April 12, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Author Mary Eberstadt recently released her book Adam and Eve After the Pill, a study of the effects of the sexual revolution. LifeSiteNews recently spoke to Eberstadt about the book. You can also find a LifeSiteNews.com review of her book here.
BJ: Your book, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, could not have come at a more opportune time. How did you manage to orchestrate the national debate on contraception to coincide with your book’s release?
EB: If it is timely, it is probably the only timely thing I’ve ever done, and it’s got nothing to do with my calculations. I’ve actually been working on the book on-and-off for four years, and I had no way of knowing it would coincide with a truly important moment in time.
BJ: It certainly underscored the importance of everything you’re talking about. Your book does not discuss health care but renders a more valuable service, which is to talk about the ramifications of widespread recreational sex and its effects. You pick up the baton from none other than Pope Paul VI, as you mention. You flesh out the predictions of his encyclical Humanae Vitae in your book’s last chapter very well. What did you find prophetic about it, and were you surprised it was as indicative as it turned out to be?
EB: I was indeed surprised. I did not read Humanae Vitae until just a few years ago, just a few years shy of its 40th anniversary, and when I finally read the document through I was just blown away by its understanding of what the world would look like if the sexual revolution proceeded.
The main thing that surprised me was its understanding of what would happen to the relation between the sexes. Humanae Vitae predicted that in a world of contraceptive sex, men and women would not get along as well, that once you sever procreation from recreational sex men would look down on women. He also advanced the idea that there would be a lowering of standards of conduct between the sexes. All of this, I argue, has come true, and yet the secular world has refused to acknowledge its truth. That to me is a paradox, because if you were to ask which document of modern times was the most unwanted and reviled document it would have be Humanae Vitae, right? Across the world, it is seen as a laughingstock in some places, as a profoundly undesired testament in others, yet this document contains more truth about the sexual revolution and the world it would usher in than any other document. We’re left here with a great paradox – I really believe that – that something that contains great truths has been almost universally reviled. And that in itself was justification enough to undertake this book.
BJ: Speaking of paradoxes, you point out in what I consider the most powerful two chapters of the book that we live in a world that is bathed in sexual images yet devoid of actual sex within marriages. What has ubiquitous porn use done to intimacy, particularly between married couples?
EB: This is a great paradox. In the chapter called “What is the Sexual Revolution Doing to Women?” In that chapter, I went through a bunch of sources in the secular world, primarily …. fashionable literature, much of it consumed by women and made for women. What I am pointing to in that chapter is the level of unhappiness that comes through these accounts. I have in mind several articles in The Atlantic magazine that are dissected in some detail, one article arguing that marriage is over, that it’s impossible to put the sexes back together again – a very sad piece by a very talented writer. What strikes me is that the women making these complaints seem never to connect the dots between our post-sexual liberation world and the unhappiness they describe.
What I’m arguing is that sexual liberation contributes to this unhappiness in several different ways. First of all, we live in a world where pornography is supposed to be off limits for discussion, at least in the secular world. Many people are laissez-faire about it. They don’t think there is any proof of negative consequences from it. I disagree with that for reasons cited in the book that have to do with social science studies. But pornography is obviously something that gets in the way of intimacy between the sexes. If you live in a world that says pornography is victimless and harmless, you then bring a great deal of confusion to the question, Why am I not happy in my relationship?
These are the kinds of paradoxes I’m trying to unearth in my book, because I think there’s a great deal of misunderstanding – including willful misunderstanding – about what the sexual revolution has wrought.
BJ: You also focus on what has happened to men, which I thought was an interesting coin-flip. I read recently from someone more on the Left that – with static wages that have not increased in real terms since 1972, men’s declining prospects both educationally and commercially in terms of their value in the workplace – the rootless lifestyle of someone who has children by several women but doesn’t support or live with any of them was a rational undertaking. If intimacy has broken down, men would not work to support a promiscuous woman he does not love. If sex is simply recreational, there is no need to engage in an extraordinary undertaking with his declining commercial value.
EB: That’s very well put, and that is an insight that I think was overlooked by our intellectuals and social scientists for the most part. There were a few exceptions. There were a couple of people who early on predicted if the sexual revolution took hold, what would happen was that men would be marginalized from family life. If you give women full reproductive power, the result will be that men – who are generally speaking less attached to the domestic unit than women are – would become even more so. They would become marginalized, and their interest in providing a home or their stake in keeping a family going would be commensurately less. George Gilder said this, and the sociologist Lionel Tiger said this. Most of conventional social thinkers and social scientists did not take them up on this challenge. Again we live in a world where, for the most part in the secular realm, the sexual revolution is seen as beyond criticism. But I think Gilder and Tiger and some other people I mention in the book, who are perfectly secular social thinkers, were perfectly right as Humanae Vitaewas right about what would happen in the world once contraception was the coin of the realm. Those consequences, some of them, have been pretty dark, and I think it’s time we turn our attention to that side of the record, as well.
