The controversy over the Department of Health and Human Services contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing-pill mandate has been dismissed as one having to do with access to contraception, part of a John Boehner– or Catholic Church–orchestrated “war on women.” In truth, it has to do with religious liberty and the federal government’s forcing religious institutions and individuals to get with its sexual-ideological program, despite conscience objections. It has also been presented as a “preventative services” women’s-health measure – meaning that the government has officially made fertility a disease, and pregnancy something to be prevented. How did we get to this point? Is there a healthier and saner way to look at contraception? There is, and Mary Eberstadt outlines it in her new book, Adam and Eve after the Pill. The HHS-mandate debate may not be primarily about contraception, but it gives us a much-needed opportunity to have a better public conversation about the issue. Eberstadt talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about Adam and Eve and moving forward five decades after the introduction of the contraceptive pill.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “Modern contraception” may be “the central fact” of “our time.” That revolutionary?
MARY EBERSTADT: Yes, the sexual revolution really is all that. Name one other single social force that has changed so much about life for so many people everywhere on the planet. Besides National Review Online, of course.
LOPEZ: You note that there are things that could be said in the 1940s and 1950s by sociologists that we now cannot say — unless we seek “to be written off as religious zealots or as the blogosphere’s laughingstock du jour” — on account of “our changed moral code.” Have you been reading my inbox again?
EBERSTADT: I don’t have to, Kathryn — I can already guess what’s in it! Nothing brings out the gibbering hysteria quite like countercultural talk about sex. So let’s put some of it into historical and intellectual perspective.
Pitirim Sorokin, founder of Harvard’s department of sociology and a towering figure in his time, wrote a book almost 60 years ago, intended for a general audience, called The American Sex Revolution. He argued back then that the revolution would have negative effects across society via an increase in broken homes and general dissolution. He went so far as to argue that the sexual revolution would be the most consequential modern revolution for all humanity, excepting only the totalitarian political experiments.
Just imagine any Harvard sociologist publishing a book like that today — or any sociologist, period. It would be academic suicide. The few hardy souls who do venture into Sorokin’s territory constantly risk becoming pariahs. Witness the unhinged ferocity of some of the attacks on recent work by social scientist Mark Regnerus.
There’s more censorship and self-censorship about the legacy of the sexual revolution than about any other current issue out there. The fact is that people today are less free to talk candidly about this legacy than people were half a century ago. That tells us a lot. A mind can be a terrible thing to change.