The age of DeSade

Yesterday, I read Carl Trueman’s post at First Things in which he suggested that we live in an age that fulfills the dreams of the Marquis DeSade:

DeSade’s ideal world is that to which we appear to be heading.   Like him, we deny any intrinsic moral significance to sexual activity whatsoever and thus see it as something which is of no more ethical importance than buying a cup of coffee or eating a sandwich. In such a world, the celibate and the monogamous are increasingly counted as freaks, representatives of a defective, repressive cultural vision. Thus, the social pressure to be promiscuous becomes an integral part of the culture and the withholding of consent comes to be increasingly difficult, the act of social schismatics, freaks, and (to use the favored clichés of the day) the inauthentic, those who do not wish to flourish.

As evidence, Trueman pointed to a piece by Rod Dreher discussing sexual mores on college campuses.

As if to illustrate the point further, a piece appeared at the Huffington Post yesterday in which Noah Michelson criticizes other gay people who don’t want a sexual free-for-all:

I believe sex is a gift that allows us to connect with others (and ourselves) for a night, for a lifetime or just for 25 minutes during our lunch break. I believe sex and pleasure are nothing short of magical and transformative. I believe queer people have been appointed by some higher power to help change the way that our society thinks about sex. And I refuse to believe that just because queer people are increasingly being folded into the mainstream, we should give up fighting for all of the things we’ve been fighting for all these years. The goal has never been to get the same rights as non-queer people so we could be just like non-queer people, even though some, like Caramanno, might argue otherwise. We’re supposed to be leading by example and showing that sex is not scary, sex is not dirty, sex doesn’t need to be with just one partner and in a healthy, happy society, sex should be an important and inspiring way of connecting with one another. If I had it my way we’d have sex shops in every neighborhood right next to the local McDonald’s and we’d talk about sex in every school and we wouldn’t give films with sexual content NC-17 ratings while slapping PG-13 ratings on mindnumbingly violent films.

While Michelson uses spiritual language in an attempt to ennoble his vision, what he actually advocates in this paragraph and the article goes along exactly with what Trueman discusses.

As Trueman points out in this piece and has pointed out before (along with others), the consent of the parties tends to be the cultural standard for judging the morality of sex, yet this may be unstable:

Yet if sex is evacuated of any intrinsic ethical significance, and the culture turns against celibacy and monogamy, the notion of consent itself may eventually become as morally meaningless as the orgasms it is supposed to legitimate.  Indeed, one could even see a case eventually being made in DeSade world for the withholding of sex being considered an act of oppression, like the withholding of a wedding cake or a photo-shoot.

Again, as if to illustrate Trueman’s point, Michelson has no sympathy for Thomas Caramanno’s complaints about, among other things, being groped. This doesn’t go as far as Trueman’s hypothetical future, but the trajectory seems similar.

Warning: The pieces by Michelson and especially Dreher contain implicit and explicit sexual references.


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