The Sexual Revolution: How we got here

By Marc Engelhardt

(This post continues the recaps from Christ in Common, which is a discipleship discussion that takes place in my context. Christ in Common is a good example of how we purposefully approach the discipleship triad of Foundation, Worldview, and Practice. Remember, as recaps, these posts hit highlights of what the group discussed in person, so they are short and may seem to make some jumps occasionally. If you pull out the Word and study the Foundation mentioned, you should be able to fill most gaps.)

Now that we have a biblical base for sex, its intention, and how it is a gift, we can look at why it is hard for us to live according to that biblical base. Sin has corrupted our view and use of sex from the start, but we are currently dealing with something pretty historically unique in our culture. It started back in the 1960s.

To understand the impact of the 1960s on our view of sex today, we need a general view of sex before that era. In the era just before the 1960s, sex was viewed much differently. Sex was attached to marriage, and only those who were “indecent” participated in sex outside of marriage. There was a quasi-biblical view of the context for sex being within the marital union in our culture. At the same time, there was a radical double standard. Men were allowed and even assumed to pursue sex outside of marriage, because “boys will be boys,” and it was a manly thing for a guy to “sow his wild oats” before “settling down” in marriage. The same was not true for women.

Women were to keep pure and save themselves for marriage. This didn’t stop women from having sex outside of marriage, of course, but the view of a woman who had sex outside of marriage is that she was a slut, loose, or a whore. So, most women that had sex outside of marriage tried to keep it secret, which is difficult because sex has a common, very visible outcome: pregnancy. It was hard for women to hide that they had sex outside of marriage when they got pregnant. Having a baby would also change the life of the woman forever. They either had to have an illegal, back-alley abortion or have the child. This was not true for men, who could, and would often, just leave the situation for the woman to handle.

Then in the 1960s something was invented that made it possible to change all of that—a way for women to prevent becoming pregnant when they had sex: the pill. This invention came along at the same time as the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements. And it was used for what is called the “The Sexual Revolution” to hijack both.

Under the guise of removing the double standard that existed before, the Sexual Revolution said that women could now attain sexual equality with men by not dealing with the physical consequences of sex. No more life-changing, unwanted pregnancies. Women were told they were free to have sex with whomever they pleased, just like the men. The ironic part of all of this is that the pill was invented by men and gave men exactly what they wanted during the previous double standard: sex with women with no strings or obligations attached. Did the women on the forefront of the Sexual Revolution gain freedom, or were they simply being duped?

As the Sexual Revolution attached itself to the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements, there were several outcomes that have crippled our view of sex today. One outcome is that having sex became a right. Perceiving that sex was now detached from consequences, having sex became something about personal fulfillment alone. If it is about personal fulfillment, then how can an outsider approve or deny that?

The enlightened view of sex became one that is about self-gratification and being animalistic. Sex is now only about how it makes one feel. Others become consumable objects for one to gratify one’s self sexually. Couple that with the perceived “right” to have sex and suddenly people are not truly living life to its full potential unless they are having sex whenever and with whomever they please.

Everything we have talked about so far led to marriage no longer being the context for sex. In fact, marriage became a constraint on sex. When marriage is separated from sex, it becomes about finding a person that makes one feel the emotion of love. Sex is no longer the bonding factor in marriage. It is now based upon how the other makes one feel. The result is that sex and marriage have become very self-centered, and the biblical idea of self-sacrificial love is all but lost in our culture.

Standing back and thinking this through, it is easy to see many ramifications. We will work through many of those in detail in coming sessions. We now turn our attention to a foundation in Scripture, and while it doesn’t speak directly to the Sexual Revolution, it does speak to the concepts behind it.

We begin with Galatians 5:1-15. Here Paul lays out to the Galatians that trying to follow the Law in order to be righteous means that one must follow the whole Law perfectly. In verses 13-15, he says that in Christ we are freed from following the Law to achieve righteousness. However, freedom from the Law does not mean that we should do whatever we feel, but that we should love others. It’s about being able to follow the law without fear of judgment. He ends the section with a warning against not practicing self-sacrificial love: Consuming others leads to being consumed by others. This all speaks to the supposed freedom the Sexual Revolution espouses and how it has traded real love for self-fulfilling desire.

Next is Romans 7:7-12. Here Paul answers the question, “If then we are freed from the Law through Jesus, is the Law bad then?” His answer is that the Law is good. The Law does not create sin. Rather, it makes sin known. Our need isn’t to do away with the Law; we need forgiveness for the sin that the Law highlights in us. The goal of freedom in Jesus is not to do whatever we want and ignore the Law. It is to be able to use the Law as a gift that God has given us to show us how his world works, not as a way to earn righteousness. We are given freedom to serve, not freedom to self-serve.

Last, we look at 2 Peter 2:1-19, which admittedly has some obscure parts in it. In this section, the author is warning a Christian community about false teachers among them. He says that they deny being slaves to righteousness so they can be “free.” The Master they deny is Jesus, who bought them with his life in order to make them free from the Law as described above. What they are doing is claiming Christian freedom and enlightenment to justify following sinful desires. They have become slaves to desire, and in order to justify themselves, they try to convince others that their “freedom” is the right way. What’s more, if they reject being slaves to righteousness after having known Jesus, they will be worse off than if they never knew him in the first place. In order for the Sexual Revolution to take hold of our culture, it had to convince everyone it was the enlightened way of thinking, even to point of infiltrating our Christian communities and thought so that Christians now question the authority of Jesus and Scripture when it comes to sexual things and freedom.

All of this foundation leads us to several ways of viewing the world. We start with knowing that to reject the way God set up the world to work is not freedom but is slavery to sin. Our culture is so good at convincing us the opposite of that, likely because it’s the same ploy the serpent pulled on Adam and Eve. On account of that first view, there are several that follow: People are not a consumable; sex is about connection; marriage is based upon giving, not taking; having sex isn’t a right; we are not like animals; sex is not about consuming the other or self-gratification.

All of these worldviews are in direct contradiction of the Sexual Revolution. In order for them to take hold of our lives, we need to put some things into constant practice. Here are several: Use sex as a way to connect to and serve the other, strengthening the bond of marriage; if you intend to be married someday, consider more than personal, desire-based, emotive love when searching for a spouse; rebel against the revolution; and teach the history. We are not going to change our culture overnight, but we can have an influence on our family and friends. If we work together and approach this topic in self-sacrificial love that wants what is best for others rather than condemning law-based judgement, we just might be able to start a rebellion.

One thought on “The Sexual Revolution: How we got here

  1. Since I am 73 years old, I can only speak anecdotally and from my own observations on this topic. Growing up in the 1950’s and early sixties, most people I knew were Catholic, as I was then. I didn’t know many Protestants in those earlier days, until high school. With 9 years of parochial education, with an aunt who was a nun, and my father being very Irish Catholic in his worldview, my perspective on sexuality was the idea you wait until marriage. But around our small town on Long Island, even well before the sexual revolution of the middle sixties, I observed that most of my peers, Catholic and non Catholic alike, had their own ideas about sex. The double standard applied to males, but since it takes two to tango, females seemed as willing. In my view, the “sexual revolution” was not new. It merely exposed the state of sexuality in America which lied below the skin all the time. With moral constraints removed, the society moved more quickly into unrestrained promiscuity. Once a Christianized country, America became a pagan land and continues to be more debased each day. The Sexual Revolution speeded up the process.

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