Sexualized childhood is the next frontier for the sexual revolution. It comes in the sheep’s clothing of pregnancy prevention and healthy lifestyles, but it is a wolf. It promises to disorder human sexual relations—and to undermine what remains of our marital and family ethic and subvert civilization itself.
What if the sexual revolution is not even half over? Sexual revolutionaries have had many victories since the 1960s, but they have not yet fulfilled their greatest ambitions. Promoting childhood sexuality will bring them closer to their goal.
Sexual revolutionaries in the ’60s hoped to achieve total liberation by undermining the institutions and manners that “repressed sexuality.” In an atmosphere free of repression, they believed, all expressions of sexuality would be blessed, while those who taught that there was a right way and a wrong way to have sex would be stigmatized as Puritans or worse.
Yet the end of repression is a long way off. Revolutionaries hoped to watch marriage wither on the vine, but a majority of Americans still marry, and most marriages last a lifetime. Revolutionaries won public acceptance of homosexuality and then same-sex marriage, but the number of practicing homosexuals has not skyrocketed. Revolutionaries hoped to free sex from enduring relationships, but polymorphous perversity has not yet become the American norm. Revolutionaries have also subverted the moral and sexual teaching of their greatest enemy, the Christian faith, but most churches continue to draw lines on sexual behavior. Things could be worse.
Conservatives often claim that the sexual revolution will meet “natural limits.” Perhaps the principal natural limit is respect for the sexual innocence of children. Our society has long opposed thinking of children as sex objects or sexual beings, and rarely encouraged children themselves to engage in sexual play and exploration. Childhood is a time to cultivate self-control, to encourage sexual modesty, and to turn shame into sexual virtue. We enforce this limit with age of consent laws and with laws against child pornography.
But sexual revolutionaries do not respect this “natural” limit. Indeed, sexual revolutionaries consider children to be sexual beings with sexual desires that crave fulfillment. Leaders of the sexual revolution thought Christian and bourgeois society would collapse if children were raised to a “sex affirmative” environment without “repression.” For Wilhelm Reich, author of Sexual Revolution, “abstinence for children” is “pathological and causes the very chaos it feels called upon to master.” In Eros and Civilization, Herbert Marcuse stated he hoped the revolution could “eroticize previously tabooed zones, times, and relations,” such as childhood. The influential Alfred Kinsey thought that the distinction between infantile and adult sexuality would disappear in a truly non-oppressive society.