Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution
Secular and religious thinkers agree: the sexual revolution is one of the most important milestones in human history. Perhaps nothing has changed life for so many, so fast, as the severing of sex and procreation. But what has been the result? This ground-breaking book by noted essayist and author Mary Eberstadt contends that sexual freedom has paradoxically produced widespread discontent. Drawing on sociologists Pitirim Sorokin, Carle Zimmerman, and others; philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe and novelist Tom Wolfe; and a host of feminists, food writers, musicians, and other voices from across today's popular culture, Eberstadt makes her contrarian case with an impressive array of evidence. Her chapters range across academic disciplines and include supporting evidence from contemporary literature and music, women's studies, college memoirs, dietary guides, advertisements, television shows, and films. Adam and Eve after the Pill examines as no book has before the seismic social changes caused by the sexual revolution. In examining human behavior in the post-liberation world, Eberstadt provocatively asks: Is food the new sex? Is pornography the new tobacco? Adam and Eve after the Pill will change the way readers view the paradoxical impact of the sexual revolution on ideas, morals, and humanity itself.
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Let me make one thing clear from the outset: I am extremely sympathetic to the idea that the sexual revolution has had some truly appalling consequences, and it is responsible for a lot of pain and suffering in the modern western world, especially among the weakest members of society. Furthermore, as a very devout Catholic I am fully committed to the ethical teachings of the Catholic Church on matters of sexual morality. So my fairly negative review below is coming from the point of view of a "fellow traveler" on these social and moral issues.
Without exaggerating too much I believe that the principle "argument" of this book can be summarized as follows:
1. Some time around 1960 easy and accessible effective birth control became widely accessible.
2. Today we have a lot of societal ills that are either sexual in nature or caused by various forms of sexual activity.
3. It is OBVIOUS that 1. has caused 2.
4. Therefore let me offer some of my own musings on this topic.
My biggest beef is with the point number 3, but both 2 and 4 have a lot of problems as well. First of all, if the causal connection between 1 and 2 was as exclusive and conclusive as the author implies, the obvious question would be why is this not more obvious to everyone. The author tries to address this issue by appealing to the analogy of the Cold War. During that period many intellectuals in the West (perhaps even a majority) were, if not quite communists themselves, then very sympathetic to the communist block. Aside from the issue of how accurate this analogy really is (I grew up under communism, have lived and worked in the American academia for the most of my professional life, and I am not entirely persuaded) the problem with this approach is that it's just an analogy. It helps illustrate the situation, but doesn't really explain it. I would really like to know HOW exactly does 1 cause 2. This is the bare minimum that I would expect from a book-length development of this "argument."
Mary Eberstadt is really fond of analogies. She dedicates two full chapters of the book (one on food and another one on tobacco) on the analogies with our treatment of these substances and the way we treated porn in the past. Again I am not entirely persuaded about the analogies. The moralistic obsession with food is still VERY restricted to certain elite circles - most of Americans struggle with being overweight and eat pretty much whatever they want. But with the food analogy my reaction is one of "So what?" How does that help me understand the moral hazards of sexual permissiveness and, even more importantly, what to do about it? In the case of tobacco the purpose of analogy is clearer. Eberstadt advocates the introduction of policies and restrictions on pornography that were similar to those that were imposed on Big Tobacco. This is something worth considering, but the nature of the difference between the two products (physical goods vs. digital files nowadays) makes the difficulty of this approach obvious to anyone who is familiar with the history of futility of trying to regulate anything online. (If even the NSA can't keep their files secret, good luck trying to regulate porn.)
Another big issue that I have with this book is that it overwhelmingly relies on popular articles and essays for its main source of information - both positive and negative. Furthermore, instead of analysis more often than not we are offered little more than an opinion. It is reasonably well-informed opinion for the most part, but Eberstadt has a tendency of becoming preachy where probing would be much more called for. This book might have been intended as a form of preaching to the choir, but even the choir needs some rigorous analysis every once in a while.
I had high hopes for this book, but it turned out to be a big disappointment. It is very poorly argued, and it doesn't offer any substantially new insights. For a more incisive book on the failure of the social norms in the US I would recommend Charles