men act as ‘cads’ (though that can occur in marriages too). But I take the view that in the majority of sexual relationships outside marriage a man and a woman will seek mutual pleasure and degrees of emotional care and companionship, and it would be wrong to brand the men in many of these relationships ‘cads’.

    Most people who show up to get married these days have had sex before marriage. I don’t personally think that’s the end of the world.

    We should be careful not to stereotype sexuality into male dominance/assertion and female receptivity. I do believe that – on average – women have a more receptive psychology as part of their sexuality. However, that is not always the case. Even in lesbian relationships, there may be a more assertive partner and a more receptive one.

    To me, marriage is a very desirable framework, though not essential. Paramount is trust, mutual care, devotion, and commitment. Whether that commitment is seen as lifelong by consenting sexual partners is an understanding they should establish between themselves with honesty. Sex should not be seen as primarily for child-bearing and raising. Sex can be psychologically healthy in itself, as pleasure, tenderness, friendship, and I believe it is wrong to rule out exploration of sexual identity as a young person before marriage, though I agree that there are also real dangers, because of which sex education is very important.

    Sex should not be laden with shame and guilt by a moralising society. But it is true that it involves profound vulnerabilities, and sometimes power imbalances. To conclude, I think marriage as the framework for long-term sexual relations is potentially an amazing, wonderful, precious basis for sex – but not necessarily the only one. It’s more complicated than that. Trust and devotion are everything in a sexual partnership, and always on the basis of consent.

    • Hi Susannah,

      You say “Yes, in a permissive society there will be relationships where men act as ‘cads’ (though that can occur in marriages too). But I take the view that in the majority of sexual relationships outside marriage a man and a woman will seek mutual pleasure and degrees of emotional care and companionship, and it would be wrong to brand the men in many of these relationships ‘cads’.”

      The data contradicts this. You ignore even the data presented in the article itself where we are told that the mean number of lifetime sexual partners is 6 to 8 times higher for gay men as compared to straight men.

      The data suggests that relationships are becoming less permanent – less committed – with sexual relationships understandably sharing characteristics with the state of non-sexual ones – with lack of concern for the implications of our relationships for other human beings – abortion – on the rise. We also know that the level of trust of one citizen for other citizens in the first world is falling through the floor – surveys have verified this – society is disintegrating.

      So I suggest that your view is myopic – you see only what you are willing to see (even immediately after reading an article which presents data which contradicts your understanding!) – perhaps you know some relationships in which you see mutual care, commitment, and outward focus – but the data shows that this is not the general trend.

    • Christians don’t have ‘a sexual partnership’: they marry.
      You totally disagree with Jesus here, and are happy to do so.

      • Your claim is not backed up by any evidence Christopher.
        Christians of all traditions have sexual relationships.
        Evangelicals in particular will admit that they find ways of not having sexual intercourse before marriage, but this allows them to explore many other sexual activities. And that will of course help them have more satisfying sexual relationships once they are married.

        • Most evangelicals through history have married sensibly young, so this does not apply. Marrying later (as a norm!) did not occur to any previous generation. It certainly is not in tune with biology. And to marry is practically free, despite all the desperate propaganda.

        • I don’t see the logic of your final sentence ‘of course’. Successful sexual relationships are not based on previous relationships. They are based on love, security and the confidence of together growing in sexual familiarity. Previous sexual experience is only a hindrance for reasons elsewhere stated. I cannot see a scitilla of biblical backing for your view.

  3. Tim Keller, emphasises the covenant relationship of male and female marriage, which is richer, deeper and enhanced, including mutual commitment, vows, to one another *because* of its legal nature.

  4. Yes, interesting review and looks like an interesting book. I do not however recognise these “liberal feminists” she apparently describes, who approve of pornography and prostitution. That is not my experience of most secular feminism.

  5. Jennifer Roback Morse thinks in terms of ‘victims of the sexual revolution’. All the youngsters and oldsters to whom people have presented a false view of reality which is designed to maximise their own pool of sexual partners.

    In the process they have ruined many lives, even extended to ruining fine societies.

    Louise Perry’s title is wrong. This is not a situation where 2 rational cases are made for the defence and for the prosecution. Does she honestly think that the sexual revolution was pursued for rational reasons? It was/is an animalic, entirely physical/emotional thing. Is that not obvious?

  6. Women have psychological needs for intimacy and commitment?

    Yes, they certainly do.

