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The sexual reckoning

Russell Brand, previously celebrated as a ‘lovable Lothario’, now faces scrutiny for his past sexual conduct. Debates labelling him either as misunderstood, a victim of a frame up by the elites, or emblematic of toxic masculinity and patriarchy continue to rage online. However, are we missing the larger cultural narrative: the impact and consequences of the sexual revolution?

The sexual revolution provided a much-needed antidote to the suffocating moral puritanism of bygone eras. However, to hail it as a success would be intellectually lazy. The seismic shift in sexual conventions warrants a far more nuanced appraisal.

The concept of a ‘sexual revolution’ dates back further than one might assume. Despite being widely associated with the 1960s ‘Make love not war’ era, the term was actually coined by Wilhelm Reich in the 1930s.

He challenged Sigmund Freud’s notion that repression was a cornerstone of civilised society. He asserted that all our societal ailments, including fascism, could be cured through sexual liberation.

While Reich might have been a marginal figure in his time, his ideas were catapulted into mainstream acceptance by the counterculture movements of the 1960s. What we see today owes much to that enthusiastic adoption of these ideals.

Nonetheless, the idyllic promises Reich extolled have hardly come to fruition. True, we have all benefitted from a more positive attitude towards our bodies and desires. The LGBTI population has seen advancements in civil liberties due directly to this shift in cultural mores.

However, the litany of ensuing problems undermines the notion that this revolution was purely beneficial. A balanced assessment leads to a sobering conclusion: the sexual revolution has not been an unequivocal success.

Author Kay S Hymowitz writes that the rise in absent fathers is directly related to the sexual revolution and a strong anti-marriage feminism. In the US, about 40 per cent of mothers are lone parents. That is an eightfold increase since the 1950s. In some communities in the UK, 70 per cent of children haven’t got a father at home. This all exacerbates wealth and income disparities, stratifying society along lines of class, race and even gender.

The depiction of prostitution as empowering is another example of how the sexual revolution has lied to us. Women, on average, exhibit higher baseline levels of sexual disgust than men. Unwelcome advances or groping can elicit profound revulsion in women. Rachel Moran, a survivor of prostitution, explains that mastering the suppression of this intense response is considered an “essential skill” within such exploitative trades.

And let’s not forget the murky waters of casual sexual encounters. Far from being the exalted expressions of human freedom, an excessive number of these transactions often leave a grim trail – sexually transmitted infections, psychological morass and a crushing sense of isolation.

In the rush to be free of any rules or standards, people didn’t stop to think about why those rules were there in the first place. Should we then express surprise when the social fabric unravels, giving rise to illness, emotional vacuity and harm?

In some communities in the UK, 70 per cent of children haven’t got a father at home- Edward Caruana Galizia

After systematically blurring ethical and social boundaries and commercialising the most intimate aspects of human existence, feigned astonishment at these outcomes would be not just intellectually dishonest but entirely irresponsible.

If you need evidence of the impact of all this on an individual level, then look no further than Brand himself. He is, in many ways, a product of this laissez-faire attitude towards sex and its repercussions.

Brand’s upbringing was marred by an absent father who resurfaced not to nurture his son but to introduce him to pornography and, at a later point, secure a prostitute for him.

Subsequently, Brand developed a sex addiction that contributed to a public image that was met less with concern than with amusement. He talked about nothing but sex, cracking jokes about sexual experiences. And people laughed and cheered, as if they couldn’t get enough.

However, a review of Brand’s previous interviews reveals a dissonance between public reaction and private sentiment. Although laughter is audible during these segments, it is not indicative of genuine amusement.

The absence of overt disapproval likely stemmed from a fear of being labelled as prudish or outdated. No one wanted to be seen as conservative. Nowadays, however, many of these same individuals assert their lack of enjoyment of Brand’s statements. Well, they are 20 years too late.

In the wake of the sexual revolution, it seems that all, Brand included, have been swept along by its unchecked momentum. When established boundaries are labelled as suffocating and any call for decorum is dismissed as moralistic or narrow-minded, the stage is set for trouble.

Under these conditions, it only takes one individual with unsavoury inclinations to wreak havoc and the collective uncertainty about how, or, indeed, even when, to intervene becomes alarmingly apparent.

Brand may yet have his day in court but, as for Reich and his sexual revolution, the verdict is out. Today, we find ourselves navigating a landscape where the very boundaries that were torn down may well have been protective barriers.

Maybe, then, some of the barriers long dismantled could be rebuilt, not as obstacles to freedom but as safeguards to well-being. The true path to liberation may not lie in the unconsidered removal of conventions but in the thoughtful establishment of new ones; ones that protect rather than confine, offering a framework within which genuine freedom and respect can flourish.

Edward Caruana Galizia is an actor and has a master’s degree in culture, diaspora and ethnicity from Birkbeck University of London.