Week by week the stories become more sensational. Blogs were still buzzing over California’s “octomom”, Nadya Suleman, when the story of Alfie Patten, a baby-faced British 13-year-old and putative father, grabbed the international headlines. In Australia, where I live, an appeal court has awarded a lesbian duo hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation for getting two babies from IVF treatment rather than one.
Strangely enough, such dramatic consequences of the erosion of marriage and the explosion of out-of-control sexuality were foreseen — in some instances long ago. In 1968 Will and Ariel Durant’s important book, The Lessons of History appeared. In it they said, The sex drive in the young is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.
Although the sexual revolution took off in the mid-60s, other social commentators had made similar warnings earlier on. In 1956 Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin put it this way:
This sex revolution is as important as the most dramatic political or economic upheaval. It is changing the lives of men and women more radically than any other revolution of our time… Any considerable change in marriage behaviour, any increase in sexual promiscuity and sexual relations, is pregnant with momentous consequences. A sex revolution drastically affects the lives of millions, deeply disturbs the community, and decisively influences the future of society.
And back in 1927, J.D. Unwin of Cambridge University made similar remarks:
The whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilised unless it has been completely monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs. Marriage as a life-long association has been an attendant circumstance of all human achievement, and its adoption has preceded all manifestations of social energy… Indissoluble monogamy must be regarded as the mainspring of all social activity, a necessary condition of human development.
But these warnings have fallen on deaf ears, and our sexual decline is now gathering speed. Let’s look again at the stories I mentioned at the beginning of this article — reported in the media within days of each other. Any one of them reveals a culture in crisis, but taken together they show a West on a slide to sexual suicide.
The case of Nadya Suleman, America’s single mom extraordinaire, is so well publicised we need only briefly recap here. Nadya had “a dream…to have a large family, huge family”, so she went right ahead and got herself six children with the aid of a sperm donor and IVF. But that was not enough; she went back again to the clinic and, wonder of wonders, produced octuplets. The 33-year-old California woman is unrepentant. “This is my choice to be a single parent,” she said.
It’s hard to know who has been more reckless and irresponsible, the woman or her IVF doctor. He recently implanted a 49-year-old woman with seven embryos, who is now pregnant with quadruplets. One can understand there are those in the IVF industry simply happy to make money, regardless of the consequences. Now that the consequence in this case is a single mother with 14 children, they will no doubt try to wash their hands of the whole affair and let society pick up the tab for supporting them.
Equally famous is the case of Alfie Patten, the 13-year-old English father who was just twelve when he conceived the child. He and his 15-year-old girlfriend are now parents, but seemingly clueless as to what all this entails. And now it turns out that there is a question as to who the real father is. Evidently, two other young boys (14 and 16) are now claiming to be the father. Speculation is rife about lucrative publicity deals to be made. Meanwhile, a child has been born into social and sexual chaos.
There is something sadly predictable about Alfie’s case, but my first Australian example of sexual insanity is truly startling. It concerns two lesbians who successfully sued a Canberra IVF doctor for creating two babies instead of one. The case actually has three stages, one sane and two outrageous. In 2007 the lesbian pair outrageously sued the doctor, claiming they only wanted one child, and that two would damage their livelihood (even though their combined income is more than $100,000).
In July 2008 the ACT Supreme Court, sanely, rejected their claim, but an appeals court recently, and again outrageously, reversed the decision, ordering the doctor to pay the lesbians $317,000 in compensation. The women said having two children damaged their relationship. (Mind you, in the light of the Nadya Suleman story it is difficult to feel sorry for IVF doctors.)
Our last story involves the growing trend of rental agreements in Australian cities involving sex instead of rent money. It seems that some men are taking advantage of the rental crisis by placing online ads which offer women free rooms in exchange for sex. One ad, for a Melbourne townhouse, offered “free rent for someone special: instead of rent, I am looking for someone to help me with certain needs/requirements on a regular basis”.
The Sunday Telegraph explains: “The zero-rent ads, targeting desperate women looking for somewhere to live, are becoming increasingly common on popular ‘share house’ rental websites. Although there have been numerous complaints about the ads, which some website users have dubbed ‘offensive’, they do not breach policy guidelines for sites such as flatmates com.au”
“Desperate women”? Let’s not be too ready to excuse those who accept what amounts to an invitation to prostitution, thereby putting themselves in danger and contributing to the environment of sexual insanity. Like the previous examples, the blatant sexual pitch in these flatmate ads is a sign of a society which is fast losing all bearings concerning things sexual or things moral.
Our wiser, saner and more moral forebears provided plenty of warning about these things, but we have chosen to ignore such warnings and now each passing day seems to bring out another horror story of sexual insanity.
As G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago: A society that claims to be civilized and yet allows the sex instinct free-play is inoculating itself with a virus of corruption which sooner or later will destroy it. It is only a question of time. He is worth quoting at length:
What had happened to the human imagination, as a whole, was that the whole world was coloured by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex. For sex cannot be admitted to a mere equality among elementary emotions or experiences like eating and sleeping. The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant. There is something dangerous and disproportionate in its place in human nature, for whatever reason; and it does really need a special purification and dedication. The modern talk about sex being free like any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower, is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago.
We are today witnessing the bitter fruit of allowing sex to become a tyrant. Each day new headlines testify to the fact that when we abuse the wonderful gift of sex, we abuse ourselves and our neighbours. The question is, how much more abuse can we take as a culture before society can no longer function? One suspects that we should find this out quite soon.
Bill Muehlenberg is a lecturer in ethics and philosophy at several Melbourne theological colleges and a PhD candidate at Deakin University.