I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be sexually liberated. The 1960s began a new cultural revolution for sexuality in the west, and it has allowed the once radical idea of sexual freedom for adults to become mainstream. And, as I see it, what was once radical traversed through liberal/progressive to mainstream, and its trajectory is pushing it towards conservativism for future generations.
Currently many people, who would have been thought of as radical to 1950’s repressive standards, are now trying to defend our cultural accomplishment of liberated sexuality against the remaining religiously-motivated reactionaries who are trying to maintain a pseudo-traditional view of strict abstinence towards life-long monogamous marriage.
I don’t have statistics available to me right now, but I would bet that evidence exists to support the claim that the majority of people in countries like the US, Western Europe, etc agree that non-married adults who choose to maintain sexual relationships with other non-married adults should be permitted to do so at their whim. That is, our freedom to have relationships of our choosing, as adults, is mostly uncontroversial.
This, in our culture, has not always been the case in the last couple of centuries. There were many social stigmas as well as other cultural control mechanisms which made such things rather difficult for adults, especially woman, even if it did happen (our desires are too strong to eliminate completely!).
So, having gone through a couple of generations since the sexual revolution of the 60s, most people accept a worldview of sexually active adults. Many people still may have reservations about gay marriage, the alternative sex world, or non-monogamy but do not object to the extistence of relationships which include homosexual, kinky, or non-monogamous behavior if that is what people want.
When we talk about “conservatives,” then, we are talking about people who oppose homosexuality, non-procreative sex, and “adultery,” right? I mean, people who oppose such things certainly are conservative, but are they the extreme conservatives or merely the standard conservatives?
For me, to be conservative is to attempt to maintain some “normal” or mainstream behavior in order to preserve cultural practices which are beneficial either because they are valuable in themselves or because they work to maintain some other aspect of culture which is valuable.
As an example, take the rhetoric about traditional v. Gay marriage. Gay marriage, it is claimed, seeks to destroy “traditional marriage”, even though the “tradition” of marriage has already changed from a property arrangement to an agreement between two individuals to remain committed to each other and share responsibility for resources, children, etc.
That is, the former tradition of a property arrangement, a tradition once defended by conservatives of an era past, has been transformed by progressives (“liberals”) of the same era, and has become traditional. And now that new tradition is being defended again by people who share the opinion of those once-radical progressives, but we call them conservatives today.
We at least call them not-liberal (as my own father’s political status is on facebook). The point is that history is currently moving towards liberalization, progressive values, etc. Even if it is moving slower than I would like. Also, it could possibly start moving in the other direction just as easily, so we need to keep up the effort.
My hypothesis is this; within the next generation or so, or at least within my lifetime, what we now see as the mainstream view of relationships will begin to look more conservative—what is now centrist, mainstream, or traditional will shift as progressive people recognize the legitimacy of views which are seen as radical now; things like polyamory, for example.
Liberals of today are maintaining pretty tame views about sexual liberation. Even my own generation, people I went to highschool, college, etc (as well as those 10 years younger, in many cases) hold views about relationships which look to me, from my “radical” point of view, as conservative by comparison.
These are people who self-identify as liberals. They support Barack Obama, gay marriage, science, and are almost exclusively pro-choice. But they see much of BDSM, swinging, polyamory, etc as radical. They think it is damaging, impractical, or at best experimental. They tend to question whether my engagement and relationships can really be legitimately serious, important, and be a function of mature, responsible, true love.
Ladies, gentlemen, and genderqueerfolk, I present to you tomorrow’s tradition-defending, centrist (but leaning conservative), pragmatic culture. They will take what they have learned, in response to yesterday’s conservatism, and create a newer conservatism of their own.
And when they are retired, grandparents, and defending the tradition they were raised with, our grandchildren will be pushing the possibilities of relationships, sexuality, etc in directions that us weird folk can only imagine and dream about now.
And we will be proud while those whining conservatives we grew up with will be grumbling about traditional one-at-a-time spouses, how they had to fumble around with their first sex partners to learn, rather than having excellent comprehensive sex education which makes young adults unashamed to enjoy sex, etc. Just like conservatives do.
And these future generations will be the newer liberals, progressing in ways hard for us to imagine. Our generation will be the conservative generation, with some of us weird folks sticking around to appreciate what legacy we worked for, were ostracized for, and for which we were labeled as freaks all our lives.
Well, let’s get on with it then, freaks! Let’s pave an easier road for the next couple of generations, and see what unrepressed, unshamed, and radical people can do with the possibilities of love, sex, and (hopefully) skepticism.