If someone were to ask you, “Have you heard of the sexual revolution of the sixties?” You would probably quickly answer, “Yes”. However, on the question of assessing the aftermath of the sexual liberation, some fifty years later, that surely would entail a more detailed and thoughtful response. Mary Eberstadt in her recent book, Adam and Eve after the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, provides the social research that examines how our lives after the sexual revolution were profoundly changed as we redefined our view of the human person, sexuality and the family. Ironically, most of the progressive rhetoric of the times ushered in societal changes that have turned out to be false: it's the subtitle of the book.
The sexual revolution has generally been accepted, in both Canada and America, as a social and sexual change that has improved the “quality of life” and given us more freedom. The author dispels this myth by making her thesis clear in the Introduction: “It is the contention of this book that such benign renditions of the sexual revolution are wrong. That is to say they are critically incomplete when measured against the weight of the evidence before us.” And the author goes on to present a great deal of research evidence for her position.
Eberstadt goes on to write, “First and contrary to conventional depiction, the sexual revolution has proved a disaster for many men and women; and second, its weight has fallen heaviest on the smallest and weakest shoulders in society.” The “weakest shoulders” of course are the children whose lives were never really considered, but most affected by the social changes. This "society or government knows best" approach is the same kind of thing happening as the province of Ontario embarks on its misguided All-day Kindergarten. The book begins by giving many reasons why we in the Western world are in denial about the negative consequences brought to society by such a permissive sexual culture. We seem to overlook the empirical evidence on this issue and rely on myths and the will to believe what we choose to believe.
The thesis is supported with every topic developed in each chapter. The author dedicates two chapters on the affects the sexual revolution had on men and women in contrast to what they really wanted and needed. Eberstadt has separate chapters on the affects on children, teenagers and young adults attending university. One chapter is about food becoming a new sexual obsession and another on the wide societal acceptance with the consumption of pornography in much the same way tobacco was once viewed, by and large as harmless. This has turned out to a lie. The book ends with evidence supporting the warnings given to humanity by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. This last chapter alone is worth the price of Adam and Eve after the Pill.
If Western society and the rest of the world widely accepted contraception, the 1968 encyclical predicted that a number of other social changes would also occur: “a general lowering of moral standards; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.” (Page 136)
Sadly, all these predictions have come true. There has been a monumental increase in the number of abortions since the publication of Humanae Vitae. In Canada, we now also have the present push for the legal recognition of euthanasia and assisted-suicide. Eberstadt makes the case that if we were honest with ourselves we would recognize this as the result of a contraceptive mentality, which no longer sees life as a sacred gift that must be protected from conception to natural death. If we cannot respect and protect the innocent life of the unborn, how can we then claim to respect and protect life at any other stage? People become expendable and turn into objects of pleasure. In addition, and of course, the family too has undergone changes which have weakened it. The traditional family, with a related biological mother and father, that was seen as crucially important to the well-being of children, has now been replaced by numerous arrangements that are politically constructed "family structures" and these have become legally recognized.
Pope Paul VI was morally right. Wide contraceptive use has meant that in marriage, the welcoming and raising of children is no longer the prime reason for the union and so other social unions have become equally valid. We have seen how same-sex “marriages” have over the years become legal in many countries. We have seen how the United Nations has managed to export abortion to almost every nation under the deceptive words of “reproductive rights”, “human rights” and “a woman’s right to choose". We have seen how China has adopted the one child policy and how the new technologies are abused in order to coercively enforce it. As well, the new technologies have lead to more girls being aborted and countless unused embryos discarded with little thought that a human being is being killed. The contraceptive mentality has shaped our very living and thinking. The Pill has allowed us to abort our conscience.
The central question that Eberstadt raises is this: Did the new sexual freedom make society a better place for children, for women and for men? Her answer is the book itself, and it’s a definite, no. Why? Because too many families continue to be affected today by the changes ushered in by the sexual revolution: increased divorce, more single parent families, more abortions, higher cohabitation rates, more marital infidelity, widespread pornography and more suffering and dysfunctional children.
According to the author, we permit these things to go on because we are all in denial that the problem is there and that there’s a cost to society. We have come to accept it for fear of offending a brother or a sister or a friend who is divorced, re-married, cohabitating or living with a same-sex partner. We rationalize away the immoral behavior by saying to ourselves that everybody else is doing it so it must be acceptable.
Eberstadt sums up her main ideas in the Epilogue: “the sexual revolution has made many people happy in this specific and profound sense: It has freed the modern consumers of contraceptives from the natural consequence of their sexual behavior.” The book has much evidence to support this claim. We are all affected in one way or another by the sexual revolution since, “Every family in America (add Canada) has now been shaped by one or more of its facets—divorce, single parenthood, abortion, cohabitation, widespread pornography, open homosexuality. This fact that we are all in this together also gives people a powerful reason to deny the true costs.” (Pages 159-160)
Lastly, here’s the greatest social downside to our freed sexuality, “and there remain the children who have faced, and continue to face, all manner of high risks in their lives because the sexual revolution helped to disrupt their lives or to empower adults with sinister designs on them.” This could “turn out to be the grandest and least understood human experiment of out time.” (Page 161) Let’s hope that we come to our senses soon and reverse the catastrophic social consequences of this failed experiment. We owe it to our children, but more so to our Creator to do so.