    But the implication that men do not is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  7. This appears to be (from the perspective of someone who has not read the book) a superb summary – I had not realised the general thrust of the book – its logic and importance – from listening and reading elsewhere. Thank you.

  8. Great review. You summarise the book really well. And it really is a very interesting read. Highly recommended.

    I am increasingly convinced that the key aspect of the change that we need to reflect on, as it is recognised by all sides as the thing that changed the inituitive and inherent meaning of sex for people, is contraception.

    Did the Catholics have it right all along? If so, why? And if not, why not?

    Many thanks

  9. Much is made of the physical dangers of non-marital sex. What of the psychological effects? Plenty of men plan to make their pile by their 30th birthday and then retire, but those who do get rich by 30 almost never retire, because by then the money has changed them. Promiscuity changes people, too. After a few break-ups of sexual relationships, people stop crying and start to shrug and say they can always find somebody else. Sex binds a couple together strongly, and God did not design people to experience the breakdown of sexual relationships without doing harm to their souls. Their capacity to feel emotional pain is dulled; with it goes their capacity to share themselves fully in future. Sex is about total self-giving, and that is possible only within a permanently committed relationship – marriage. It becomes psychologically impossible after too much sex outside marriage.

      • The statistics are out there, not hard to find.
        Couples who cohabit before marriage or instead of marriage have a higher chance of breaking up. Those who have multiple sexual relationships before marriage find it difficult to commit to a permanent exclusive relationship.
        I think Mark Regnerus has done the most important research on this, but I’m not sure. He has written a major work on “Thr Future of Christian Marriage”,

        • Does Regnerus claim that it is ‘psychologically impossible’ or that it does harm to their souls? If so, how does he cite his evidence for this?

          • Regnerus, a professor at the University of Texas, is a sociologist, not a psychologist. His work is based on people’s self-reporting of their lives. Maybe he wouldn’t say something is “psychologically impossible” (he is, after all a Christian who believes in the grace of God) but he would certainly affirm that repeated wrong decisions make good outcomes increasingly unlikely. After all, habit is created by character, and there are limitless sources today to feed our imagination. Even children have no difficulty in accessing the strongest kinds of pornography.

          • James

            My question was for Anton. I have no doubt that secular research demonstrates the instability of marriages in the (nominally Christian) West.
            I do, however, doubt that pre marital sex makes intimacy and stability psychologically impossible or, inevitably, damages the soul (whatever that might mean).
            I do not advocate promiscuity nor infidelity, but I do balk at some of the careless rhetoric on here.

          • Why would it matter whether it makes it psychologically impossible when it clearly makes it psychologically far more difficult than it would otherwise have been? Whose side are you on? Why would you not be on the side of family stability? It translates into precious lives being either damaged or not damaged.

          • How far does pre-marital relationships damage marriage. Do visions of another partner intrude in intimacy? Does one partner feel vulnerable knowing of othe others previous partners. Is first love always going to intrude?

          • John you clearly have a very narrow and simplistic view of sexuality within marriage. It is important to recognise that couples can enjoy quite a variety of fantasy and reality during what might amount to 50 years together.

          • Penelope

            Are you determined to dispute my assertions under guise of seeking high standards of rigour? Please tell me what you would accept as evidence for my assertion.

          • Andrew, I was considering the problems previous relationships may bring to a marriage. I would hope ;’fantasies’ would not involve a third person. Otherwise I cannot see the relevance of your comment.

          • Then John I think you have, as I said, a very simplistic understanding of human sexuality.
            There are some excellent Christian writers out there. When I used to organise some training for lay ministry we had a session on The Sacrament of sexuality. The title came from the name of a book by Barbara and Morton Kelsey. Excellent book, but the person I recruited to run the session was a RC Nun. She was able, from her postion of celibacy, to discuss all aspects of human sexuality without any sense of our usual embarassment about the matter, and it was eye opening for the group.

          • Anton

            As far as I remember I asked a question. I didn’t dispute your assertions.
            But you have not answered why you think intimacy is psychologically impossible or soul damaging after sex outside marriage.


            No, previous sexual relationships do not intrude. Only those who are prurient about sexual intimacy might imagine that they would

          • Penelope

            I can’t see how they could fail to intrude. If the previous relationships were deeply damaging, lets say rape, would that intrude? I’m sure it would. If the previous relationship was enjoyed then how can the mind turn off from the past. The thing about the past is we have to live with it and the older we get, in my experience, the more the past intrudes.

