A new book argues that young women are paying the price for liberal feminism’s refusal to say it as it is
“Sex must be taken seriously. Men and women are different. Some desires are bad. Consent is not enough. Violence is not love. Loveless sex is not empowering. People are not products. Marriage is good. Listen to your mother.”
These are the tenets of a new book by Louise Perry, a columnist with the New Statesman and campaigner with We Can’t Consent To This, a group which aims to get the ‘rough sex’ defence thrown out in murder trials of women killed by their sexual partners. Perry asks us to look at hook-up culture, the normalisation of porn, and extreme sexual practices; and to reconsider our ideas about what sexual liberation really means.
The Case Against The Sexual Revolution is exactly that — meticulously researched, challenging and thought-provoking, Perry suggests that liberal feminists have got it wrong. Just as the contraceptive pill greatly advantaged men in the era of Sixties ‘free love’, so too does today’s sexual freedom. Hook-up culture and the pornification of our sex lives is doing heterosexual women a huge disservice. We need to stop with the anything-goes attitude, writes Perry, and instead give our daughters the following advice:
“Distrust any person or ideology that puts pressure on you to ignore your moral intuition. Chivalry is actually a good thing. We have to control our sexual desires, and men particularly so, given their greater strength and average higher sex drives.”
Also — beware men who are impulsive, promiscuous, hyper-masculine and disagreeable, as these are often the traits of male sexual aggression. Beware men aroused by violence, “whether or not he uses the vocabulary of BDSM to excuse his behaviour.”
According to Perry, consent workshops are useless — better to keep convicted rapists in prison or limit their access to potential victims. Rapists are most likely to target young women aged 13 to 25; women should therefore avoid being alone with men they don’t know, or men who give them the creeps. “Gut instinct is not to be ignored.”
Get drunk or high in private with female friends, rather than in public or in mixed company. Don’t use dating apps — mutual friends can better vet potential partners’ histories. Hold off having sex with a new boyfriend for a few months, to find out if he’s serious about you or just wants a hook-up.
Only have sex with a man if you think he’d make a good father to your children — not necessarily because you want to have children with him, but because it’s a good rule of thumb. And finally — “Monogamous marriage is by far the most stable and reliable foundation on which to build a family.”
There’s a lot to unpack here. Louise Perry’s ideas will delight conservatives, yet she says she is not advocating a return to the bad old days of sexual traditionalism and repression of female desire; nor is she anti-men. (She is married to one, with whom she has a young son). She does, however, place a lot of emphasis on evolutionary biology — nature over nurture.
“I no longer believe in the blank slate view, that all the differences between men and women are entirely a product of culture,” she says. “We’ve got this widespread false belief that men and women are basically the same, that there are superficial differences, but physically and socially we’re not that different, which is not true.
“Men are so much [physically] stronger than women, but we are less aware of our differences because of the way our modern economy is set up — most people don’t do physical jobs. Male physical strength is not that big a deal as it was in the past.
“Lots of young women who don’t have much [life] experience and have imbibed the idea that the differences between us are trivial, and that the route to liberation is to have sex like a man, are really being set up to fail.
“I think at the moment we are not telling the truth about our sexual culture and the differences between men and women, particularly to young women, who believe that lie, and are being really mis-served.”
She continues: “The idea of rape being about power and not about sex is such a powerful mantra coming out of the second wave [of feminism]. And while it’s not entirely untrue — in the workplace, junior men never sexually harass their female bosses — seeing rape as a product of childhood socialisation just doesn’t work when you look at all the other evidence.”
She has been called a ‘prude’ and ‘vanilla’ online for her attitude towards BDSM. “The sad truth is that a minority of women do find BDSM very sexy,” she writes. “You do not have to go far to find such women publicly defending the practice as an expression of their sexual agency.” She refers to the fictional character of Christian Grey from the pulp novel 50 Shades Of Grey as representative of that scene. He isn’t, any more than porn is representative of sex. And what’s wrong with female sexual agency?
“If BDSM is your thing, do it with a highly trusted partner,” she says. “What’s really risky is doing it with people you don’t know, or casually. The problem is that what used to be a really niche sexual practice confined to a more responsible community has now become normalised by people who aren’t following any of the safety protocols.” In other words, what used to be confined to a private community of safe-sane-consensual kinksters has in recent years gone mainstream, thanks to the internet.
‘Lots of young women who have imbibed the idea that the differences between us are trivial, and that the route to liberation is to have sex like a man, are really being set up to fail.’
This isn’t about a bit of slap and tickle with some Ann Summers furry handcuffs, but about the mainstreaming of practices such as breath-play — erotic asphyxiation — which can (and does) go horribly wrong. Yet it is increasingly being used as a defence by violent men.
“Strangulation is now insanely common,” says Perry. “A third of Millennials have now experienced choking — a more palatable way of saying strangulation — during sex. This used to be super non-mainstream but has become so, probably due to porn. It’s a fashion thing — sex is relational. You have sex with other people, within a culture, within a network, with everyone influencing everyone else all the time.
“So to say [that sex] is two consenting adults alone in the bedroom, to see them as atomised, in isolation, is to ignore all of that context which actually has a huge impact on what we desire and what we do. Strangulation is a grim example of this — it has suddenly become something you do on a first date with someone you’ve met online. That has not come from nowhere — it’s a fashion that has spread like a meme.”
Perry hopes her book will present an “unvarnished reality” to young women. “It’s not an especially nice reality — but I think the alternative is worse because it’s encouraging young women to make potentially disastrous choices. We’re always the most physically vulnerable party in any kind of sexual encounter. A Tinder date is just some guy from the internet. The problem is that you won’t always be lucky in risky encounters.”
Such sentiments could be construed as victim-blaming, but Perry insists this is not her intention.
“It’s a legitimate feminist desire not to victim blame,” she says. “And I have great sympathy for that counterbalancing of historically always blaming women for men’s behaviour.
“Publicly we’ll condemn victim-blaming, but privately we will advise our friends and daughters to get a taxi rather than walk home. There are risks that women carry which are incredibly unfair, yet are also very real. I think it’s better to say it publicly, instead of privately sharing tips about avoiding dangerous men. But we’re not telling young women, who have to learn it the hard way.”
However, she has little time for what she terms “performative misandry”, the kill-all-men end of the internet.
“I think this is really wrong,” she says. “That much mocked hashtag Not All Men is actually true — sexual violence comes from a small minority of men. The vast majority are good and decent people. But there is a small dangerous minority who women need to be warned about. With greater strength and an average higher sex drive, there comes a greater responsibility. I’ve written this book for men as well as women.”
She knows quite well that what she is proposing is controversial, but her experience working in a rape crisis centre and campaigning against male sexual violence has left her adamantly opposed to the accepted norms of hook-up culture. As Andrea Dworkin put it, ‘f**king per se is not freedom per se’.
“It is possible to say no to this,” she says. “It’s almost counter-cultural to say no.”