This is the book that every Christian pastor should read if they’re dealing with anyone under the age of 75. And yet, it is probably the book that no Christian pastor would want to read. Louise Perry exposes some very dark aspects of the sexual revolution. It’s not titillating in any way, but it certainly describes some nasty things that people do to each other. Unfortunately, pastors should probably have some awareness of them.

Louise Perry exposes some very dark aspects of the sexual revolution.

She begins with a brief account of her personal story,

As a younger woman, I held the same political opinions as most other millennial urban graduates in the West—In other words, I conformed to the beliefs of my class, including the liberal feminist ideas about porn, BDSM, hookup culture, evolutionary psychology, and the sex trade, which will all be addressed in this book. I let go of these beliefs because of my own life experiences, including a period immediately after university spent working at a rape crisis centre. If the old quip tells us that a “conservative is just a liberal who has been mugged by reality,” then I suppose, at least in my case, that a post-liberal feminist is just a liberal feminist who has witnessed the reality of male violence up close.

The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century

The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century

Polity Cambridge. 200.
Polity Cambridge. 200.

A History of Violence

Perry then walks us through the last 50 or so years of the sexual revolution. She tallies up the damage done to women—especially young, or poor, or uneducated women—and shows how feminism has failed to help. Neither liberal feminism, striving for freedom, nor radical feminism, dreaming of utopia, can help.

Perry’s own concerns are much more sober:

How can we best promote the well-being of both men and women, given that these two groups have different sets of interests, which are sometimes in tension? (10).

To explain these differences and tensions, Perry provides a chapter on the physical differences between men and women—particularly the overwhelming imbalance of strength between the sexes. She reminds us that 98 to 99% of convicted sexual offenders are male (37) and urges women to consider what this might mean for their decisions about dress and intoxicants:

If you wanted to design the perfect environment for the would-be rapist, then you couldn’t do much better than a party or nightclub filled with young women who are wearing high heels (limited mobility) and drinking or taking drugs (limited awareness)… So my advice to young women has to be this: avoid putting yourself in a situation where you are alone with a man you don’t know or a man who gives you a bad feeling in your gut. He is almost certainly stronger and faster than you, which means that the only thing standing between you and rape is that man’s self-control. (43)

Perry has a disturbing chapter where she argues that “some sexual desires are bad” (the fact that she has to argue this is in itself troubling). Responding to those who say that there is no such thing as sexual morality, she argues that sexual codes do not necessarily “progress” and that some things are simply wrong. She gives the example of Jimmy Savile (the UK television presenter who died in 2011), who was posthumously discovered to have raped or sexually assaulted up to a thousand girls and boys. Sexual desires like those need to be repressed.

Conversely, she argues, some traditional behaviours need to be recovered:

The word chivalry is now deeply unfashionable, but it describes something of what I’m calling for … Chivalrous social codes that encourage male protectiveness towards women are routinely read from an egalitarian perspective as condescending and sexist. But … the cross-culturally well-documented greater male physical strength and propensity for violence makes such codes of chivalry overwhelmingly advantageous to women, and their abolition in the name of feminism deeply unwise. (68-69).

Perry discusses, at some length, the attempt by feminist writers to disenchant sex and hence make it no different to any other activity. She observes the way modern commentators serve men’s interests by failing to consider the inevitable bonding and emotional involvement that women experience as a result of sex:

Today’s young women are typically unaware that men are, in general, much better suited to emotionless sex and find it much easier to regard their sexual partners as disposable. Ignorant of this fact, women can all too easily fail to recognise that being desired is not at all the same thing as being held in high esteem. (84)

Similar patterns crop up around pornography. Perry concentrates on the effects of this industry on the young women caught up in it—how their lives are systematically degraded and destroyed, though they technically give consent to what’s happening to them.

Yet, as she notes, pornography harms everyone. It models dangerous and abusive patterns (such as strangling) and trains both men and women to objectify sexual relations:

Porn trains of mind to regard sex as a spectator sport, to be enjoyed alone and in front of a screen. It removes love and mutuality from sex, turning human beings … into body parts. (113)

Feminists Out of Touch

Perry saves her harshest criticism for educated feminists who hold up prostitution as female empowerment.

Perry saves her harshest criticism for educated feminists who hold up prostitution as female empowerment. This, Perry shows, is a view that is totally out of touch with the lived reality of the (mostly impoverished) women who attempt to survive in the industry.

This too, however, is a feature of feminism’s determination to disenchant sex—to regard it as a prosaic activity like every other. But Perry points out that feminism cannot afford to be consistent here:

If we try and pretend that sex has no special value that makes it different from other acts, then we end up in some very dark places. If sex isn’t worthy of its own moral category, then nor is sexual harassment or rape. (160)

Cheering on Marriage

In her most surprising—even radical—chapters, Perry commends traditional marriage, detailing how its decline has hurt women.

Now, of those Americans in the top third income, 64% are in an intact marriage, meaning they have only married once and are still in their first marriage. In contrast, only 24% of Americans in the lower third income are in intact marriages. … What’s more between a third and a half of divorced people in the UK report in surveys that they regret their decision to divorce? (164)

Divorce is worse for women, particularly for children, says Perry, forcing them to turn to the State as a backup husband. Neither liberal or radical feminists have any answer for how women are supposed continue their search for freedom in such circumstances (172).

Flinching in the Face of Truth

I lost count of how many times I highlighted quotable quotes in this book. It provides a powerfully argued and carefully researched account of the sexual revolution and its dire effects for so many women. It makes plain how the desire for “freedom” has taken our culture into many dark places.

But The Case Against the Sexual Revolution is much better at diagnosing the ills than prescribing solutions. Without recourse to a good God who calls us to love (and who warns that we will be held accountable for our abuses; e.g. Mal 2:16), Perry finds it hard to explain why men should cultivate chivalry, or how they can turn away from pornography, or what might motivate them to give up their freedom by committing to marriage.

Even as she draws closer and closer to the Christian ethic; even as she recognises that Christianity has sometimes prompted people to undertake heroic actions for the same of women (136), Perry labours to distance herself from it:

Reverting to traditionalism doesn’t solve the problem. Although I reject the chronological snobbery of progressivism that dismisses the dead as stupid and malevolent, the world we live in now is very far removed from the world in which the ancient religious codes were formulated. Our ancestors were confronted with material conditions that are wildly different from our own. They had no reliable contraception, lived in smaller and less complex societies, experienced very high birth and death rates, and by necessity so starkly different social and economic roles to men and women. Imitating the past cannot teach us how to live in the 21st century. (65)

Perry can see the problems and where our cherished “freedom” has led us. The powerful abuse their privileges. The weak and the poor are exploited. Many of our desires are damaging or outright evil. Perry can see and feel the damage these things do, and her common sense—under the sway of common grace—helps her to trace the outlines of a better way. But she cannot bring herself to acknowledge the One who created sex; who declares that women are made in his image and must be treated with respect; who says that there is a right way to live after all.