          • John,

            I respect the huge blessings that marriage can bring to a relationship, and endorse marriage as an excellent institution. However, it saddens me that some Christians (not directed at you) vilify the sincere and tender sexual relationships of couples who – as in the case of some people close to me – have chosen not to marry, but have lived together for decades, still love each other, and have brought up lovely, decent children. I simply do not believe that they have ‘lived in sin’ and I believe Louise Perry tends to be a bit ‘absolutist’ in her pronouncements. At least, I think there is no automatic consequence of harm, if people have sexual relationships outside of marriage.

            When I was 22 I fell in love with a young woman and we became engaged. We were both mountaineers, and our love was tender and gentle. Over several years we shared a bed together, though I never had intercourse or climax with her. That said, we were physically close, and sexually expressive in our love. Tragically, she died in an avalanche.

            I will never regret that relationship, or our physical closeness, and the tenderness we knew, and frankly the innocence of our love. Nor do I think it damaged me. It helped me grow in understanding of sexuality as something tender, something kind, and about trust and togetherness. In short, it was a very positive and natural experience that contributed to a healthy and positive view of sexual intimacy.

            People can call it sin if they like.

            I will always honour her, and look back with thanksgiving for our love and care for each other, as two young people exploring and growing and giving to each other.

            I fully recognise that many people’s early experiences can be damaging, but then, so can the attrition and hurt inside some marriages as well. I simply baulk at the accusation that people’s tender love (when it is tender) should be termed ‘living in sin’. I believe that is too absolute, sneering, and judgmental. Most people explore their sexual relationships before marriage these days. In many but not all cases, that may be a positive and healthy journey into longer-term relationship and devotion.

          • John

            I find your analagy between rape – a traumatic and violebt act – and consensual sexual intimacy deeply troubling. Trauma is almost inevitable relived, noy only through subsequent sexual relationships but in many areas of life. I see no reason why prior sexual experience, whether pleasurable or indefferent, should intrude on later relationships. Unless one’s spouse is an inept lover. The moral is don’t marry a sexual dunce.

          • John, as a follow up, and my final post on this page (I stick to maximum of 3 posts so as not to dominate) I should like to look again at the review here of Louise Perry’s arguments.

            I don’t think it’s helpful that three of her roads into critiquing sexual freedom are: pornography, rape, and rough sex. Yes, of course, those are things that can be dangerous and harmful. But it does not follow that greater sexual freedom means all men are ‘cads’ along those lines. For a start, rape has nothing to do with loving and caring sexual relationships outside of marriage.

            Things like rape can’t justify concepts of patriarchy and obedience (which I think you attribute to her as good things she advocates, I don’t think the review implies that).

            There is also a logic fail in her argument. Just because *some* sexual repression is good (eg she cites sex with dead chickens) that does not mean that *all* sexual repression is good. It is not.

            She refers to “women’s psychological needs for intimacy and commitment”. Men of course also often have that human psychological need. If a man and a woman choose to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage, based on intimacy and commitment (at whatever level they define) then that may be a positive in their lives, and not a negative.

            None of what I’m saying is a criticism of marriage as an option. Louise makes some good observations. However, the affirmation of marriage should not be used as a platform for judgmental condemnations of many people’s intimate, devoted, caring, and life-enhancing sexual lives outside of that institution. Some people avoid ‘marriage’ for the very reason it is an ‘institution’, and they want their committed relationship bound together by their personal devotion, not by a legal or religious package. That’s their choice, and their relationships may well be as lovely and socially stable as the very many people who get divorced today, though obviously not in all cases.

          • Penelope

            Tell me in what category you would accept evidence and I shall do my best to provide it.

            It’s a bit much to accuse me of ducking questions in a comment which fails to answer mine.

          • Penelope – you have, on previous threads, given some idea of your own married life. It looks commendable and even (to my mind) self-sacrificial. You indicated that you married a divorcee, you ensured that you were a good step-mother for his children with a previous wife, you remained on good terms with the previous wife.

            Here it seems to me that sex has very little to do with the basic issue here. I don’t think it’s a good idea to marry someone who has a large number of `ex”s (to use a modern terminology), especially if the person wants to keep in touch with them as ‘good friends’, even if, for some reason (e.g. being Christian and hence avoiding sex before marriage) these lovey-dovey relationships didn’t involve carnal activities.

