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Prudence Dailey’s Commentary: Should the Church be Talking More, not Less, About Sex?

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Should the Church be Talking More, not Less, About Sex?

Please don’t rush to cancel your subscription to The English Churchman until you hear me out; but I’m currently reading a feminist book, and it’s rather good.

I don’t routinely read such literature; but this particular volume has been widely recommended by Christian, and especially evangelical, friends, so I decided it was worth a look. Its title is The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, and its author, Louise Perry—a young married mother—writes, inter alia, for the New Statesman. Coming originally from the left, Perry now defies standard political categories, preferring to think for herself: she has been hailed as a truly original thinker, and has said—accurately, I am sure—that there will be something in the book for everyone to disagree with. This is not going to be a review as such—apart from anything else, I have not yet finished the book!—but I shall pick up on some of themes the author examines.

While Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady may have demanded ‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’, Perry points out that two generations of both men and women have been deceived into thinking that that differences between the sexes are merely superficial and physical, and we are all the same from the neck up. (Inconsistently, many of those making such arguments are often the same people who claim that it is possible to be a man trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa; but that is, perhaps, a discussion for another day.) When a woman gets pregnant, her body is all in for nine months: she is therefore wired for commitment, both mentally and physically. She soon discovers that—unlike her average male counterpart—she cannot at will decouple fleeting sexual encounters from her emotions; and she is left (literally) holding the baby when conception does occur. In encouraging women to behave like unrestrained men, and in weakening the bonds of marriage, the sexual revolution has been especially damaging for women, Perry argues (and not too great for men either).

Perry is not a Christian, and some of her views clearly differ from orthodox Christian belief: she is, for example, not opposed to abortion, and suggests saying ‘no’ to sex for the first three months of dating (rather than until marriage). She does, nevertheless, acknowledge the importance of Christian morality in laying the foundations of social stability, to the benefit of women and children especially. It is hard to overestimate the radicalism of her arguments in today’s secular context, and yet she is being taken seriously, receiving a positive reception from some unexpected quarters (such as The Guardian). At the same time, Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson promotes a sexual ethic that is, if anything, more conservative than Perry’s, receiving rapturous applause from a largely secular—and predominantly male—audience.

And yet, while the havoc wrought on society by the sexual revolution is at last coming under some serious scrutiny, the Church—or at least, the majority of the Church of England, since both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics do somewhat better—maintains its half-century of silence. A few years ago, a General Synod member (male, of course) opined that people’s sexual lives should really be none of the Church’s business at all, and most of the time our Bishops behave as though they agree with him. Why are they not speaking out against hook-up culture, skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted infections, and explicit sex education that promotes promiscuity? Why are their voices not raised against falling marriage rates, rising divorce rates and the devastating effects of fatherlessness?

Perhaps they are afraid to be seen to be seen as ‘moralising’, or ‘preaching’ to people about their lifestyles; but that has not deterred them from an almost fanatical level of moralism when it comes to urging everyone to change their behaviour in order to tackle the supposed ‘climate emergency’. When our spiritual leaders have more to say about carbon dioxide than chastity, something is surely amiss.

At this point, some readers may be objecting that the Church is in fact already obsessed with sex, and the last thing we need is more discussion on the subject; but that would be to miss the point. For a number of reasons, the Church seems to have got itself completely fixated on same-sex relationships, despite the fact that only around two percent of the population identifies as gay, lesbian or any of the other rainbow alphabet soup permutations, while ignoring the other 98%. The Living in Love and Faith project was supposed to be looking at human sexuality more broadly, not just ‘gay sex’; but to the extent that this has happened at all, it has been disappointingly limited.

Given the Church’s tendency to be captured by the zeitgeist, perhaps now that the wider culture is beginning to ask some serious questions about the sexual revolution, the Church will come on board too. It really should not have to be that way round—but it would certainly be better than nothing.

Miss Prudence Dailey MBE, is a member of the General Synod from Oxford Diocese and was the long-time Chairman of the Prayer Book Society. She was recently appointed to a term on the Crown Nominations Commission.