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.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Matt, I’ve been wanting to read that collection of essays for awhile and that excerpt further confirmed that for me. Have you read his Life is a Miracle? I’m in the middle of it now, quite good so far.


  2. Jake,

    It’s next on my Berry reading list. And to be honest, I’m being pretty selective right now–unless it directly or indirectly hits my theme of the body, I can’t spend too much time with it.



  3. […] Industrial Sex: Freeing the Body from Consequences, by Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy, with an insightful view of the sexual revolution […]


  4. […] central premise is taken from an essay that we’ve referenced ’round here before, namely that the divorce between the body and the soul mechanized the body and led to an […]


  5. It sounds like Wendell Berry has a lot in common with Michael Polanyi (Omnivore’s Dilemma), which I thought was a truly great book.


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