BJ: In researching Adam and Eve After the Pill, you encountered some hopeless-looking data. I know this can be a challenge, because we deal with similar material at LifeSiteNews. Are you tempted to despair or are you driven more to find a solution?
EB: No, I think there are grounds for hope. First of all, let’s put this in historical perspective. The sexual revolution when put against the sweep of human history has not been with us very long. It’s been 50-plus years into this experiment, and the fallout is only just beginning to be assessed. I wanted to write this book because I wanted to be part of that assessment. I wanted to push the idea that we need to assess this fallout going forward. But once people see and understand better the consequences of this social experiment, I think they are more likely to take a different view, a dimmer view of what sexual revolution has done to the world.
I’ll give you an example, Ben, not from the religious world at all but from the point of view of demography. We all know that in Western Europe today, especially if we read the financial pages, there’s a crisis – it’s a crisis of employment and it’s a crisis of the welfare states, which are vast and can’t be supported by the younger workers. Why? Because of the sexual revolution. Because there aren’t enough younger workers to support the older workers. Now I’m not saying people should have babies to support the advanced Western welfare state. But what I am saying is that in Western Europe you see on a very grand scale – financially, socially, and otherwise – what has happened because of the sexual revolution. It’s entirely thinkable that down the road Europeans will go back to the family unit, as the welfare state’s inability to replace the family unit becomes more and more evident. So that’s a reason why knowing what’s going on out there I think points toward an ultimate diagnosis for hope and not despair.
BJ: You also deal in your chapter entitled “Toxic U” about what’s going on on college campuses. Anyone who has not spent time on campus does not understand these are centers of the revolution broadly speaking – not simply the sexual revolution but also the left-wing revolution, the identity politics revolution, and so on. To the extent anyone is going to have an identity as someone on the Left, or a raging secularist, this is where one is going to develop it. You go through the initiation rituals that one can slip into and, with great practice, slip out of, that permanently scar young people (binge drinking, STDs, etc.). If someone were going to college, what is the best way he or she could avoid falling into these pitfalls?
EB: Usually I get questions regarding the parents, what would you tell the parents? But I think directly addressing the young people involved is probably a better idea.
I think if I were a young person going to college now, I’d want to know what’s going on with sexual assault on campus and I devote several pages of the book to looking at studies discussing that topic. I think the problem is there has been a tendency to dismiss it and to say it’s just a matter of sowing wild oats: Boys will be boys and girls will be girls. What do you expect? But actually the Department of Justice commissioned a study of many thousands of college women, and one in five claims to have been sexually assaulted on campus. As you would expect, usually alcohol or drugs are involved. It usually takes place at night between people who know each other. There’s a lot of gray area in encounters like that, obviously. To me the meaningful statistic is that number, one in five, which is horrendous if you think about it. Even if everybody does not completely agree about what you mean when you say “sexual assault,” it means there’s a whole lot of unwanted or retrospectively unwanted sexual activity going on that people regret and would take back if they could.
What would I want to know if I were going to college? I’d want to know that almost everyone who says something like that happened to them say that it happened in their freshman or at the latest their sophomore year. Which is to say that they have to be extra vigilant during the first year of college. I think that’s important statistical information to have. It was amassed by secular social researchers. Again, we’re talking about the fact that secular social science confirms and validates and confirms things that people in the Judeo-Christian tradition have been saying for many years.
I hope that’s what’s new about this book: that it brings social science research to bear on all these questions, so the questions get taken out of this realm in which it’s just religious folks talking to religious folks, and we finally have a way of translating them to the public square for everybody to debate.
BJ: What has happened since the book’s publication that you feel has most vindicated or authenticated your book? What has given you the greatest sense of happiness for having written it?
EB: Happiness is too strong a word. I don’t attach any feeling of happiness to this book. It is not altogether a dark book, but but a lot of it deals with difficult stuff. But that said the fact that we’re having this ongoing discussion about the HHS mandate is itself a kind of vindication of the book’s thesis.
The book’s thesis is that the legacy of the sexual revolution, contrary to what secular thinkers say, is not settled in the mind of the West. We have not reached some kind of consensus about this. It’s still on the table. The question of whether it’s been good for society or bad for society is still up for grabs. I think the fact that we’re having a national argument about funding birth control goes to show that we haven’t settled this question at all.
To the extent that the book means to put that question about the sexual revolution and its legacy back on the public table, I think this is a good moment to do it and that the HHS debate goes to show as much.
BJ: I’m certainly grateful someone has marshaled the data and made such a compelling case, as you have in this book. Thank you for your outstanding work. I hope it continues to be successful.
EB: Thank you very much, and best with your own very important work. I know LifeSiteNews, and it’s great.
BJ: Thank you. We’ll see one another out on the front lines.
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