Morals: The Second Sexual Revolution

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"insanity" is among the great mysteries and challenges of the Christian tradition—the belief that sex is not only the force by which man perpetuates himself on God's earth but also the symbol of his fall, and that it can be sanctified only in the sacrament of marriage.

The original American Puritans understood passion as well as human frailty: in Plymouth in the 1670s, while ordinary fornicators were fined £10, those who were engaged had to pay only half the fine. But a fatal fact about Puritanism, which led to its ever-increasing narrowness and decline, was its conviction that virtue could be legislated by the community, that human perfection could be organized on earth.

What the first sexual revolution in the U.S. attacked was not original Puritanism so much as its Victorian version—which had become a matter of prudery more than of purity, propriety more than of grace. The 19th century frantically insisted on propriety precisely because it felt its real faith and ethics disappearing. While it feared nudity like a plague, Victorian Puritanism had the effect of an all-covering gown that only inflames the imagination. By insisting on suppressing the sex instinct in everything, the age betrayed the fact that it really saw that instinct in everything. So, too, with Sigmund Freud, Victorianism's most perfect rebel.

Romantic Revolt. Freudian psychology, or its popularized version, became one of the chief forces that combined against Puritanism. Gradually, the belief spread that repression, not license, was the great evil, and that sexual matters belonged in the realm of science, not morals. A second force was the New Woman, who swept aside the Victorian double standard, which was partly based on the almost universally held notion that women—or at any rate, ladies—did not enjoy sex. One eminent doctor said it was a "foul aspersion" on women to say they did. The celebrated 2nd century Physician Galen was (and is) often incompletely quoted to the effect that "every animal is sad after coitus." Actually, as Kinsey pointed out, he had added the qualification, "except the human female and the rooster." Siding with Galen, women claimed not only the right to work and to vote, but the even more important right to pleasure.

These two allies against Puritanism seemed to be joined by Eros in person. The cult of romantic passion, with its assertion that true love could exist only outside marriage, had first challenged Christianity in the 12th century; some consider it an uprising of the old paganism long ago driven underground by the church. From Tristan on, romance shaped the great literary myths of the West and became a kind of secular religion. Christianity learned to coexist with it.

But in the early 20th century, the religion of romance appeared in a new form, and its troubadour was D. H. Lawrence. Until then, it had been tinged by the polite and melancholy suggestion that desire, not fulfillment, was the best part of love. Lawrence countered vehemently that fulfillment is everything, that sex is the one great, true thing in life. More explicitly than anyone before him, he sentimentalized the orgasm, in whose "final massive and dark collision of the blood" he saw man's apotheosis and fusion with the divine.

Beyond Prohibition. Christianity does not share this mystique of

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