Beginning in the late sixties and early seventies, the central aims of the advancing Sexual Revolution were to separate intimacy from sex and repudiate the older system of sexual morality supplied, in large part, by the religious traditions of the West. The leading architects of the Sexual Revolution assumed that sexual pleasure could be grouped with other pleasures of the sensory kind, such one might obtain from a hot bath, a taste of sugar, or the savory smell of bacon. The sexual act was to be understood not metaphysically or spiritually but as something whose true object or purpose is sensory or physical pleasure. However, to aggregate these distinct human pleasures is to be mistaken. Sexual pleasure in humans is unique because it is a directed pleasure—akin, in this sense, to the pleasure a parent may feel watching their child frisk in a playground. The other is the object of desire: sexual pleasure is focused upon another person, conceived not as an object but as an estimable and accountable subject. Hence when we encounter forms of sexuality that regard the other as an object—including rape, necrophilia, bestiality, etc.—we are disgusted and consider them as perverted or forms of abuse. Prostitution and sex work (as well as OnlyFans) can be included under this umbrella, too, since the prostitute is not the object of her client's desire but a commodity that satisfies his need (and this is even more obvious in regards to OnlyFans). A commodity is fungible—it can be substituted by anything else that will equally “do the trick.” For the prostitute to desire her client, it would require her to become aware of her replaceability—the fact that she, as a commodity, is not desired. Thus the prostitute must refrain from desiring her client or fabricate for herself a sexual fantasy where she is indeed the object of desire. It might be said, then, that human sexual pleasure is contingent on finding pleasure not over or about the other but in the other. Hence there can also be mistaken sexual pleasure that results from error or deception. As Roger Scruton analogizes in his insightful book On Human Nature, a woman engaging in sexual intercourse with whom she mistakenly perceives as her husband will have her pleasure turn quickly to disgust when she flips on the lights and realizes that the person in bed with her is not the man she married. Sexual pleasure can no more be detached from its particular circumstances than you can detach fear from an impending danger.
But if sex is just a matter of sensory pleasure, as the modern consensus suggests, then the freedom to enjoy it becomes the default moral position. Sexual pleasure becomes innocent and amoral; as such, any attempt to prevent or regulate its enjoyment becomes a gross infringement upon individual freedom. My pleasures are mine, and if you are forbidding my pursuit of pleasure you are also oppressing me. This idea of sexual liberation was inspired in part by psychologist Sigmund Freud's theory of repression, according to which sexual desire expresses itself as a kind of hydraulic force, bursting out in surprising places unless “repressed” by the superego (a term in Freudian psychoanalysis that refers to the part of the mind that acts as a self-critical conscience and provides the moral standards by which the ego operates). This notion led to a completely new vision of sexual behavior which framed sex as an act that supported the release of desires emerging from the “real me” inside. To release those desires is to produce an innocent and localized pleasure. To repress them is to “bottle up” urges that become dangerous when restrained and not permitted to flow unimpeded. To deny their release is to repress them, and repression of my sexual urge is also the oppression of me. Whereas leftism historically sought the liberation of particular social groups from oppressive power imbalances and institutional structures so they may experience new and more creative ways of being, its claim to sexual liberation is incredibly narcissistic. An aggressively secular and self-centered modern leftist coalition focuses increasingly on the liberation of self—the liberation of me and my desires.
Conceived in sacred terms, on the contrary, sexuality, erotic love, and sexual union do not concern me and my pleasure, but you and our commitment. The ancient moral code usurped by the new morality of the Sexual Revolution was not a system of arbitrary limits and constraints. Instead, it enabled our sexual impulse to be channeled into love, marriage, and monogamy, not only for the sake of the partners but perhaps even more for the benefit of the unborn generation that would be the long-term result of the union. These traditional and religious ideas on sexual morality have always hampered the furthering of the modern leftist agenda. Children, it was recognized, naturally associate sex with shame, hesitation, and disgust. Hence why proponents of sexual liberation today advocate a new kind of “sexual education” in schools, which teaches children that shame is a negative emotion to be overcome at all costs. Children are inculcated in the virtue of tolerance and advised not to judge any forms of sexual expression no matter how atypical or repugnant. Perhaps above all, and this draws on the work of Freud, children are advised that all sexual activity is healthy—an innocent and innocuous release of tensions that might otherwise be repressed and dangerous. In light of this, it is no surprise that much of the modern left’s agenda is downstream from sexual liberation. Gay marriage, for instance, was introduced by its advocates not to incorporate homosexuals into the institution that channels sexual desire into love and commitment but as a way to deconstruct marriage and render it no more than a contract for the use of pleasures. Hence while there is so much emphasis on broadening our understanding of what constitutes marriage both socially and legally, there is no one in society fighting on behalf of marriage—marriage today is in utter disarray, as marriage rates plunge across the board. We claim the right to marry without also cultivating a favorable environment for stable and healthy marriages.
Nevertheless, the effects of our rejection of the older system of sexual morality are accumulating so rapidly that they cannot be ignored. It culminates in awkward and indeterminate reactions to feelings and sensations that the new sexual morality cannot accommodate or explain. Whereas the sexual morality of antiquity told us that the sexual act is an interpersonal experience for which participants can be held accountable and which we understand finally as a gift, the new form of morality regards sex purely as an act that serves to gratify the appetites of participants. The result is hysteria and confusion in the mind of the woman who sleeps around, wondering to herself why she cannot find concrete fulfillment. The insufficiency of the new sexual morality lends itself also to explain the unceasing effort to normalize this and normalize that, which is ever more clearly an attempt to offload feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment that are inextricable with the sexual act. The new form of sexual morality is wholly inadequate to deal with our sexual emotions. In summary, sexual pleasure is a directed pleasure, and the sexual act an interpersonal experience, not at all like the Freudian image of an uncontrollable hydraulic force. The sexual act hinges entirely on the mutual self-giving of the partners and must be oriented selflessly and toward the other if it is to be legitimate. Considering all that I have argued, it is no coincidence that devoutly religious couples report having better sex lives than their secular counterparts.