The American people have become acolytes of a religion of the flesh.
Selling Sexual Freedom
Real liberation demands a rejection of the commodification of women.
Unherd held a recent debate between sex-industry worker Aella and reactionary feminist Louise Perry. Perry presented the argument of her new book, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, which argues that some of the supposed freedoms brought on by the sexual revolution have in specific ways been harmful for women. Aella, arguing for the freedom found in paid sex from a libertarian perspective, said, “When you were talking about prostitution I was like, ‘Well, you should just try it once or twice and see how it works for you, and if you don’t like it, then stop.’”
By focusing on prostitution, the debate elucidates the extreme ends of the argument that sex positivity is liberating for women. But sex positivity adversely affects a far broader segment of the population than the small percentage of women who are engaged explicitly in sex for pay. The commodification of women’s bodies and sex has made its way into seemingly mundane aspects of life, and is now pervasive in our culture, to varying negative effects for women and men alike.
The way young women use TikTok, for example, shows how girls commodify themselves in return for the currency of the attention economy, “likes,” to deleterious effect. Even seemingly innocuous trends like cottagecore on Instagram, a way of depicting a curated humble pastoral existence, can trap women in a curation cycle wherein life is built around capturable images, not the other way around.
Contemporary dating is another arena in which women commodify themselves, accepting that they are explicitly selling a package in a marketplace, dehumanizing the sacred uniqueness of personhood. This commodification of women is most profitable for young, fertile women, and the end result is that as women age out of that stage they either desperately alter their bodies to retain a hint of maidenhood, or they pass into social irrelevance. If you are not able to be used as a commodity for men’s pleasure then you are worthless in this marketplace.
The liberatory ideology of the sexual revolution is stodgy bait on a sharp hook; it is a way for commodity capitalists to use women’s bodies, exploit them, and discard them.
This partnership between exploitative commodification and technology results in a kind of repugnant transhumanism. With the tools of the internet, the panopticon is turned on the self in reverse totalitarianism: commodify oneself and enter the metaverse or experience social death. To be seen is to be worthy, yet the accelerating proliferation of imagery cheapens the marginal value of each new selfie or thirst trap to zero.
Equally troubling, men’s brains are being rewired in the transhumanist marketplace; they are no longer able to see women as whole humans, but only as figments or snippets of idealized pornographic desire. Men become less spontaneous or even capable of interacting “IRL,” as society moves increasingly online. Porn addiction is no longer a question of compulsively watching porn. The porno-world imposes itself on the male mind as a kind of built-in augmented reality wearable.
There is Aella’s utopian world, wherein trying out prostitution is a playful experimentation with sexuality, and then there is reality, wherein real, usually desperate, women are victims of commodification and abuse. While women are significantly more likely to say they are seeking long term, committed relationships, the post-sexual revolution world makes it so that this once standard possibility is progressively vanishing, for men and women alike.
Aella’s argument is based on a cold, positivist rationalism. Human beings, in this mode, are experimental objects that can and should manipulate themselves to maximize their utility in the sexual marketplace. Human sexuality is divested of sacred meaning or rootedness. People will be able to solve problems like female exploitation through a combination of wise social planning and technology.
The possibility that liberating sexual social norms will lead to more freedom for all is a devil’s bargain. This form of liberation is just a way to increase the power of men and the machine at the expense of women and girls. It’s not just the people who explicitly choose prostitution who suffer.