A new Ask Amy letter, perhaps appropriately, was published on the first day of 2021. The writer, “concerned Big Sis,” starts by noting that her younger sister, “Stella,” is using a social media account to deliver “X-rated entertainment” as a means of generating extra income.
Perhaps in another time — oh, I don’t know, ten years ago? — one might have presumed “Big Sis’s” concern stemmed from the fact that her younger sister had decided to become a part-time porn star, welcoming perhaps thousands of complete strangers to indulge their sexual fantasies via her webcam. But no, this is 2021, and what was only recently taboo is now — we are expected to believe — is as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie.
Instead, big sister’s concern stems from the fact that the husband of the sisters’ cousin is subscribing to her younger sister’s porn feed. In particular, this man, “Ted,” sent Stella a series of messages calling her his “dirty little secret,” and saying he always enjoyed “checking her out at family functions.” That, “Big Sis” tells us, is very disturbing to both women.
It gets better. In response, Amy acknowledges that Ted is indeed a creep, although not necessarily because he is watching her sexual performances. “I would assume that many, if not most, of her customers are somebody’s husband/significant other,” Amy acknowledges. Rather, it’s because his messages are the equivalent of harassment. “Having a relative inform her of her role in his fantasy life is … creepy!” she asserts. Yeah, I mean, if he’s going to watch his relative strip, he should at least have the decency to keep a healthy distance!
Although 2020 will of course be most remembered for a global epidemic, it was also a year that witnessed a shift in what could be called American society’s “sexual guardrails.” One example is the substantial increase in amateur pornography, exemplified in such sites as OnlyFans, a monthly paid subscription content service, which has turned thousands of young female Americans into stay-at-home pornographers.
Only a month after the COVID-19 shutdown, OnlyFans enjoyed a 75 percent spike in new users, a significant percentage of whom were consuming porn. Indeed, about 50 percent of the content on the site is pornographic in nature. Other sites that share similar content are arising to compete, giving rise to what one academic has called the “porntropreneur.”
Last year also saw the release of perhaps the most sexually explicit No. 1 hit single in American history. “WAP,” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, broke the record for the largest opening streaming week for a song in U.S. history and debuted atop the Billboard Digital Song Sales, Streaming Songs, Hot Rap Songs, and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs charts.
The song had the most-searched lyrics on Google in 2020. Many critics called it the best song of the year, although actor and activist Russell Brand labeled it closer to porn, and “a sort of capitalist objectification and commodification of, in this case, the female.”
Finally, in June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” wrote Justice Neil M. Gorsuch for the majority.
Before Bostock, it was legal in more than half of U.S. states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. The decision was a “simple and profound victory for LGBT civil rights,” said Columbia law professor Suzanne B. Goldberg in an interview with The New York Times. This is because, as Polish political philosopher Ryszard Legutko notes in “The Cunning of Freedom,” legalization implicitly equals moral approbation, writing, “Once such a law is in force, it not only implies legal admissibility, but also moral acceptance of such practices.”
It also means, by extension, that employers have lost the freedom to hire and fire based on transgender identity even for such jobs as those that include bathing and toileting the elderly, overseeing children’s showers (gym instructors, athletic coaches), or women’s fashion.
Some, perhaps would look at such developments and shrug their shoulders. “Big whoop,” they might say, noting that before 2020, porn was already ubiquitous across American culture, popular music was already extremely raunchy, and LGBT behavior already received broad societal recognition and acceptance.
In one sense, such a sentiment is true. Yet in another sense, it’s deeply naïve.
Recall, in the case of the Ask Amy letter, a married man is labeled a creeper not primarily because he looks at pornographic content from someone he is related to by marriage, but because he contacted that amateur pornographer to tell her so. In other words, there is something about verbalizing one’s incestual desires that still possesses an “icky” factor. But why, exactly, should it?
In his new book “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” historian Carl R. Trueman describes the “triumph of the erotic,” describing how sexuality has become the preeminent markers of identity and meaning in contemporary culture. This, in turn, has led to increasing politicization in Western societies like America, and reflects a turn toward the therapeutic and emotivist — we define ourselves most fundamentally not by reference to the givenness of the natural world or some objective philosophical or religious criteria, but by what protects and maximizes our “self-expression,” what we feel, and what gives us pleasure:
The limits of acceptable sexual identity — even the prioritizing of sex as identity over other things, such as religion — is intrinsically arbitrary, even if historically explicable.
Indeed, “Game of Thrones,” one of the most popular TV programs of the last decade, had several characters who engaged in incest, some of whom viewers cheered for. Admittedly, such behavior has always happened, but now it is implicitly normalized.
The popular “Fifty Shades of Grey” series popularized bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism & masochism (S&M). The Netflix film “Cuties” portrayed the sexualization of prepubescent children. Absent any reference to natural law or objective religious truth, on what basis do we condemn any of this?
The answer, terrifyingly, is that we don’t have one. Emotivism, by its very nature, is subjective. A century ago, most Americans considered pornography, transgenderism, and BDSM not only “icky,” but objectively immoral and worthy of unreserved condemnation. An increasing number of us have now made our peace with all of these. The guardrails are shifting, and they’re shifting quickly. 2021 will undoubtedly be no different.
This is worthy of concern not just because what we find gross now may be normal in a decade, but due to the casualties of the ensuing sexual devolution. Thousands of women are commodified, trafficked, exploited, and abused in the billion-dollar pornography industry. Millions of men are emasculated by porn addiction. As Abigail Shrier argues in “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” transgender propaganda is increasing psychological disorders among a generation of young children.
Sadly, the costs for all of this won’t just be felt in 2021, but for many years to come.