Sex Sex Sex
The observation by Thomas Macaulay that "there is no spectacle so ridiculous as the public in one of its periodical fits of morality" is no longer the case. Sex rears its ugly head so often in today's human drama that the citizenry is indifferent. The multitudinous sins of former US Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards have lost their luster, although resurrected by federal indictments handed down last week in North Carolina. Dominique Strauss-Kahn's alleged sexual attack on a hotel chambermaid in a Sofitel in Manhattan stirred up dust for only a week or two, and Anthony Weiner's Twitter photo of his reportedly erect member beneath his Indian crawlers is interesting only due to the Congressman's athletic dissembling peppered by "terminological inexactitudes," as the great Churchill described the ramblings of an adversary.
Just as a fool doesn't know he is a fool, a civilization does not realize it is in decline. But Weiner's combination of addiction to sexual titillation and lying about it -- when added to the incessant stream of sexual scandal and dissembling in today's society -- are harbingers of cultural collapse that began 50 years ago.
A guy I know commented he came of age in the "great sex drought of the 1950s" in response to stories of 1960s promiscuity. He missed the introduction of the birth control pill in the mid-1960s when girls started "giving it away" later in the decade, and into the mid-70s in conjunction with the anti-war, anti-society demonstrations that branded the Boomers the generation of promiscuity.
Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll created an immutable divide defined by age and experience. Those born one year earlier than the first Boomers lived in the ancien régime forged by their parents in the early 1940s. Their children stuck to the laid out program of virginity as a virtue, attention to studies, and acceptance of military service by men -- leading to stable and usually successful lives that left little room for self-doubt. Of course there were dramatic and numerous exceptions. Unwanted pregnancies and rebellion against parental rule chronicled the dark side of real life in the book Peyton Place and the film Rebel Without a Cause. But the majority accepted the standards of society -- or if they deviated, realized they had violated the norm. (The antics of President John F. Kennedy proved that society's attitude to sex in the 50s and 60s was mostly a façade, but the press did not report his escapades until decades later.)
The noisiest among the early Boomers, the largest demographic group to enter the American mainstream, regarded the old rules as "square" and neo-Victorian, preferring a hedonistic outlook driven by individuality and rebellion played to the new soundtrack of album rock enhanced by marijuana and acid. And while most Boomers did not partake of drugs, they reveled in the atmosphere of freedom and promiscuity. With women liberated by the pill to engage in sex with little risk of pregnancy, the game changed to another level. One enormous consequence was the beginning of a growing divorce rate caused by Boomers who married before discovering they missed the sexual revolution, resulting in the rise of broken marriages as couples began to view monogamous relationships as confining and dull.
Coupled with new sexual freedom for females, political power in the form of women's rights dominated the public debate. "Liberated" women saw sex as a tool for empowerment, and used it blatantly. College girls, who not ten years earlier wore white gloves in public and dressed to avoid flaunting their sexuality, burned their bras and shook their booties to advertise their new found hegemony. The same society that banned the import of Lady Chatterley's Lover in the 1950s accepted public display of hardcore sex in books and films -- and magazines. Playboy magazine took the lead in showing more and more female anatomy, but was soon surpassed by Hustler and similar periodicals that exploited graphic titillation to peddle pornography on newsstands. Girls eschewed Nancy Drew and kept copies of the Kama Sutra. Concerned groups became worked up about sex in movies, resulting in film ratings that remain today. In the 1970s, the cable industry lured customers with pornographic films previously reserved for stag gatherings. Even "free" TV, regulated for content to maintain public moral standards, reacted with loosened standards as lurid cable programming drew viewers away.
Sex not only reared its head; it permeated society. Roe v. Wade granted a federal right to abortion, superseding the various state laws that previously conformed to the local majority view. This politically mandated freedom to control the effects of sex sealed the deal for female power. But then consequences finally came down like thunder from the sky: an explosion of venereal diseases and the AIDS epidemic hit in the early 1980s caused by frequent unprotected sex. In order to place a political spin to insulate gays, activist groups fired up their propaganda machinery to associate AIDS with heterosexual intercourse. Although this was true only in a small percentage of cases, the effect created a new era of sex education, calls to decrease promiscuity, and information on protection from pregnancy and disease. But the impact on the steady march of sexual freedom faded as AIDS drugs were developed and the heterosexual connection diminished.
As happened with cable TV in the early 1970s, in the early 90s the Internet lured users with graphic pornography, creating a global pictorial brothel accessible to children. While HBO provided enough technique in the 70s and 80s that parents had little reason to explain sex to their children, Internet porn goes beyond parental knowledge, giving kids a knee up in sexual awareness. It's a far cry from the early 60s when a Brigitte Bardot film, nudist colony movies, a contraband copy of Playboy, or photography books were the closest male teens came to the nude female body.
While female freedom and the march of technology are reasons sex permeates modern life, the parallel decline in moral reasoning and ethical behavior is another matter that relates to sex. Ask any socialist or surviving communist about it, and the answer is that society needs to free itself of religious-based behavior and bourgeois strictures. Sexual freedom personifies victory in the struggle to terminate white male-dominated tyranny, as they see it, often equating sexually liberated women with manumission of slaves. The analogy continues to be applied even as activist women fade from the issue. At our elite universities sex and gender studies are touted as examples of enlightenment, and continue even as their questionable value as scholarship is exposed. Classes in some schools present prostitutes and live sex as valid content for college students. And since co-education is now the norm rather than the exception since the 1970s, boys and girls are housed in the same dorms creating constant contact.
Sex is everywhere, including public schools. Parents are helpless if they wish to confine detailed knowledge of the birds and bees in the face of relentless sex educators. Children deal with sex at every turn in their daily lives. In the classroom, on commercial television programs (tune in to Two and a Half Men and note the suggestive and sexually sophisticated dialogue), on cable, in books, and of course online where few mysteries remain unclear. Our society has become infected with sex, so is it any wonder grown-ups engage in it recklessly and regularly? And with no moral compass or context now that course content has been cleansed of the lessons of history and replaced with advocacy sociology and moral equivalency?
We are in decline as a civilization. And outside forces are poised to deliver the coup de grâce. Girls in the US outnumber boys by four percent. At public liberal arts universities the ratios are running 64 to 36 percent women over men. You can see the consequences as the primordial urge to procreate forces girls to advertise their wares with increasing salacity to compete for fewer and fewer boys. Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are the role models who dramatize the collective reality. For boys, interaction with females is a live grenade that could go off in their face. On one hand girls today have no qualms advertising their sexual charms in public. Yet in private, the regulation of intimacy is tilted almost completely to the female. What appears to be a voluntary encounter can turn to charges of rape, the girl knowing that accusation is all that is needed to ruin the life of a male who thought he was engaging in consensual behavior.
Sexual licentiousness has consequences -- from syphilis to AIDS to jail time. When public figures don't get it, and people are no longer shocked, it may not be the end -- but it is the beginning of the end.