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  • The combination of accessibility and charity could be what makes 'The Case Against the Sexual Revolution' effective in convincing young women to be chaste. Tweet This
  • If her book has a limitation, it is that Perry fails to deeply explore the particular violence of abortion, and the way it operates as a pressure release valve for the liberal feminist regime. Tweet This
  • For Perry, sexual disenchantment is the big lie at the center of liberal feminism. Tweet This
Category: Women

For the women that learned it the hard way.” 

Thus begins Louise Perry’s The Case Against the Sexual Revolution (Polity, August 2022), setting the stage for a striking exposé on the social experiment that has defined—and destroyed—the lives of many: sexual liberation.

Perry’s first example of a woman who learned the hard way is Marilyn Monroe. In her opening chapter, she juxtaposes the lives of Monroe and one of her many abusers: Hugh Hefner, who without consent or compensation, used nude images of the starlet as the first-ever centerfold in the first-ever edition of Playboy magazine. Hefner was sexual liberation’s ideal man, who advocated enthusiastically for its iatrogenic enabling conditions (birth control and abortion). Monroe was sexual liberation’s ideal woman, who “was scraped out again and again by backstreet abortionists,” so often that her reproductive organs were basically destroyed by the end of her short life. Hefner lived long enough to lose his ability to maintain an erection, though never his ability to get what he wanted out of women. Even in death, Marilyn could not escape his shadow, for he purchased the crypt next to hers, as a joke, as if the dead woman hadn’t been beaten enough.

“Sexual disenchantment,” Perry writes, “is a natural consequence of the liberal privileging of freedom over all other values, because, if you want to be utterly free, you have to take aim at any kind of social restrictions that limit you, particularly the belief that sex has some unique, intangible value.” The attitude she describes reduces sex to mere leisure activity, or worse, market commodity. For Perry, sexual disenchantment is the big lie at the center of liberal feminism. The worldview cannot make sense of Monroe or Hefner as anything other than icons of sexual freedom, who maximized what they could extract from sex during their lifetimes. Their shared story is only a tragedy insofar as it is a property dispute.

Perry substantiates her claim that women disproportionately bear the cost of sexual disenchantment in the eight chapters that follow. Neatly titled as long-forgotten bits of common sense, they include for instance “Men and Women Are Different,” “Violence is Not Love,” and “Marriage is Good.” She draws generously from social science, feminist philosophy, evolutionary biology, and pop culture, offering a very much not-your-grandmother’s explanation for the things your grandmother knew intuitively. In other words, her argument may be reactionary, but it is modeled for a modern audience. The flying cars we were promised have broken down completely; Perry is reinventing the wheel.

Not only is Perry’s set of evidence eminently understandable to an audience of young women, her tone is empathetic and humble, neither condescending nor blameful. She admits to her own belief of the lie, and believes that most who do, do so earnestly. This combination of accessibility and charity could be what makes The Case Against the Sexual Revolution effective in convincing young women to be chaste—much more effective than the litany of explicitly socially conservative and antifeminist books that have aimed for the same for many years. Already, it has served as the impetus for one such conversion of heart. Bridget Phetasy cited Perry as the inspiration for her article “I Regret Being a Slut,” which went viral on social media in early August.

Some of her feminist peers have taken issue with Perry’s section on the biological differences between men and women, accusing her of “biological determinism” for 1) explaining male sociosexuality in terms of an adaptive urge to spread their gametes far and wide, and 2) rejecting socialization theory as an explanation for biological asymmetry. For skeptical left-leaning peers, her reasoning is not necessarily problematic because it is untrue, but because of what it says about the prospect of human perfectibility. Perry’s is a feminism that does not believe in progress, indicating what Mary Harrington (credited for her support of the book) has described as an incipient feminist wave in its own right, a reactionary feminism. As it relates to feminist canon, Perry’s mission threatens sexual utopia in power. Libfems, whose utopianism revitalizes where sexual disenchantment enervates, are taken aback. Without the prospect of a perfectible world, nothing remains to energize the absurd notion that casual sex is the path to freedom. 

If the book has a limitation, it is that Perry fails to deeply explore the particular violence of abortion, and the way it operates as a pressure release valve for the liberal feminist regime. She does include a moving section in “Marriage Is Good” on the ineffable bond between mother and unborn and recently-born child, but this is hard to reconcile with an earlier assent that legalized abortion was “a good and needful innovation for women.” Whether the abortionist is back alley or state-sanctioned, the effect of abortion on women’s health—physical and mental— is often devastating. The effect of abortion on the baby is always so. 

The poem she uses to open the book, “Conversation with an archaeologist” by Hollie McNish, implies what Perry hesitates to say directly:

he said they’d found a brothel 
on the dig he did last night 
I asked him how they know 
he sighed: 
a pit of babies’ bones 
a pit of newborn babies’ bones was how to spot a brothel 

We can’t expect a book to be everything all at once to everyone. But for the audience she aims to reach, and for the reasons she aims to reach them, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution is effectively made by Louise Perry.

Helen Roy is the host of the podcast, "Girlboss, Interrupted," and a contributing editor at The American Mind.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.