Part 1 of 4
It is well known to readers of this journal that white birthrates worldwide have suffered a catastrophic decline in recent decades. During this same period, ours has become assuredly the most sex-obsessed society in the history of the world. Two such massive, concurrent trends are hardly likely to be unrelated. Many well-meaning conservatives agree in deploring the present situation, but do not agree in describing that situation or how it arose. Correct diagnosis is the first precondition for effective strategy.
The well-worn phrase “sexual revolution” ought, I believe, to be taken with more than customary seriousness. Like the French Revolution, the paradigmatic political revolution of modern times, it was an attempt to realize a utopia, but a sexual rather than political utopia. And like the French Revolution, it has gone through three phases: first, a libertarian or anarchic phase in which the utopia was supposed to occur spontaneously once old ways had been swept aside; second, a reign of terror, in which one faction seized power and attempted to realize its schemes dictatorially; and third, a “reaction” in which human nature gradually reasserted itself. We shall follow this order in the present essay.
Let us consider what a sexual utopia is, and let us begin with men, who are in every respect simpler.
Nature has played a trick on men: production of spermatozoa occurs at a rate several orders of magnitude greater than female ovulation (about 12 million per hour vs. 400 per lifetime). This is a natural, not a moral, fact. Among the lower animals also, the male is grossly oversupplied with something for which the female has only a limited demand. This means that the female has far greater control over mating. The universal law of nature is that males display and females choose. Male peacocks spread their tales, females choose. Male rams butt horns, females choose. Among humans, boys try to impress girls—and the girls choose. Nature dictates that in the mating dance, the male must wait to be chosen.
A man’s sexual utopia is, accordingly, a world in which no such limit to female demand for him exists. It is not necessary to resort to pornography for examples. Consider only popular movies aimed at a male audience, such as the James Bond series. Women simply cannot resist James Bond. He does not have to propose marriage, or even request dates. He simply walks into the room and they swoon. The entertainment industry turns out endless images such as this. Why, the male viewer eventually may ask, cannot life actually be so? To some, it is tempting to put the blame on the institution of marriage.
Marriage, after all, seems to restrict sex rather drastically. Certain men figure that if sex were permitted both inside and outside of marriage there would have to be twice as much sex as formerly. They imagined there existed a large, untapped reservoir of female desire hitherto repressed by monogamy. To release it, they sought, during the early postwar period, to replace the seventh commandment with an endorsement of all sexual activity between “consenting adults.” Every man could have a harem. Sexual behavior in general, and not merely family life, was henceforward to be regarded as a private matter. Traditionalists who disagreed were said to want to “put a policeman in every bedroom.” This was the age of the Kinsey Reports and the first appearance of Playboy magazine. Idle male daydreams had become a social movement.
This characteristically male sexual utopianism of the early postwar years was a forerunner of the sexual revolution but not the revolution itself. Men are incapable of bringing about revolutionary changes in heterosexual relations without the cooperation—the famed “consent”—of women. But the original male would-be revolutionaries did not understand the nature of the female sex instinct. That is why things have not gone according to their plan.
What is the special character of feminine sexual desire that distinguishes it from that of men?
It is sometimes said that men are polygamous and women monogamous. Such a belief is often implicit in the writings of “conservative” male commentators: Women only want good husbands, but heartless men use and abandon them. Some evidence does appear, prima facie, to support such a view. One 1994 survey found that “while men projected they would ideally like 6 sex partners over the next year, and 8 over the next two years, women responded that their ideal would be to have only one partner over the next year. And over two years? The answer, for women, was still one.” Is this not evidence that women are naturally monogamous?
No, it is not. Women know their own sexual urges are unruly, but traditionally have had enough sense to keep quiet about it. A husband’s belief that his wife is naturally monogamous makes for his own peace of mind. It is not to a wife’s advantage, either, that her husband understand her too well: Knowledge is power. In short, we have here a kind of Platonic “noble lie”—a belief which is salutary, although false.
It would be more accurate to say that the female sexual instinct is hypergamous. Men may have a tendency to seek sexual variety, but women have simple tastes in the manner of Oscar Wilde: They are always satisfied with the best. By definition, only one man can be the best. These different male and female “sexual orientations” are clearly seen among the lower primates, e.g., in a baboon pack. Females compete to mate at the top, males to get to the top.
