It is fascinating how revolutionary common sense has become these days. The reaction to Louise Perry’s new book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, a fierce, fact-filled fusillade aimed at the heart of our culture, is a case in point. Perry—who writes for the New Statesman—isn’t the first left-leaning writer to make this case, of course. Andrea Dworkin condemned eloquently, writing that “the Left cannot have its whores and its politics too”; Dr. Gail Dines, author of Pornland, is one of the most prominent anti-porn activists in the public square; Chris Hedges has been a brilliant polemicist in his condemnations of our pornified culture. But Perry’s critique is certainly the most comprehensive.
“My thesis is that the sexual revolution of the 1960s has primarily been to the benefit of a subset of high status men,” she told me in an interview. “Although women have benefitted in some ways—primarily in that we now have the means to control our fertility—the nature of sexual asymmetry means that a culture of casual sex will always be a much better deal for the sex who don’t get pregnant, are much physically stronger, and are (on average) more likely to enjoy the hedonistic pleasures that have become newly socially acceptable over the last 60 years: porn, prostitution, one night stands, and so on.”
There’s a lot of heresy in that thesis. Perry’s key quibble with modern feminism is that it has exchanged observable facts for ideological premises. Sex, for example, is serious business and should be treated that way. Demystifying sex has turned it into a blood sport, especially for women who, for the aforementioned reasons, are more likely to get hurt. Perry drills down through layers of uncomfortable data on sexual assault, for example, and emerges with what used to be common sense: “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 (limiting mobility) and drinking or taking drugs (limiting awareness).”
To the inevitable squawks of protest that greet such statements: “Is it appalling for a person even to contemplate assaulting these women? Yes. Does that moral statement provide any protection to these women whatsoever? No. I made this mistake many, many times as a young woman, and I understand the cultural pressure.” Anyone who has ever been in a nightclub will instantly recognize the typical Friday night scene: A pulsating dance floor packed with tipsy, scantily-clad girls—watched by young men surveying the crowd like a ring of vultures, looking for soft targets to ply with hard liquor in the hopes that sufficient impairment will produce sexual favors. Anyone who denies that such scenes are the norm is lying.
A key strength of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution is that Perry’s prose is powerful, persuasive, and she is obviously angry on behalf of the women and girls who have endured so much suffering in this pornified culture we have collectively created. She is writing on behalf of legions of women without PhDs or platforms, those who do not possess the ideological jargon to describe what they’ve endured and can only share their lived experiences. Those experiences defy progressive talking points and should make everyone uncomfortable (not least of all men). She holds nothing back, and much of what she relates can be uncomfortable to read—as it should be.
“Curiously, I am not aware of any word in the English language for a particular emotion that every woman to whom I’ve spoken has experienced at least once, but that the men to whom I’ve spoken don’t seem to recognise at all,” she writes. “It is a combination of both sexual disgust and fear—the bone-deep, nauseating feeling of being trapped in proximity to a horny man who repulses you. Being groped in a crowd, or leered at while travelling alone, or propositioned a little too forcefully in a bar—all of these situations can provoke this horrible emotion.” For good measure, she adds: “It is an emotion that women in the sex industry are forced to repress.”
Hookup culture, Perry observes, is poisonous because it “demands that women suppress their natural instincts in order to match male sexuality and thus meet the male demand for no-strings sex. Some women are happy to do this, but most women find it unpleasant, or even distressing. Thus hookup culture is a solution to the sexuality mismatch that benefits some men at the expense of most women.” There is a two-fold heresy here: the first is the implication that promiscuity in women is unnatural; the second, which defies everything our liberated culture promises us, is that men should repress their natural instincts. (One can almost hear the howls of outrage at these obvious truths.)
These conditions have created a culture in which expressing a desire for genuine intimacy often gets young women labeled ‘clingy’ or ‘crazy’; where a longing for genuine connection, companionship, and love can get you labeled ‘unstable’ and sharing one’s body in casual hookups is the baseline expectation. Perry spoke with many of her peers in writing this book, and she shares what it is that they really want: “Public recognition of a relationship, an arm around the waist, ‘a hand held in daylight.’”
“I wanna hold your hand,” the Beatles sang as the promised Age of Aquarius dawned. But that was before ubiquitous hardcore porn. Now, boys in high school offer to trade kisses for blowjobs, and a generation is growing up without ever knowing the thrill of holding someone’s hand for the first time.
Online pornography is the backdrop to all of this, a sexual smog that has seeped into everything since it migrated from seedy stores to computer screens to the omnipresent smartphones. Most people watch porn now, and most children are exposed to it young. Mainstream pornography features violence against women and girls. Those who possessed sexually violent tendencies have those urges nurtured and encouraged; those who might never have encountered this material are now urged by algorithms into digital caverns of unspeakable darkness, where men go to be aroused by screaming and pain and humiliation. Choking, violent anal sex, sexual torture—these things were once covered in contempt and stigma. But the sexual revolution transformed the Marquis de Sade from a pervert into a prophet, and now young women inhabit a world where it is still wrong to hit a woman—unless it turns you on.
For conservatives, the most uncomfortable portion of this book will be Perry’s condemnation of Margaret Thatcher’s “There Is No Such Thing As Society” economics. It was Thatcher’s free markets, writes Perry, that put female bodies on the market in Britain, and social conservatives have been slow to identify the role of vulture capitalism in creating the porn industry and contributing to commodity culture. By commodifying human bodies for consumption, capitalism became cannibalism. Here social conservatives and left-leaning activists can lend one another language that will assist in the deconstruction of the sexual revolution—the language of human dignity and moral values, of class and exploitation, and even of rape culture—for what else do you call a culture in which most men regularly watch women being assaulted, tortured, and degraded on screen for recreation and entertainment?
The solutions Perry proposes are not, she tells her readers, new—but they are perhaps worth articulating again for precisely that reason. Her advice to young women in her conclusion (appropriately titled “listen to your mother”) includes noting that:
- Chivalry is a good thing because men should control their sexual desires.
- Sexually aggressive men should be avoided, especially those aroused by violence (even if he uses the language of BDSM to justify his love of beating women).
- Consent workshops are mostly useless, and we should instead lock rapists up longer and limit their access to potential victims.
- Dating apps should be avoided because “mutual friends can vet histories and punish bad behaviour” while dating apps cannot.
- Delay sex to ensure that the man is interested in more than just sex.
- “Monogamous marriage is by far the most stable and reliable foundation on which to build a family.”
The Case Against the Sexual Revolution is a devastating demolition from start to finish. Louise Perry is defending her sex—and sex in general—and her frequently palpable rage is controlled, clean, and effective. The most startling fact about this book is that it had to be written—that a young woman had to spill so much ink defending the idea that strangling women shouldn’t be a turn-on; that masturbating to on-screen sexual abuse is vile and pathetic; that women should not have to beg for commitment from the male peers who demand casual access to their bodies. Perry is both predicting and calling for a counter-revolution, likely led by the “Gen Z women who have experienced the worst of it,” and for the sake of our daughters (and our sons!) I hope that she is right. This book is certainly an important contribution to that end.