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Is Sexual Autonomy Worth The Cost To Human Lives?


The advice column over at The Cut has published a letter that is some version of a complaint I’ve heard for years from numerous women: “I have been on nearly 40 first dates in the past couple of years since I’ve been single. At first, casual dating was exactly what I needed. I tried casual relationships a handful of times with guys I had chemistry with, but I realized that they just made me feel bad about myself. I was always so painfully aware of the fact that the only reason these guys were talking to me was because I was letting them sleep with me…I felt like a sex doll. That might have been improved if the sex had been good, but it was mediocre at best. I tried to ignore the feelings and spice up the sex, but nothing worked.”

The lived reality of many women in today’s dating swamp is that they are reduced to a tool for men’s masturbation. The “remedy” of just using the man as well feels less like empowerment and more like an infernal competition to see who can be worse.

It makes perfect sense that no one wants to introduce a baby into such a dismal dating scene. A baby requires all sorts of responsibility, sacrifice, devotion, and permanence. That is to say, a baby requires real love, a love that the modern dating scene might try to mimic but cannot embody.

The promise of the sexual revolution was that sex can be meaningless. Indeed, it has to be meaningless to preserve our autonomy. If it has intrinsic meaning, independent of whatever we desire it to mean, then that might signify that we have duties that affect our autonomy.

This revolution has thrown human relationships into chaos from the inside out, most tragically the relationship between parent and child. A baby is a glaring, obtrusive, manifestation of meaning interjected into our autonomy.

To maintain the illusion of sexual autonomy requires us to be at war with, not only the science of basic human embryology, but also our very selves: our bodies, minds, and emotions. This is casual, so why do I feel intimately bonded to him? This is casual, so why do I feel used? This is casual, so why is a baby coming?

A funny thing happens when we contort our thinking in a way that denies basic reality: people sometimes accidentally reason their way backward into the truth. This is what we saw when Alyssa Milano, in response to recent laws limiting the availability of abortion, called for sexual restraint in the form of a sex strike—the implication being that if men want sex they’d better give us abortion in case we get pregnant. The less intended implication was that sexual abstinence is possible for a worthwhile end.

Another feminist tweet that went viral called for men to be responsible for both the women they have sex with and the children who might follow: “If abortion is illegal then men abandoning their child should also be illegal. If this was a permanent decision for me then it is for you as a father also.”

Both of these implicitly concede that because of the nature of sexual intimacy, and without the backstop of abortion, we all might have to realize our duties toward one another and our responsibilities to those to come.

With the camouflage of abortion under threat, the lie of the sexually autonomous lifestyle and the deep injustice it has imposed on men, women, and children is exposed and threatened. We can somewhat cover up the emotional and psychological toll of casual sex, but we can’t quite cover up a baby unless we get rid of it.

As Anthony Esolen recently wrote:

If the child lives, the mother’s life will not be the same, because if we accept the principles that allow the child to live, none of our lives can be the same. There is no way to guarantee a world safe for the unborn child that is also a world of total sexual and economic autonomy. In any world in which autonomy is the highest ideal, the child—that incarnate sign of our dependence and existential poverty—must go.

We might look at the modern dating world and ask ourselves if this life of illusion that we are fighting so hard to preserve is worth protecting at the price of innocent human lives. We cannot protect both.

The revolution is said to be in part a reaction to a puritanical repression and hatred of the flesh. We didn’t anticipate that the hedonism that replaced it is just a new type of hatred and distortion of our flesh.

Without deep and meaningful personal connection, without a core of love, we end up exaggerating and disfiguring the shell. A society that sees sex as meaningless, obsesses over its particulars. We become, in the extreme, beasts and blow-up dolls prowling and posing.

But there is also the way of the realist, in which sex is neither bad nor meaningless, but rather good and healthy and imbued with significance. The sexual realist knows that an act of total gift of self encompasses each lover’s future, so he preserves sex for a context of deep love and permanence. The realist knows that if sex has no meaning then neither does he, and that in asking us to sacrifice nothing, sexual autonomy costs us everything.