Throughout history, the idea of “free love” has
undergone a variety of interpretations.
These range from the idea of a women’s right
to freedom of choice in love and personal
relationships to the idea of complete sexual
freedom without the complication of a
relationship of any sort.
All of these movements have two things in common:
they tend to develop during periods of societal
repression, especially regarding the role of women
in society, and they espouse the idea that women’s
liberation begins with sexual freedom and radiates from there.
Twentieth-century Free Love movements focused on
the sexual liberation of all, regardless of personal
attachment, and came to a climax, so to speak,
with the social upheaval of the late 1960s
and the personal enlightenment element of the 1970s.
There are still taboos surrounding women
who express their sexuality and negative
attitudes towards certain sexual practices.
But there is more acceptance of sexual deviance.
Our sexuality is one of the most primary aspects
of who we are and the gateway to our deepest psyches.
The erotic self and the sexual needs that it drives
are secondary only to our other survival needs of
eating, drinking and sleeping.
The sooner we get started the better. In a less
sexually repressed society kids would probably
start sexual experimentation in their early teens.
The power our sexuality exerts in our life is
generally misunderstood and shadowed with shame.
Worse still, our lack of understanding about who
we are erotically often leads to the widely held
belief that sexuality is to be feared and can
easily slip out of our control.
Wrongly, we interpret our erotic urges as our most
base and primitive instincts and instead of trying
to learn from their mysterious language we use
our sexual energies to suppress them.
Perhaps, in the future, technology will be used
to free us from productive and reproductive work
and the nuclear family, so that a new form of
liberated sexuality can emerge.
Casual sex on college campuses has been seen as
socially corrosive and ultimately toxic to women
who have little choice but to go with the flow.
Actually, it’s an engine of female progress.
One being harnessed and driven by young women.
The ‘promiscuous girl syndrome’ fills the nightmares
of those who lament the evil of casual sex.
It’s all about young women so inured to ubiquitous
porn that they don’t bother to protest, young women
behaving exactly like frat boys, and no one guarding
the virtues of honor, chivalry, or ever-lasting love.
Those who are shocked by the new sexuality pine
for an earlier time, when fathers protected
innocent girls from punks and predators.
When girls understood it was their role to protect themselves.
This nostalgia concentrates on what has been lost.
The central argument holds that women have effectively
been duped by a sexual revolution that persuaded them
to trade away the protections of (and from) young men.
In return, they were left even more vulnerable
and exploited than before. Sexual liberation,
goes the argument, primarily liberated men
to act as cads, using women for their own
pleasures and taking no responsibility for
the emotional wreckage their behavior created.
The men hold all the cards, and the women put up
with it because now it’s too late to zip it back up,
so they don’t have a choice.
>But there’s a different way to
analyze the new promiscuity.
We need to take into account the unbelievable
gains women have made. Many of those gains
depend on sexual liberation.
Single young women in their sexual prime a
re for the first time in history more successful,
on average, than the single young men around them.
They are more likely to have a
college degree and make more money.
What makes this remarkable development possible isn’t
just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new
landscape of sexual freedom.
This includes the ability to delay marriage
and have temporary relationships that don’t
derail education or career.
Feminist progress largely depends on the existence
of the liberated sexual encounters. To a surprising degree,
it’s women, not men, who are perpetuating the culture.
This is especially true on campuses across the country.
Young women are cannily manipulating the freedom to fuck
to make space for their success and assert themselves.
For college girls these days, an overly serious
suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy
did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided so
it doesn’t get in the way of a promising future.
The Future of Sex
There will be new ideas about sexual identity. If sex ceases to mean anything other than sex; if children are not teased for having a “different” sexual orientation; if procreation happens in a lab; might future humans feel free to have sex with men and women at will?
Or might they feel comfortable cultivating their own sexual desires? Is the concept of sexual orientation and identity tied to an archaic notion of reproduction? In the future, will words like “heterosexual” and “homosexual” be heard only in the history classroom?
These ideas will continue to become even more mainstream — thanks, in no small part, to the many LGBT people who have, for the past few decades, been inviting the dominant culture to rethink its sexual ethics.
A few years ago at a conference, I heard the philosopher and gender-theorist say, “Maybe the truly queer thing to do with sex is to just enjoy it.” I didn’t agree at the time, but I now realise she was onto something.
Perhaps sex will always be for something – but it will be for a whom, not a what. It will be for us, the people who have it, who enjoy it. The meaning of sex won’t exist apart from the compassion and enjoyment it brings people – the enjoyment of physical sensation, of social bonding, of experimenting.
In the future, the meaning of sex will be sex.