|Author Louise Perry|
Here’s some advice for your daughter and mine as they reach sexual maturity:
· Hold off from having sex with a new boyfriend for several months.
· Don’t use dating apps.
· Monogamous marriage is by far the most stable foundation on which to build a family.
· Run a mile from any man who is turned on by violence.
These are just some of the conclusions reached by Louise Perry in her disturbing, riveting book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution (A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century).
A journalist who writes for both the right-wing Daily Mail and the left-wing New Statesman, and a former rape crisis centre worker, Perry is one of several fresh feminist voices (Nina Power and Mary Harrington being others), who brave the hostility of their progressive sisters by acknowledging that men and women are different, that the differences matter, and that unbridled sexual liberation might not be the road to utopia.
Superficially, women are more liberated than their forbears, but are they happier? As you might have noticed, mounting evidence suggests not. Perry blames the supposedly liberating forces unleashed by second wave feminism. The book is counter-cultural; its punchy chapter titles have such an old-school flavour that they appear bracingly cutting-edge:
1. Sex Must Be Taken Seriously
2. Men and Women Are Different
3. Some Desires Are Bad
4. Loveless Sex Is Not Empowering
5. Consent Is Not Enough
6. Violence Is Not Love
7. People Are Not Products
8. Marriage Is Good
Conclusion: Listen to Your Mother
Perry argues that the liberation of sexual behaviour that came about through the contraceptive pill, legal abortion and the Divorce Reform Act has benefitted men (though only high-status ones, and only superficially) by providing greater opportunities for no-strings sex. But there have been negative, unintended consequences. As Perry’s grandmother puts it: ‘Women have been conned’.
While the pill has ostensibly liberated women, it has led to more single mothers. The pill is apparently not as reliable as is widely assumed (100 women taking it will get pregnant in a year.) But with legal abortion as a back-up, it has killed off the shotgun wedding.
“When motherhood became a biological choice for women, fatherhood became a social choice for men.”
Nor does the state adequately compensate. It doesn’t supply the love and emotional support of a father, and in many cases doesn’t even supply the cash. In the UK, less than two thirds of non-resident parents (most of them fathers) are paying child maintenance in full. (Perry doesn’t mention an additional, systemic flaw in the Child Maintenance Service, which is that it provides a financial incentive for mothers to reduce the number of nights a child stays with their father to zero.)
The sexual revolution has attempted to sever sex from emotion, a process of ‘sexual disenchantment’. But this appears to be impossible for women in particular. Forget Sex and the City – the evidence shows that casual sex makes women miserable. Despite attempts by some magazines to advise women on how not to ‘catch feelings’ (Don’t look him in the eye! Take methamphetamines! Think about someone else!), it seems that sex is a deeply emotional experience after all. Most of us know this instinctively, but there are profound cultural pressures that want you to think otherwise.
One of these comes from pornography, which emerges as the book’s chief villain. The explosion of online porn is rendering men incapable of the real thing. Erectile dysfunction now affects between 14 and 35 per cent of young men, compared to two or three per cent at the start of the century.
Men appear to be catching some dangerous kinks from porn, which young women feel pressured to indulge, hence the increase in injuries and deaths from choking during sex.
And while a minority of women might make a morally dubious living from OnlyFans, the vast majority of those who attempt it end up with a measly handful of followers for hours of wasted effort, having jeopardised any future long-term relationship with a man. Despite our supposedly relaxed sexual mores, apparently men don’t tend to marry former sex workers. Who knew?
It might be some consolation if the proliferation of porn, the erosion of marriage and the ubiquity of dating apps meant we’re having more fun, but no. Not only are we staring down the barrel of an economic recession, we’ve been living through a sex recession for years.
“Put simply, the porn generation are having less sex, and the sex they are having is also worse: less intimate, less satisfying and less meaningful”.
And more dangerous. As well as the more violent elements of porn culture creeping into the bedroom, the liberal feminist notion that sex differences are trivial has also put women in danger. It’s easy to forget, if you work in an office, how much men and women differ physically. Perry puts it bluntly: “Almost all men can kill almost all women with their bare hands, but not vice versa. And that matters.”
(I’ve seen disturbing evidence of the failure to grasp this fact. Teaching at a school in a deprived part of the country not long ago, I had to intervene to prevent male pupils physically assaulting girls – slapping their faces, grabbing them by the neck. What shocked me was that the girls complained when these boys were punished for their violent acts. Is violent attention from a boy really better than no attention? Or, raised on a diet of kick-ass superheroines and fatuous bromides about gender equality, are today’s girls dangerously oblivious to the physical inequality of the sexes?)
