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Industrial Sex: Freeing the Body from Consequences

January 6th, 2010 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Wendell Berry's essay "Feminism, the Body, and the Machine" is a gem.

I won't recap the whole argument, but along the way he provides this on the sexual revolution:

It is odd that because of its "sexual freedom" our time should be considered extraordinarily physical.  In fact, our "sexual revolution" is mostly an industrial phenomenon, in which the body is used as an idea of pleasure or a pleasure machine with the aim of "freeing" natural  pleasure from natural consequences.  Like any other industrial enterprise, industrial sexuality seeks to conquer nature by exploiting it and ignoring the consequences, by denying any connection between nature and spirit or body and soul, and by evading social responsibility.

Berry's opposition here between 'industrial' and 'physical' depends upon Berry's notion that the late moderns attempt to perfect the 'natural body' according to mechanical standards.  But if he is right, then what's at stake in our current view of the body is nothing less than the body as body, and not as machine or tool.

What appears to be a world shaped a strict physicalism, then, is actually the opposite.

Update:  Professor Craig Carter, who is reading Pope JP2's Theology of the Body and whose blog is really a must-read, offers this insightful take:

When pleasure becomes the main meaning of sex, the marriage becomes a matter of what each person gets out of it. It is a contract for the mutual use of each other's bodies for pleasure and when the pleasure ceases the relationship loses its purpose. It is the genius of John Paul II's TOB to join together the two purposes of sexuality, procreation and mutuality, into one thing. The problem with Evangelicals today is not just that they have accepted contraception; the greater problem is that in doing so they have allowed the use of artificial contraception to alter their understanding of the meaning of human sexuality.

I make a similar argument in the latest issue of The City, which I'll link to when it gets online.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.