            For you, this wasn’t a problem – you indicated that you accepted your husband’s `ex’ with good grace, but it would be for many – and such baggage can put a strain on marriage – even if the previous relationships were celibate.

          • The problem here Jock I think is that you see sex as a profane thing. But it isn’t. It’s a sacred thing. It’s like prayer. Not something to be neglected. If you are in love with someone, even if you do not end up marrying them, you will quite naturally make love with them. Because that is a sacred thing to do and not a profane thing.

          • Andrew you are the kind of heretic Jude speaks of – waterless clouds. That you describe sex outside of marriage as a good thing fills me with loathing. You have no fear of God and you make evil good.

            Unlike Welby’s words there will be no merciful judgement for those in your position. This both causes me to feel grief for you and yet rejoice that evil is overthrown. There is no greater evil than religious evil and no greater religious evil than Christian religious evil. For such it would be better that they were never born.

          • Aww bless John. What a lovely man you truly are.
            I’m sorry you have such a problem with sex.
            Help is available ……..

          • Andrew

            There is no help for you unless you repent. I’ve had to do a fair bit of repenting in my lifetime. Your wrong of course to call sex a sacrament. I take sacrament to mean ‘means of grace’ or ‘means of drawing near to God’. Sex in itself is neither. There are millions who have sex and it brings them no nearer to God. Sex belongs to this world not the world to come. But the more serious error and serious sin is to say that fornication is a means of grace. The trouble is you are wise in your own conceit. I don’t know if you have been abandoned by God or not. Call on him for forgiveness and perhaps he will listen.

          • What a silly idea that ‘sex’ is a sacred thing. The word covers the whole spectrum from sacred to hellish.

            As for its being a profane thing, no-one ever said it was.

            In reality, what is it? It is an entirely context-dependent thing. Certainly in a healthy society it is sacred but only in, and because of, context.

          • “Your wrong of course to call sex a sacrament”

            John I think you mean “you are…”

            Read the book first and then come back with your answer.

            Christopher: the silly idea is to not read what is actually being said. The context is love, as I made clear.

          • Oh Andrew, how petty. You’ll find many more mistakes than that in my comments. They are written quickly and it shows. However, my grammar may be wrong and that’s fairly unimportant. Your theology is wrong and with eternal consequences.

          • Andrew

            I’ve read the only book that counts – though Paul does commit the unforgivable grammatical sin of saying, ‘me and Barnabas’(Gals 2:9). If you read the Bible more than heresy you may be in a less precarious state.

          • Susannah

            The question for faith is what is God’s revealed view of sexual contact outside of marriage? God’s view is the one that counts. It is not only right but wise and good.

            We may have enjoyed a sexually aware relationship with someone that we did not subsequently marry but we must ask ourselves how God viewed it. Sin deceives us especially if the sin is a tasty and tantalising forbidden fruit.

            I am not speaking from a position of moral superiority. I am simply trying to reflect things as God sees them.

          • John: the bible is a collection of books. They don’t present anything like the view of marriage that you assume. Courtship and marriage as we know it do not feature in the many books of the bible.
            Paul is clear that it is better not to marry. Do you think he was correct in that view?
            And please do point to verses in the bible that proscribe an intimate relationship before marriage.
            It is by no means as simplistic as you assume. Thankfully.
            We differ in our views. That’s permitted.

          • Andrew, it is just as simple as I describe. This is one reason the church in all its shapes throughout history have advocated marriage as the sole context of sexual activity. It is why the Bible calls sexual intercourse in any other context fornication. Truth is usually simple and straightforward – it is a highway that a man though a fool should not err therein. And this has proved to be the case. It is the perverse and the devious who will not see.

            Paul’s advocacy of singleness was qualified in two ways. Firstly, it was advocated ‘because of the present distress’. Secondly, it was commended only for those who could flourish under abstinence.

            Some verses that point to sexual relations outside of marriage being sexual immorality include the following:

            Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God…

            The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.,,

            Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6).

            It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Cor 7)

            It should be clear to all but the most benighted that any sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden. I don’t suppose you’ve read the Bible Andrew

          • Thanks John. I have indeed been reading the bible for 63 years and those verses very recently. They don’t specify intimate relationships before marriage at all. You are reading back your own culture and meaning onto the text.
            But I am glad that you acknowledge that Paul was making a point that was limited by particular circumstances. His advice was not universal.

