Published December 10, 2021
The path to wisdom is full of fools stumbling over nuggets of truth. Joy Behar, co-host of “The View,” recently suffered a full-on faceplant over the truth that sex has a serious side.
In an effort to defend abortion, Behar argued: “Sex sells. And yet when it comes to the reality of pregnancy, this particular group of people on the right in this country, and these religious zealots, do not understand the reality of what happens when you have sex. It’s almost like they don’t want to see that part; they just want to see the fun in the bed, not the second part.” Yes, she really said that on national TV.
In reality, it is conservatives, especially religious conservatives, who have been pushing back against the left-liberal insistence on treating sex as all fun and games. But if we look past Behar’s pratfall to the truth that tripped her up, it is yet another entry in the genre of liberals admitting that social conservatives were right all along about men, women, sex, and marriage.
These concessions are made grudgingly, with lots of rhetorical padding to cushion the blow, but there have been a lot of them lately. For example, Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times recently acknowledged that the sexual free-for-all endorsed by most feminists has been terrible for women. Writing in the same publication, Liza Featherstone conceded that conservatives such as Sen. Josh Hawley are right about leftist ideology and institutions failing men and boys.
Although her ham-handed attempt to shift the blame was deservedly roasted, Behar is right that sex is about more than a good time. That she was discussing abortion illustrates the most important reason that sex matters, which is that intercourse is ordered toward the conception of new human beings. Sex is how new people are brought into being, which is something very serious indeed.
Abortion Deforms Us All
Of course, it is the culture of abortion on demand that sees sex as only “fun in the bed.” Abortion tries to make sex as recreation only into a reality by killing the unwanted human beings that result from it. And it is effective, insofar as it violently eliminates the developing human lives that are deemed excess or inconvenient by their parents.
But abortion is a short-term solution that exacerbates long-term problems. The violence of abortion deforms our souls, our relationships, our culture, and our politics. It is a rejection of human need at its most elemental. It shatters the primordial human unity of mother, father, and child. Instead of self-giving love, there is violent selfishness.
Abortion empowers the vicious and encourages exploitation in many forms, from relationally to economically. Even those at the top do not escape it. In a recent piece speculating on the fallout of overturning Roe v. Wade, Megan McArdle wrote of the “college-educated professional who must time pregnancies exquisitely to optimize a career.” That is an excellent summation of a warped class leading a sick society. It is not a description of women’s empowerment.
Abortion on demand is a cause of, not a solution to, a society that does not take the serious side of sex seriously.
Recognizing the Serious Side of Sex
So what would a society that recognized the serious side of sex do? Well, it would recognize the special genitive nature of the sexual union of a man and a woman. Because these relationships provide for the continuation of the human race, they are necessarily of public concern, and deserve special support and status. In particular, a sensible society would strongly encourage, or even require, these relationships to be permanent.
Commitment between parents provides stability for them and their children. For women, who bear a greater physical burden from reproduction, marriage provides indispensable support and security. For both men and women, marriage often provides a thick web of lifelong relationships with other relatives, extending across multiple generations. Family necessarily begins with the nuclear unit of mother, father, and children, but it should not stop there.
Healthy Family Culture
This familial strength also provides stability for society. It is not just that children do better when they have an intact family (although that is undeniable), but that monogamous marriage is good for society as a whole. In particular, large numbers of unattached men are bad for society; having a family encourages men to be productive and protective, rather than idle drones or predators.
Indeed, a norm of monogamous marriage functions as a sort of sexual and status distributivism. Most men and women will be able to find partners in such a culture and enjoy the many benefits marriage provides.
In short, a society that recognizes sex is more than just recreation would be socially conservative. It would, of course, still have shortcomings and hypocrisies, as everything human does, but it would promote a culture of genuine human flourishing. Such a society would protect and cultivate marriage as the permanent union of a man and a woman, and it would value children more than careerism, consumerism, and adult sexual indulgence.
There are no substitutes for a healthy family culture. Welfare programs and technological control have their uses, but they cannot replace family, community, and virtue. And many on the left are belatedly realizing these truths, albeit often in a muddled way. Social conservatives should be heartened by this. Our labor may often seem thankless, but it is not in vain.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.