But the question remains: If sex is liberated, what is it liberated from, and what is it liberated to?
If sex is just a matter of physical pleasure, then the freedom to enjoy it becomes the default moral position. Any further question concerns the use to which this pleasure is put. Such is implied by Foucault’s title, The Use of Pleasure. This way of seeing things feeds into two other orthodoxies of our time. My pleasures are mine, and if you are forbidding them you are also oppressing me. Hence sexual liberation is not just a release but a duty, and by letting it all hang out I am not just defying the bourgeois order but casting a blow for freedom everywhere. Self-gratification acquires the glamor and the moral kudos of a heroic struggle. For the “me” generation, no way of acquiring a moral cause can be more gratifying. You become totally virtuous by being totally selfish.
Furthermore, it becomes easier to weigh sex in the cost”“benefit balance. As society retreats from the vestigial experience of the sacred and the forbidden, we easily imagine that sex has nothing especially to do with love, and that it has lost its sacramental aura. We then try to reconstruct sexual morality in utilitarian terms. Pleasures can be weighed in terms of their intensity and duration, and if there is no more to sex than pleasure we can form a clear and decidable distinction between “good sex” and “bad sex,” qualified only by the principle of consent. It is in these terms that the ethos of sexual liberation is now expressed, with “good sex” being esteemed as the natural outcome of a truly liberated and self-expressing desire””the desire being precisely a desire for pleasure.
If we see sex in that way, as the release of the real me inside, the reward of which is pleasure, then the sexual revolution does not lead to the “withering away of the state,” such as the Marxists foretold. It leads to the withering away of society.
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