Ideas have consequences. Sometimes the consequences lead to good outcomes, and other times they lead to bad, but there are always consequences to ideas.
Revolutions, outgrowths of ideas, have victims. Occasionally, a revolution is needed to overthrow depraved regimes. But at other times, a revolution is built on nothing but bad ideas, and leaves only a long trail of victims in its wake.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, America experienced what is now called the “sexual revolution,” or sexual liberation movement. Good or bad, every aspect of society was impacted by the liberation of sexual norms.
The revolution was fully ushered in by the Baby Boomer generation, who learned what they knew from the Roaring Twenties generation. And it feels like the consequences are finally coming fully due.
The sexual liberation movement started with what could charitably be called good intentions. The “Free Love” movement claimed to push human sexuality out of the Puritan age and into the 20th century.
Sex became morally disconnected, removed from any marital or religious contexts, and given an independent status in culture. People were supposed to be free to have sex whenever they wanted with whoever they wanted with no consequences.
But, as with all ideas, there were consequences. Some of those consequences were immediate, such as pregnancy. Abortion was brought to the forefront of society to fix the direct results of free love: the creation of a new human life and encumbering responsibilities.
It’s far more difficult to continue a life filled with free love with children than it is without them. Thus the first set of victims were the unborn, who shared all the same intrinsic values as the born but were inconvenient to the prevailing ethos of their era.
The second problems were instances of rape and sexual assault. With all sexual morality disconnected from traditional views of right and wrong, the revolution needed a new ethic to follow.
Consent laws were created to fix the lack of any rules surrounding sexual relations. If two consenting adults engaged in an act, then nothing could be wrong with their behavior.
While remnants of the sexual revolution still exist today, its momentum was essentially stalled by the outbreak of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) in the 1980s and 1990s. Those diseases brought with them an entirely different set of problems within society, but the revolution’s impact was already set: morality was changed, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion was the new high temple, and people interacted with each other on these rules.
While that movement may no longer be leading the charge, the consequences of its ideas are still being felt. The downfall of Harvey Weinstein set off a chain reaction of allegations of sexual misconduct that are destroying legacies, companies, and governments. The exposures reveal that the liberation movement destroys anyone around it to keep itself alive.
And so we sit watching the implosion of the great sexual revolution, brought down by its victims telling their stories of shame, sadness, and despair. Harvey Weinstein was the first part of this implosion, and we know, after months of similar allegations across multiple industries, he’s not the last.
The curious part of this implosion is how hard some people are fighting to keep the consent ethic alive, even as we’re watching it fall apart too. Harvey Weinstein’s harm covers far more than just the criminal investigation; he manipulated, abused, and harassed anyone who got in the way of his sexual escapades.
Matt Lauer’s accuser may be able to detail a single incident where consent wasn’t given, but it’s clear when reading through the multiple allegations that he left numerous lives in shambles.
The most forgotten woman in his entire story is probably his wife, who watched a serial cheater treat her and their marriage as if it didn’t even exist. The consent ethic doesn’t speak to her life, forever changed.
Bad actors like Weinstein and Lauer have always existed, with or without the sexual revolution. But they’ve rarely thrived and been enabled to the degree they have under the liberation movement. By embracing the ethics of free love, they treated no one as a human, and only a means to an end.
The most telling part of all these stories is that the sexual revolution cannot comfort the victims left in its wake. Telling people they can have love with anyone isn’t much comfort to those reeling from sexual assault. Consent ethics don’t answer their hurt or shame.
The irony of the liberation movement was that it was meant to free women and give them a choice. Instead, the consequences of the revolution resulted in oppression, abuse, and assault. Women were treated as second-class citizens to fulfill the desires of those pushing the sexual revolution the hardest.
For this long trail of victims, I hope this implosion continues, and brings all the once-cherished ideas of the sexual revolution crashing to the ground.