The Magazine

The Pill Perplex

‘Liberation’ and its consequences.

Jul 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 42 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Pornography, by contrast, is essentially ether. It is disseminated mostly online, largely for free. There is no Big Porn, but a handful of large-scale corporations, largely disintermediated by the Internet. Modern pornography has been so thoroughly democratized that, today, the bulk of it is produced by thousands of small, professional (and judgment-proof) outfits. And this archipelago of “professional” stuff leaves aside the ocean of porn created and disseminated by amateurs who do it as a hobby. Even if society were to change its mind about pornography, it is hard to see how a campaign against porn would work.

Mary Eberstadt is a happy warrior, and Adam and Eve After the Pill refuses to trade in despair. Yet my own sense is that we may be in more trouble than she allows. In her final chapter, Eberstadt examines how fully Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae has been vindicated. For years, the Catholic church was ridiculed for suggesting that contraceptive sex would cause trouble. Humanae Vitae predicted that, as a result of this revolution, men would treat women with less respect and care, infidelity would flourish, general moral standards would fall, and governments would insert themselves into people’s reproductive lives. Check, check, check, and check.

Yet this vindication is problematic. Eberstadt is most likely correct that pedophilia was restigmatized because the left was goaded into doing so as part of its larger war against religion. And any reconsidering of the sexual revolution requires the participation of both conservatives and liberals. But the prescience of Humanae Vitae, and the degree to which orthodox religion was right to be skeptical of contraception and amoral sex, may well be part of why the left has doubled-down on the sexual revolution every time it’s been confronted with its problems.

And of all the ways in which the sexual revolution mirrors the fight over communism, this is the most depressing: that, to paraphrase Malcolm Muggeridge, at the end of the day, people believe lies not because they have to, but because they want to. 

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.