Mary Eberstadt’s book, ‘Adam and Eve After the Pill’, begins with a bold statement: “No single event since Eve took the apple has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception.” Misidentification of the biblical fruit aside, Eberstadt crafts a convincing case for the argument that modern contraception and, more importantly, the subsequent sexual revolution have fundamentally changed Western Culture for the worse.
Obviously, this is not a position that is either popular or widely believed and Eberstadt concedes as much. This is one of the reasons that she spends the first chapter, ‘The Will to Disbelieve’, drawing a comparison between those in Academia who denied that the Cold War was really a problem and those who, today, deny that the sexual revolution which began in the 1960s has had any real negative effect on Western society. Eberstadt spends much of the chapter explaining how “the empirical record today on sex documents the overall benefits of marriage and monogamy.” She cites numerous studies and pieces of research that all point to the same thing: The more that people venture out from the sexual ethic which has dominated Western civilization for the last two millennia, the more problems those people encounter. The data that is mentioned varies from the fact that “women whose husbands are the breadwinners tend to be happier than other women,” to the evidence which suggests “children who grow up with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents” and everything in-between.
After giving a quick overview of the research that’s been done in the past several decades, Eberstadt focuses in on how the aftershocks of the sexual revolution have affected women, men, children, and young people. She spends these chapters documenting how women today are statistically less satisfied and fulfilled than their forebears, men have in large measure become stuck in a prolonged adolescence (not to mention the desensitization they’ve experienced as a result of rampant pornography use) , and young people are more likely to be sexually assaulted by their peers than any time in recent memory. Each of the chapters is meticulously researched and documented with footnotes on nearly every page. There were times that I may not have agreed with every reason she gave, but she always had a reason to say what she did; and most of them were good reasons. The statistics that she presented about the effects of divorce on children are particularly troubling to me. Obviously, God had a reason for saying, “I hate divorce” and we ignore Him at our own, and our culture’s, peril (Malachi 2:16). One of the things about these chapters that I especially enjoyed was the way that Eberstadt used the words of the very people who would disagree with her against them. She doesn’t just quote conservative think tanks or Catholic scholars. Several articles from liberal websites and magazines including Slate, Salon, and the New York Times also get discussed. Often times, it’s a begrudging statement of admittance that all of the effects of the pill’s advent aren’t what they were cracked up to be. One particularly memorable example was an article that Eberstadt quotes from the Atlantic by Lori Gottlieb called ‘Marry Him!’ It’s a sad article that shows how ‘free love’ can end up leaving people far more lonely than they would have been had they paid the costs associated with traditional marriage and love.
After discussing the effects of the sexual revolution on the individuals in our society, Eberstadt uses an analogy to compare our attitudes towards sex with our attitudes towards food. It’s an interesting discussion that is well worth a read. It’s fascinating how many in our culture went from believing sex was a moral issue to now, believing that the consumption of food is a moral issue (see PETA among other organizations). Eberstadt also spends a short chapter comparing how tobacco and pornography have swapped places in our culture. In the 1960s, cigarettes were used by nearly 50% of Americans and weren’t seen as terribly harmful by most people. However, pornography was seen as a horrible vice and a sign of moral depravity. Today, cigarettes are far more likely to be seen as a vice than pornography as is evidenced by articles like this. Both of these chapters are interesting and thought provoking; however, they’re less focused on empirical facts and more based on subjective observations.
Finally, Eberstadt uses the last chapter to advocate for the Catholic encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae. Eberstadt notes four predictions made by the document, written by Pope Paul VI, and then proceeds to explain how each one of them has come to pass in the post-sexual revolution world. She makes a solid case for the letter’s prescience. Although this chapter is heavily concerned with Catholic teaching, Eberstadt briefly mentions several protestants, most notably Martin Luther and John Calvin, to make the case that at one time, contraception was an issue that united Christendom at large. Today, this is obviously not the case.
Overall, this is a well-documented book that delves into a topic that is seldom discussed in this way. And yet, who can deny that Western Civilization has serious issues when it comes to the topic of sex? Skyrocketing divorce rates, rampant pornography addiction, the increasing commercialization of sex, the high rate of unwed mothers, and on and on and on. Can all of the ills related to sex be traced back to the sexual revolution or are there other factors that haven’t been adequately explored? It’s a question that needs to be more fully studied. But I think there’s an even more important question: What can be done about it now? Now that’s a topic for a book that I’d really like to read.