Women, in fact, have a distinctive sexual utopia corresponding to their hypergamous instincts. In its purely utopian form, it has two parts: First, she mates with her incubus, the imaginary perfect man; and, second, he “commits,” or ceases mating with all other women. This is the formula of much pulp romance fiction. The fantasy is strictly utopian, partly because no perfect man exists, but partly also because even if he did, it is logically impossible for him to be the exclusive mate of all the women who desire him.
It is possible, however, to enable women to mate hypergamously, i.e., with the most sexually attractive (handsome or socially dominant) men. In the Ecclesiazusae of Aristophanes the women of Athens stage a coup d’état. They occupy the legislative assembly and barricade their husbands out. Then they proceed to enact a law by which the most attractive males of the city will be compelled to mate with each female in turn, beginning with the least attractive. That is the female sexual utopia in power. Aristophanes had a better understanding of the female mind than the average husband.
Hypergamy is not monogamy in the human sense. Although there may be only one “alpha male” at the top of the pack at any given time, which one it is changes over time. In human terms, this means the female is fickle, infatuated with no more than one man at any given time, but not naturally loyal to a husband over the course of a lifetime. In bygone days, it was permitted to point out natural female inconstancy. Consult, for example, Ring Lardner’s humorous story “I Can’t Breathe”—the private journal of an eighteen-year-old girl who wants to marry a different young man every week. If surveyed on her preferred number of “sex partners,” she would presumably respond “one”; this does not mean she has any idea who it is.
An important aspect of hypergamy is that it implies the rejection of most males. Women are naturally vain. They are inclined to believe that only the “best” (most sexually attractive) man is worthy of them. This is another common theme of popular romance (the beautiful princess, surrounded by panting suitors, pined away hopelessly for a “real” man—until, one day . . . etc.).
This cannot be objectively true, of course. An average man is by definition good enough for an average woman. If each woman were to mate with all men “worthy” of her, she would have no time to do anything else. Once again, hypergamy is distinct from monogamy. It is an irrational instinct; the female sexual utopia is a consequence of that instinct.
The sexual revolution in America was an attempt by women to realize their own utopia, not that of men. Female utopians came forward publicly with plans a few years after Kinsey and Playboy. Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl appeared in 1962, and she took over Cosmopolitan magazine three years later. Notoriously hostile to motherhood, she explicitly encouraged women to use men (including married men) for pleasure.
The actual outbreak of the sexual revolution occurred when significant numbers of young women began acting on the new utopian plan. This seems to have occurred on many college campuses in the 1960s. Women who took birth-control pills and committed fornication with any man who caught their fancy claimed they were liberating themselves from the slavery of marriage. The men, urged by their youthful hormones, frequently went along with this, but were not as happy about it as they are sometimes represented. Columnist Paul Craig Roberts recalls:
I was a young professor when it all started and watched a campus turn into a brothel. The male students were perplexed, even the left-wing ones who had been taught to regard female chastity as oppression. I still remember the resident Marxist who, high on peyote, came to me to complain that “nice girls are ruining themselves.”
This should not be surprising. Most men prefer a virgin bride; this is a genuine aspect of male erotic desire favoring monogamy, and hence in constant tension with the impulse to seek sexual variety.
The young women, although hardly philosophers, did set forth arguments to justify their behavior. Most were a variation on the theme that traditional morality involved a “double standard.”
It was said that women who had promiscuous sex had been condemned as “sluts” while men who did the same were admired as “studs.” It was pointed out that some men sought sex outside marriage and subsequently insisted on their brides being virgins. The common expression “fallen woman,” and the absence of a corresponding expression “fallen man,” was cited as further evidence of an unfair double standard. The inference the female revolutionaries drew was that woman, too, should henceforward seek sex outside of marriage. This, of course, does not logically follow. They might have determined instead to set wayward men a good example by practicing monogamy regardless of men’s own actions.
But let us ignore that for the moment and consider the premise of their argument, the double standard. Like most influential falsehoods, it involves a distortion, rather than a mere negation, of an important truth. It is plausible, and hence dangerous, because it resembles that truth.
