It is telling that despite the fact that the ideas of Sigmund Freud were discredited some forty years ago, his unsubstantiated theory that sexual repression lies at the root of most of our mental anguish remains embedded in western culture. The myth that only total sexual liberation – more exposure, more sex education, more novelty, more indulgence – will provide the personal fulfillment we seek has reduced postmodern society to a techno-powered Sodom and Gomorrah, with all the attendant suffering.
The extent to which Freud was wrong is readily seen in the fact that the Sexual Revolution has coincided with the breakdown of the family, the objectification of women, the burgeoning mental health crisis, the slew of social dysfunction, and of course, the leadership crisis that now hamstrings every sector of society.
Far from improving our psychological, physical, and material well-being, the Sexual Revolution has left it in tatters.
The reality is that the detached, self-centered individual of postmodern secular society, unbound by the norms of family, community, and tradition, has no moral compass other than his or her own will, with cold utilitarian calculation providing self-justification whenever necessary. Any harm, physiological, psychological, or socio-economic, done to self or others in the pursuit of sexual gratification, is generally glossed over in this milieu of self-absorption unless it can be used to destroy a politician or celebrity in a blaze of media sensation.
What is a leader to do? A return to puritanism would be as destructive as the regnant promiscuity. Both amount to a denial of what it means to be human, and are therefore inimical to human flourishing. The first arises from the belief that perverse human nature must be shamed and shackled, the second from the wholly unscientific idea that there is no such thing as a set human nature, and that we can engineer humanity to be whatever we want it to be. Both are totalitarian expedients.
It is only through our understanding of human nature that we are able to posit human rights in the first place, confident in our knowledge of what is good for human beings and what is bad for them. And sex is an undeniable good for human nature, an essential part of the very beautiful experience we know as romantic love, or Eros, which is mysteriously linked with the creative instinct that drives us to seek wholeness in the true, the good, and the beautiful.
By the same token, human nature makes it clear that sex also gives rise to the many dangers discussed above. Few people in positions of authority are prepared to acknowledge the obvious reality that many of the seemingly intractable problems of postmodern society, social, economic, political, and cultural, are related to the perversion, trivialization, and commercialization of sex since the 1960s.
The only answer for leaders lies in the virtues essential to human flourishing – practical wisdom, courage, justice, self-control, faith, hope, and love. Practical wisdom is choosing what is good for people according to reason and experience; courage is standing firm on principles according to the standards set by practical wisdom; justice is protecting and supporting the many victims of the Sexual Revolution; self-control is saying no to self when indulgence would harm others; faith is acknowledging a higher law that transcends human laws and seeks the good of all; hope is persevering in the face of intimidating odds; and love is working for the good of every person as defined by human nature. Sex is good with virtue, and degrading without it.
Whatever we do, the challenge of sex is not going to go away. Lust, infidelity, prostitution, pornography, and the like, will continue to challenge humanity now and in the future. The only real difference between postmodern secular society and past cultures is that whereas they all tried in one way or another to guard against the obvious dangers sex poses, our society chooses to actively promote promiscuity and perversion, with predictable consequences.
Human sexuality is a big part of who we are as individuals and as a society. Just how positive or negative a part is up to us. Leadership, like virtue, is not about repressing sex; it’s about making it the good it was intended to be.