July 20, 2018


What #MeToo and Hooking Up Teach Us About The Meaning of Sex (Elizabeth Schlueter and Nathan Schlueter, July 19th, 2018, Public Discourse)

As Joyner, Donna Freitas, and others have shown, the primary motive of those who "hook up" is not sexual pleasure, but power, or the achievement of victory over another. Victory is won by having sex without caring, without vulnerability. In other words, hooking up inverts the intrinsic meaning of sex, transforming eros, the desire for intimate embodied union with another person, with its attendant emotional and physical vulnerability, into thumos, the desire for domination, recognition, control, and independence. The #MeToo movement has exposed the ugly and predatory underside of the revolution waged under the banner of radical feminism, and it highlights the ironic result that men have the upper hand in the new sexual marketplace. 

This inversion of the personal meaning of sex in the hook-up culture reveals the deeper contradiction at the heart of the sexual revolution itself. Underlying the apparent trivialization of sex for the sake of more "love" or more widely available sexual pleasure is the pursuit of a much more radical personal agenda: sexual autonomy for its own sake. Why sexual autonomy? If sex has a unique connection to our personhood and is also fundamentally erotic, an experience of going out of oneself, of potentially life-altering vulnerability and risk, then our sexuality is the most patent reminder that human beings are not radically autonomous.  

This explains the otherwise mysterious fixation of modern liberals on sex. If human vulnerability and dependence are to be vanquished, the decisive battle must take place on the field of sex. It is precisely here that radical autonomy must prove itself, and why modern liberalism has made uncommitted sex the chief "liturgy" of its religion of personal identity (and why inebriation is its chief sacrament). At the heart of the sexual revolution is the dogma that sex is the privileged arena where, in the words of the Supreme Court, I define and express my own "concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" (Planned Parenthood v. Casey). 

In the harsh light of #MeToo, core assumptions and achievements of the sexual revolution don't seem quite so attractive. In these latter days of Tinder and hooking up, all pretensions to the "love" part of "free love" have been shed, along with the na├»vete of the hippie generation. We are left with just "free"--as in cheap--sex.  Perhaps all the sexual revolution can really deliver is a world where sex is a kind of weapon in the never-ending battle to continually create and achieve autonomous personal identity. No wonder asexuality has recently emerged as another strange feature of the modern sexual landscape. If sex is really about making war, not love, there are many who would rather opt out of such a destructive game.  

Reflecting on the experiences behind #MeToo and the hook-up culture teaches us that something is deeply broken at the heart of the sexual revolution. The pathetic scramble to shore it up with consent speech codes only casts doubt on its key doctrines, bearing negative witness to the need for a comprehensive form of consent that is worthy of sex between persons--worthy of sexual love. 

There was an interesting, and more expansive, discussion of these sorts of issues--the self-made self--on the most recent EconTalk podcast:

Patrick Deneen on Why Liberalism Failed (Russ Roberts, Jul 9 2018, EconTalk)

Political Scientist and author Patrick Deneen of the University of Notre Dame talks about his book Why Liberalism Failed with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. By liberalism, Deneen means the modern enterprise--the push for self-actualization free of the constraints of tradition, family, and religion that typifies modern culture. He argues that both the left and the right have empowered the state and reduced liberty. He argues for a smaller, more local, more artisanal economy and a return to the virtues of self-control and self-mastery.

Posted by at July 20, 2018 6:42 PM