            I won’t make any further contributions now as I’ve simply repeated oft repeated points on which we differ. Best wishes for your day

          • Ian

            And you believe John repeatedly calling Andrew a heretic and suggesting, sarcastically, that he hasn’t read the Bible is fine?
            Goodness me.

          • I don’t think I said that anywhere. I have not had time to go through this thread; I might do soon. But that one caught my eye, and I realise that we have descended into another pointless squabble—coincidentally, when Andrew has returned.

          • Ian

            Hm … interesting that you perceive the thread to have deteriorated when Andrew begins to comment, which seems to be ignoring all the abusive and scandalous tosh which Andrew enters to skewer rather well.

    • Every study ever done points overwhelmingly in that direction, as does common sense. It is a wonder of the age that anyone should question such an obvious thing. Where have you been? Obviously if people make multiple sexual bonds then any future one will be less strong, to the detriment of family and children. Which is why every major international community is structured that way.

      • Christopher, as you may know, Penelope is famous here for asserting, against the Bible, that one night stands, aka fornication, is not sinful, so she has to reject the idea that sex outside of marriage is not only sinful but also harmful to the kind of moral integrity that is required for a marriage to be strong and successful.
        The liberal, post-Christian mind always questions and denies the most obvious things about being human, especially those to do with sex. This is because sexual expression has been depicted as the acme of being human in an otherwise controlled and regulated world that seeks to micromanage the rest of our lives (lockdowns, energy use, travel, speech codes, food etc etc). Of course it is a lie – there is no such thing as “free sex” or sex without consequences. But the ‘liberal’ authoritarians of the left pretend that there is, even to the extent of sexualising small children. The liberal post-Christians are the useful idiots of the atheist left.

        • James

          As Christopher knows if he actually reads my words, I have never asserted that all one night stands are not sinful. But what is sinful is bearing false witness and misreprenting others’ views by traducing them in the third person. I have never advocated ‘free love’ – what a quaint term.
          I am a liberal Christian, on the political left, like my father and grandfather before me. Nothing to do with post modernism. More to do with following scripture.
          So, it would be awfully nice if I didn’t have to keep posting on these threads to call out your lies. Thank you.

          • So what Penelope does here with her double negatives is sneakily insert the word “all” to state by implication that she does believe that some one night stands are OK with Christian morality – which she is on record as saying before in this blog and has been called out for in the past by Anton and others. Of course she is wrong by the teaching of Christ and His apostles. If Penelope wants to make up her religion as she goes along, that is her business, but she is no teacher of the Christian faith.
            I have told no “lies” about Penelope’s beliefs.
            Sniffy indignation is no substitute for an actual argument.

          • James

            Far from being sniffily indignant, I am quite appalled by your willingness to persist in sin. Since you think double negatives are sneaky (bless) let me make it quite clear that I cited one instance when a one night stand might be the moral choice. You and others may have vapours over this and misrepresent it as wildly permissive, but most sensible people would think it a rather conservative statement.
            Continue to write untruths about me in the third person by all means. It just shows you as unrepentant and libellous.

  10. Thanks for this summary of the book. I have listened in some of her podcast material. I am encouraged that the Lord is raising up secular people to speak sense into poisonous secular viewpoints.

    A couple of points. Why do we speak of ‘the patriarchy’?

    I think the demise of patriarchy modelled on Christ’s love for the church is detrimental to both women and men. The idea of a man cherishing a woman seems to depend on a view that man has a responsibility to care for his wife. That he is leader also gives him a sense of duty and worth. I’d like to see more discussion of the virtues of biblical patriarchy. Of course it has been abused. What good thing hasn’t. But Perry asks us to examine the alternative and it is not a pretty picture.

    • Hello John,
      “This is one of the things that we don’t like to talk about much, but there is a reason why patriarchy is pretty much the universal norm, historically and socially.”
      Taken from this article (written, as well as a podcast) by Alastair Roberts:
      NB, It is more wide-ranging in a Biblical Theology overview than the link might otherwise suggest.

      • I read the article Geoff. Very good. Good to see someone in academia support patriarchy. To my mind it shapes marriage and church structures in the Bible. Today we argue for complementary relationships that do not involve patriarchy. It’s a mistake but it’s difficult to support patriarchy in our culture. For some reason supporting feminism is applauded while support for patriarchy is booed. Yet feminism, while ostensibly arguing for equality seems to shade into matriarchy.