In fact, men have never been encouraged to go about seeking casual sex with multiple women. How could any sane society encourage such behavior? The results are inevitable and obvious: abandoned women and fatherless children who are a financial burden on innocent third parties. Accordingly, promiscuous men have traditionally been regarded as dissolute, dangerous, and dishonorable. They have been called by names such as “libertine” or “rake.” The traditional rule of sexual conduct has been chastity outside of marriage, faithfulness within—for both sexes.
But in one sense there was undoubtedly a double standard: A sexual indiscretion, whether fornication or adultery, has usually been regarded as a more serious matter in a woman than in a man, and socially sanctioned punishments for it have often been greater. In other words, while both sexes were supposed to practice monogamy, it was considered especially important for women to do so. Why is this?
In the first place, they tend to be better at it. This is not due to any moral superiority of the female, as many men are pleased to believe, but to their lower levels of testosterone and their slower sexual cycle: ovulation at the rate of one gamete per month.
Second, if women are all monogamous, the men will perforce be monogamous anyway: It is arithmetically impossible for polygamy to be the norm for men throughout a society because of the human sex ratio at birth.
Third, the private nature of the sexual act and the nine-month human gestation period mean that, while there is not normally doubt as to who the mother of a particular baby is, there may well be doubt regarding the father. Female fidelity is necessary to assure the husband that his wife’s children are also his.
Fourth, women are, next to children, the main beneficiaries of marriage. Most men work their lives away at jobs they do not much care for in order to support wife and family. For women, marriage coincides with economic rationality; for a man, going to a prostitute is a better deal. Accordingly, chastity before marriage and fidelity within it are the very least a woman owes her husband. Indeed, on the traditional view, she owes him a great deal more. She is to make a home for him, return gratitude and loyalty for his support of her, and accept his position as head of the family.
Traditional concern for fallen women does not imply there are no “fallen men.” Fornication is usually a sin of weakness, and undoubtedly many men who fall into it feel ashamed. The real double standard here is that few bother to sympathize with those men. Both men and women are more inclined to pity women. Some of the greatest male novelists of the nineteenth century devoted their best labors to the sympathetic portrayal of adulteresses. Men, by contrast, are expected to take full responsibility for their actions, no questions asked. In other words, this double standard favors women. So do most traditional sex roles, such as exclusively male liability to military service. The female responsibility to be the primary enforcer of monogamy is something of an exception.
What, after all, is the alternative to the double standard? Is it practical to give sexually desperate young men exclusive responsibility to ensure no act of fornication ever takes place? Or should women be locked up to make it impossible? Logically, a woman must either have no mate, one mate, or more than one mate. The first two choices are socially accepted; the third is not. Such disapproval involves no coercion, however. Women who insist on mating with multiple men may do so. But they are responsible for that behavior and its consequences.
Women’s complaints about double standards refer only to the few which seem to favor men. They unhesitatingly take advantage of those which favor themselves. Wives in modern, two-income marriages, for example, typically assume that “what I earn is mine; what he earns is ours.” Young women insist on their “independence,” but assume they are entitled to male protection should things get sticky.
But the ultimate expression of modern female hypocrisy is the assertion of a right to adultery for women only. This view is clearly implied in much contemporary self-help literature aimed at women. Titles like Get Rid of Him and Ditch That Jerk are found side-by-side Men Who Can’t Love: How to Recognize a Commitmentphobic Man. In short, I demand loyalty from you, but you have no right to expect it of me. Many women seem sincerely unable to sense a contradiction here. Modern woman wants the benefits of marriage without the responsibilities; she wants a man to marry her without her having to marry the man. It is the eternal dream of irresponsible freedom: In the feminist formulation, freedom for women, responsibility for men.
Men usually accept that their demand for faithfulness from their wives entails a reciprocal duty of faithfulness to their wives. In fact, I am inclined to believe most men lay too much stress on this. For a man, fidelity in marriage should be a matter of preserving his own honor and ensuring that he is able to be a proper father to all his children; his wife’s feelings are a secondary matter, as are his own. In any case, the marriage vow is carefully formulated to enunciate a reciprocity of obligations; both the man and woman pledge faithfulness for life. Given innate sex differences, it is not possible to eliminate the double standard any more than marriage already has.
1. Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty (New York: The Free Press), 1997, 90–91.
2. In Selected Stories (New York: Penguin Books), 1997, and many other collections.
3. “Losing the Ties That Bind,” July 9, 2002, http://www.vdare.com/roberts/marriage.htm.