You might think the solution to male violence is to teach boys to respect women, and remind them not to rape. But while Perry sees some utility in consent workshops, they are an inadequate means to tackle male violence. The problem is that while most men are not by temperament potential rapists, some are (the psychological consensus puts this at about 10 per cent), and these men don’t care what feminists have to say.
“Posters that say ‘don’t rape’ will prevent precisely zero rapes, because rape is already illegal, and would-be rapists know that. We can scream ‘don’t rape’ until we’re blue in the face, and it won’t make a blind bit of difference.”
The solution is to reduce opportunities for potential rapists. And that, sadly, means that some women might need to moderate their behaviour.
And yet the advice from popular culture is for women to act recklessly. Perry cites an astonishingly idiotic piece of advice from Dolly Alderton, responding to a letter in the Sunday Times by a woman concerned that she was drawn to misogynistic men.
Instead of advising her to give such men a wide berth, Alderton encouraged her to seek them out.
“You need a kind, chill, respectful boyfriend in the streets and a filthy pervert in the sheets. They do exist. I hope you have fun finding one.”
If liberal feminists such as Alderton underestimate the dangers of the darker side of male sexuality, their second-wave forbears underestimated the protective function of marriage. In characterising marriage as a tool of patriarchal oppression, they appear to have scored a whopping own goal. It is no coincidence that the most influential of the second wavers were childless, and had little to say about motherhood. Those who came before them, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, recognised that men had a higher sex drive, and therefore a responsibility to contain themselves. ‘Votes for women, chastity for men’ is a suffragist slogan we seem to have forgotten.
“A monogamous marriage system is successful in part because it pushes men away from cad mode,” writes Perry. “A society composed of tamed men is a better society to live in, for men, for women and for children.”
How did we get to the point that we could forget such obvious, empirically proven truths as this? I suspect that part of the trouble might be the teaching of history as a process of liberation. Perry’s book prompted me to revisit Douglas Murray’s interview with Steven Edgington, in which he skewers this reading of history.
“There’s a deep underlying fallacy,” says Murray, ‘Which is the narrative of history as a narrative of emancipation. So that the story of our species is one of getting freer and freer. When we were in caves, trans people had the misfortune of not having access to clinics, and the gay cavemen just didn’t have anywhere to hang out, and the cavewomen who wanted to hunt just weren’t allowed – they were held back from hunting. And happily, over a certain period of time, all these wrongs have been righted, and now there may be just a few more things to free up, and then we are in nirvana.”
I recognise this fallacy from certain teaching resources, in which, for instance, Lady Macbeth’s repudiation of her womanhood can be spun as some kind of feisty feminist statement, rather than a grievous crime against nature.
A mature reading of history is that moral progress is not inevitable, that technological innovations have unforeseen negative consequences, and that freedom often has a price. It’s impossible to read Perry’s work and not wonder if more freedom in sexual matters might do us more harm than good. The author’s primary concern is the well-being of women, but the trends she identifies make me worry just as much for my son. Some thoughts on what young men can do to navigate the dating environment with dignity would have made for a more rounded book.
Older readers might be asking why we need a new book to point out what your mother could have told you. Because yet another dumb thing about modern culture is the way we dismiss the wisdom of our elders. Older women are ‘Karens’ who are told to ‘educate’ themselves. We nod along to the apocalyptic rantings of Greta Thunberg, even teaching them in schools as models of fine rhetoric. Mature women who know that biological sex is real, and say so, are pilloried as ‘Terfs’. The young dismiss the advice of their grandparents – ‘Okay, Boomer’.
But how is this attitude working out for a generation beset by rising levels of anxiety, depression and self-harm?
There is now a heart-breaking tendency for young women to try to mother themselves. Perry cites a viral TikTok video by a young American woman, Abby, who pulls up images of herself as a child and asks, ‘Would I let her be a late-night, drunk second option? Would I let this happen to her?’
Abby is trying to mother herself, and the thousands of tearful, grateful replies to the video suggest many other young women want to do the same.
Perry concludes, “They’ve been denied the guidance of mothers, not because their actual mothers are unwilling to offer it but because of the matricidal impulse in liberal feminism that cuts young women off from the ‘problematic’ older generation … Feminism needs to rediscover the mother, in every sense”.
With this bold and vital book, Perry has made a fine start.