        I remember reading a leading anthropologist (Mary Douglas I think) who said that there had never been a matriarchal society and every society had been patriarchal – and she had no axe to grind. Of course, our society orphans itself from the past, and steps out boldly into experimentation that as far as can be see has proved to be an utter disaster.

        I’m long enough in the tooth to remember when divorce was very rare and traditional values were commonly assumed – it was as far as I can see a better and happier world. I’m not wearing rose-coloured spectacles but women got married and had children confident their husband would be there to bring them up. Yes of course there were exceptions. There were too many men out the pubs and drunkenness was common bringing violence into homes. Yet the broad swathe of society was stable which is much more than can be said today.

        • I too am long in the tooth, John.
          If you press in further to that article, certainly on his site, there is reference and links to a series of teaching, by Alastair Roberts, hosted by Think Theology in turn hosted by Andrew Wilson. I listened to them a few years ago, when they were first put up on-line.
          AR has written and spoken extensively on the topic. I came to Ian site through AR and one of Ian’s first Festival of Theology, at which AR was a speaker. He publicised the event.
          You may be aware that AR and AW collaborated on their co-written book, Echoes of Exodus, tracing the theme from Genesis through Revelation.
          It is clear that Ian significantly, substantially, parts company, biblically, with AR and AW when it comes to ordination of women.

  11. Novelist Michel Houellebecq writes on the Sexual Revolution thusly:
    “It is interesting to note that the ‘sexual revolution’ was sometimes portrayed as a communal utopia, whereas in fact it was simply another stage in the historical rise of individualism. As the lovely word ‘household’ suggests, the couple and the family would be the last bastion of primitive communism in liberal society. The sexual revolution was to destroy these intermediary communities, the last to separate the individual from the market. The destruction continues to this day”.

    Philosopher Pascal Bruckner puts it even more succinctly: “In a commune in California, sometime in the 1960s, about forty boys and girls gathered in accord with the principles of the strictest sexual communism: forming an established couple was prohibited, partners were to be rotated, and preference based on aesthetic or cultural criteria was rejected. At the end of a year, some of the members who were obese or ugly found that they were being refused access to other members’ bedrooms and started wandering about on the veranda during the evening, begging for a bed and repeating: who wants me?”

    F Roger Devlin argues in his book Sexual Utopia that, contrary to many peoples’ assessments, the post Sexual Revolution order primarily favours women and a small number of highly successful men. Dating apps like Tinder see roughly the top 20 percent of men competing for the top 80 percent of women, which leaves the bottom 80 percent of men to compete over the bottom 20 percent of women. The Tinder economy is more unequal than 95% of national economies.

    But… We can’t go back. We are not as a society going to return to Traditional Marriage in our lifetimes. So where do we go from here?

  12. Young people are having less sex but its not because they’ve rediscovered the virtues of chastity or any similar thing. Its because they’ve checked out of the sexual marketplace altogether or settled for watching porn. 27% of men under the age of 30 now report having zero lifetime sex partners, and its not because they’re deciding to save it for marriage. This is not a positive development. Back when Traditional Marriage still existed people were having more sex than they do now. Sex is, paradoxically, everywhere but fewer and fewer people are actually doing it. Humans weren’t designed to live like this.
    The old world where you married your high school sweetheart right after graduation, started a job in the local industry, bought a suburban house with a picket fence, had 4 kids, and could afford all of that on a single income just does not exist anymore. The Church has already accepted dating culture, “marriage for love”, no fault divorce, usury, mass immigration, feminism, economies where home ownership is out of reach, and a job market that requires massive student loan debt and years of schooling just to obtain a liveable career. With all that in place how are we supposed to go back to Traditional Marriage?

    I maintain that every Christian needs to read Houellebecq’s novels. At the very least everyone who is in ministry and wants to comment on the subject of sex should read him. The Elementary Particles (where the passage I quoted was taken from), Whatever, and Submission are especially relevant.

    • I’ve read Submission and although it contains sex scenes it is not about that, and they add nothing to it. What it *is* about is deeply sobering.

  13. Sex/marriage/relationships isn’t the main theme of Submission but it does touch on it and have some important insights. I probably should have mentioned Platform instead of Submission but that one is…a tough read. You need to be prepared for that one.


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