Fifty years after the sexual revolution promised female empowerment through casual sex “without consequences,” scholars are looking into the far-reaching social effects of that revolution.
“Unlike our forerunners in 1968, those of us living today now have access to something they didn't -- 50 years of sociological, psychological, medical, and other evidence about the revolution's fallout,” said author and scholar Mary Eberstadt in the opening speech at a conference entitled, “The #MeToo Moment: Second Thoughts on the Sexual Revolution.”
“The time has come to examine some of that evidence,” said Eberstadt.
Eight female scholars presented research on birth control, infertility, the hook-up culture, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, surrogacy, and sex trafficking at the May 31 conference, co-sponsored by the Catholic Women’s Forum and Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture.
“The #MeToo movement has forced us to confront the reality that when it comes to sexual politics, women remain very much at risk," said Dr. Suzanne Hollman, a professor of clinical psychology at George Washington University.
Seventy-eight percent of women said they regretted their most recent hookup encounter, according to a 2012 study cited by Hollman.
When Dr. Monique Chireau was in medical school at Brown University training to be an obstetrician-gynecologist 20 years ago, cases of venereal warts were extremely uncommon.
“Now it is a common disease,” said Chireau, who discussed the rise in sexually transmitted diseases and their lasting effects. Sexually transmitted diseases have reached an all-time high in California, according to data released by the California Department of Public Health earlier this month, which showed more than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2017. These sexually transmitted diseases can lead to infertility, explained Chireau.
“Women spend [their] 20s trying to avoid pregnancy and their 30s trying to become pregnant,” said Dr. Marguerite Duane, an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University in her discussion of research on birth control versus fertility awareness based methods.
“The explosion of sexual activity thanks to the pill has also been accompanied by levels of divorce, cohabitation, and abortion never seen before in history,” observed Eberstadt. “It has also, as the #MeToo movement shows, contributed to a world in which 24/7 sex is assumed to be a sexual norm to the detriment of those who resist any advance for any reason."
“The belief that sex is a casual, non-intimate, recreational, adversarial behavior” and pornography use among men are two of the main predictors of sexual violence against women, said another psychologist, Mary Anne Layden, who has treated both rapists and rape victims in her cognitive therapy practice.
Pornography provides the “perfect learning environment” to train men to force sex on women, deafening their ability to perceive consent, according to Layden, who directs the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania.
She cited multiple studies that have found that pornography’s overwhelmingly violent content leads to violence against women.
One study of students 18 to 21 years old found that the earlier the male child was exposed to pornography, the more likely it is that he will engage in non-consenting sex as a young adult.
“The libertarian conceit that pornography is a victimless crime is over,” said Eberstadt, who called pornography “the sexual revolution’s bastard son.”
The sexual revolution empowered “the already strong and makes the weaker parties more vulnerable than before. This is true, for example, of the young women who were recruited for and demeaned by egg harvesting,” continued Eberstadt. “It is true of the women and children exploited in the frightening rush to normalize prostitution.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found an 846 percent increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking online in a period of only five years, said Professor Mary Leary, who specializes in criminal law and human trafficking and teaches at The Catholic University of America.
Women are also being exploited in the surrogacy industry, another arena in which “bodies are commodified,” explained Jennifer Lahl, the founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl has testified at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on surrogacy and egg trafficking.
“The global fertility industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar a year industry,” said Lahl. “Earlier this week, Market Watch announced this industry will reach $30 billion dollars by 2023.”
"As the years go by we have larger sample sizes and more studies being published, we are learning more and more about the very real harms to women who serve as surrogates or egg donors and also the children that were born of these technologies,” Lahl explained.
“Bodies of women in particular are valued for their reproductive capacities -- their eggs, their wombs. Children become objects of design and manufacture when highly desirable eggs are sought from women of certain intelligence, features, capabilities are brought together with carefully picked sperm and often gestated by another woman, even a stranger in another country, a third world country,” she continued.
“This is the largest social human experiment of our time -- we are learning as we go of the harms to women and children. Where else in medicine do we allow such things to happen?” asked Lahl.
Gendercide is another global consequence of the sexual revolution’s promotion of abortion, said Mary Eberstadt. “Around the planet millions more unborn girls are killed every year than boys. They are killed because they are girls.”
“This grotesque outcome could not have been foreseen half a century ago, but we see it now. It is as anti-female as it is possible to be,” she continued.
In responding to the victims of the sexual revolution, the Church must remember that “our responsibility is healing,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. in a keynote address.
The cardinal encouraged Catholics to reach out to reach out through encounter and “accompaniment of this generation.”
“Our task is not only to have clear in our mind the teaching, but to be able to reach out to them in a way that they begin to hear us,” he said.