A few days ago I attended the debate on the sexual revolution organized by FIRE and the Free press. Anna Khachiyan and Louise Perry on one side of the debate, Grimes and Sarah Haider on the other. Moderated by Bari Weiss. Great event overall. The debaters brought their unique personalities and styles to the stage. Each side had a debate that they argued more acutely and considered for their side (Louise Perry, who argued that the revolution failed; Sarah Haider, who argued that it succeeded), and a debate that adopted a more intuitive and less solemn approach (Anna Khachiyan who argued that the revolution failed; Grimes who argued that it succeeded). This introduced some variety and texture and levity into what could have been a dry discussion. When Grimes spoke, he reminded me of another musical genius, Kanye West, in some of his interviews. Stream of consciousness style delivery, verbal overload interspersed with surreal and mesmerizing moments of brilliance.
Tim Dillon gave the opening act before the debate. I’ve heard of him, but never heard his stance. That was great – I’ll check out more of his stuff. I’ve also never listened to an episode of the Red Scare podcast, but Anna Khachiyan was so funny that I decided to subscribe.
At the outset, before the debate, Bari Weiss asked attendees to vote “yes” or “no” on their phones. Forty-four percent of the audience voted “no,” indicating that they believed the sexual revolution failed; 56% voted “yes” indicating that they believed the revolution was successful.
At the end of the event, after the debaters presented their arguments, the results went in the opposite direction, with “no” (the sexual revolution did not fail) winning.
Personally, I voted “no” both times.
The sexual revolution obviously achieved its goal: more freedom.
The answer to the description of the debate (“The sexual revolution promised liberation. Fifty years later, we wonder: has it been fulfilled?”) is obviously yes.
But the reason a debate makes sense is because many people conflate liberation (freedom) with happiness.
The revolution has undoubtedly increased freedom. But it also made people less happy. Many people, however, predicted that greater freedom would necessarily lead to greater happiness.
Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way.
We can’t have everything right at once. We can have some good things, but we can’t have all the good things at the same time.
Equally desirable ends often collide. Equally valued goals regularly contradict each other.
Many intelligent people believe that all good things can conspire towards a final harmonious resolution. Freedom is good. Happiness is good. Naturally, we think (or hope) that these and all other values naturally go together. But they don’t.
The British philosopher Isaiah Berlin repeatedly emphasized this point:
“The optimistic view … that all good things must be compatible, and that therefore freedom, order, knowledge, happiness … must at least be compatible, and perhaps even imply -each other in a systematic way… is obviously not true… Indeed, it is perhaps one of the least plausible beliefs ever held by profound and influential thinkers.”
Life is full of trade-offs. Things equally good and desirable cannot be harmonized.
Louise Perry alluded to this during the debate when she quoted economic historian Richard Henry Tawney: “Liberty for the pike is death for the small.”
Isaiah Berlin has also written that “Both freedom and equality are among the main goals pursued by human beings throughout many centuries; but the total freedom of the wolves is the death of the lambs”.
If you value freedom, that’s fine. But it has costs. Today’s women are freer than their grandmothers. But they are less happy.
Researchers have described this as “the paradox of declining female happiness.”
Before the sexual revolution, women reported higher levels of happiness than men. By and large, our grandmothers were happier than our grandfathers. Over the past few decades, however, this has been reversed. Men are now happier than women. To be clear, overall happiness has declined for both men and women. Men are less happy than their grandparents; women are less happy than their grandmothers.
But relatively speaking, men now report higher rates of happiness than women.
The sexual revolution and its accompanying effect of greater acceptance of casual sex have played a role in this.
A recent to study found that after casual sex, women, on average, report high levels of loneliness, unhappiness, rejection, and regret. Conversely, men report greater satisfaction, happiness, contentment and improved mood.
Another study found that women are more likely to be sexually satisfied in a long-term committed relationship.
Here’s the orgasm rates for women, according to the type of relationship:
Most recent connection, no previous connections with this partner: 11%
Most recent connection, 1 or 2 previous connections with this partner: 16%
Most recent connection, more than 3 previous connections: 34%
Most recent sexual event in a relationship of more than 6 months: 67%
I haven’t seen data on this, but I’m pretty sure male orgasm rates wouldn’t vary much by relationship type. Although more and more men (and probably women too) are having orgasms on their own. Another (unwanted) side effect of the sexual revolution.
So what is more important: happiness or freedom?
For adults, freedom. It is better for people to have the ability to make poor choices than to have no choice at all. Alongside this freedom, however, people are clearly pressured by cultural elites to behave in a certain way. Obviously, you are free marry young and start a family. But for many young people, you will most likely be scolded and teased and told that you would be better off playing the field and having a variety of different sexual partners before settling down. This has become the default setting and you have to be an unusually determined person to overcome peer pressure and societal messages. You are free to do whatever you want, but invisible forces around you are influencing you to avoid serious commitment.
But children lack the maturity to make good decisions, so for children happiness is more important than freedom.
So what is more important, happiness for children or freedom for adults? Our society has decided and there is no going back.
In the debate, much attention was devoted to debating the impact of the sexual revolution on men and women, whether the revolution failed women, or men, or helped men more than women, or women more than the men. No one asked if the sexual revolution failed children. People already know the answer.
The sexual revolution gave rise to new laws and cultural norms that made divorce and remarriage easier. This was not without cost.
The closest person to talk about how children’s lives have changed as a result of the revolution was Anna Khachiyan, who mentioned the Cinderella effect.
Children living with one genetic parent and one stepparent are approximately 40 times more likely to experience abuse than children living with both genetic parents. This higher rate occurs even when controlling for poverty and socioeconomic status.
Relative to Baby Boomers, who were raised in intact families by the older, quieter generations, Generation Z and Millennials, who were raised by divorced Boomers and Gen Xers. twice likely had 4 or more adverse childhood experiences before age 18 (eg, abuse, neglect, severe domestic dysfunction).
Another study found that while only 4% of daughters who grew up with their biological father had been abused by him, 17% of daughters who grew up with a stepfather had suffered mistreated for him. In addition, the types of abuse committed by stepfathers were more severe and violent.
Between 1950 and 1995, suicide fee among teenagers aged fifteen to nineteen more than quadrupled.
If the US had the same level of family stability today, as in 1960, the country would have 750,000 fewer children repeating grades, 500,000 fewer acts of juvenile delinquency, 600,000 fewer children receiving therapy, 70,000 fewer suicide attempts each year.
From a long article about the changes in the family structure The Atlantic:
“If you want to summarize the changes in the family structure throughout the last century, the most true is this: we have made life freer for people and more unstable for families. We have made life better for adults but worse for children.”
In The body keeps scorepsychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk estimates that the costs of child abuse exceed those of cancer or heart disease, and that eradicating child abuse would cut depression by more than half, alcoholism by two-thirds, and suicide, intravenous and domestic drug use. violence in three quarters.
We sacrificed the happiness of children for the freedom of adults. And since every adult starts out as a child and carries their experiences with them, we will live with the consequences.
The supporters of the sexual revolution won. Both in society and in the debate (51% to 49%).
Still, my impression is that for many people, it’s hard to take a W when it feels as much as an L.