Morals: The Second Sexual Revolution

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sex, insisting that the primary purpose of the sexual act as ordained by God is procreation. It never considered the flesh to be in trinsically evil. But for a thousand years, the Church was deeply influenced by the views of St. Augustine, a profligate in his youth and a moralist in middle age, who held that even within marriage, sex and its pleasures were dangerous—a necessary evil for the begetting of children. Gradually, partly under the influence of the Reformation, which denied the "higher value" of celibacy, Christianity began to move away from this austere Augustinian view, and toward an acceptance of pleasure in sex as a positive good.

In 1951, Pope Pius XII still warned against un-Christian hedonism, but reaffirmed it was right that "husband and wife shall find pleasure and happiness of mind and body." Today, says Father John Thomas, noted Roman Catholic sociologist, "what is needed is a whole new attitude by the church toward sexuality. There is in both Catholicism and Protestantism a relatively well-developed theology of sex on the negative side. Now more than prohibition is needed."

The Protestant churches have indeed gone far beyond prohibition through their wide approval of birth control not only as an aid in sensible family planning but, in the words of the Anglican bishops at the 1958 Lambeth conference, as a "gate to a new depth and joy in personal relationships between husband and wife." Ironically, it is Communism, having long ago silenced all its bold talk about "free love," which may be the most puritanical force in the world today. In 1984, George Orwell attributed the old Victorian code to his fictional dictatorship: "goodsex" was marital intercourse without pleasure on the part of the woman, "sexcrime" was everything else.

Search for Codes. A great many Americans—probably the majority—live by the old religious morality. Or at least they try to; they may practice what Max Lerner describes as "patterned evasion," a heavy but charitable way of saying that to keep society going people must be free, up to a point, not to practice what they profess.

Many others now live by what State University of Iowa Sociologist Ira Reiss calls "permissiveness with affection." What this means to most people is that: 1) morals are a private affair; 2) being in love justifies premarital sex, and by implication perhaps extramarital sex; 3) nothing really is wrong as long as nobody else "gets hurt."

This happens to be reminiscent of the moral code expressed in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, otherwise known as Fanny Hill, the celebrated 18th century pornographic novel now freely available in the U.S. One of the principals "considered pleasure, of one sort or another, as the universal port of destination, and every wind that blew thither a good one, provided it blew nobody any harm."

No Absolutes. One trouble with this very humane-sounding principle is that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to know what, in the long run, will hurt others and what won't. Thus, in spite of what may often appear to be a sincere concern for others, it remains an essentially self-centered code. In his categorical imperative, Kant set down the opposite standard, a variation of the Golden Rule: Judge your every action as if it were

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