Approximately 50 years after the sexual revolution profoundly changed the United States, the #MeToo movement became a worldwide phenomenon — leading some to examine our current cultural landscape and the effects of the sexual revolution. On May 31, the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) Catholic Women’s Forum and the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture presented “The #MeToo Moment: Second Thoughts on the Sexual Revolution.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl was the keynote speaker; Mary Eberstadt of the Faith & Reason Institute gave the opening remarks and was followed by the all-women panels “Women’s Health: Evidence and Concerns” and “Exploitation: A Booming Business,” with closing remarks by Helen Alvaré, who recently published a pro-life feminist op-ed for CNN.

According to the EPPC, #MeToo has “prompted new questions about related risks to women and whether those risks share a common root in the sexual revolution.” The forum acted as an “in-depth conversation” that drew on “women’s experiences and the latest evidence from the social sciences, law, and medicine to expose troubling and underreported facts about the exploitation women face today.”

As a pro-life feminist who believes the sexual revolution was ultimately a net positive, I was interested in seeing how the forum addressed the sexual revolution and #MeToo, as well as the conclusions the speakers reached.

The event discussed multiple topics, including the effects of casual sexual encounters; pornography; birth control and fertility; prostitution; and sex trafficking. Below are excerpts from the speakers and panels. The full videos are available here.

Several speakers pointed out how pornography harms both men and women; it can affect how they view sexual intercourse or can cause relationship or dating troubles, such as communication issues or the replacement of intimacy with pornography.

Last year, NPR reported “married men and women who use pornography are more likely to get divorced than men and women who do not.” Additionally, psychologist Mary Anne Layden noted one study found 58% of male pornography users experienced erectile dysfunction with their partners but not with pornography.

Layden also pointed out pornography can affect expectations of sex, noting 88.2% of the scenes in one sample of 304 pornographic videos contained physical aggression such as slapping. Such behaviors can be consensual, but these scenes can affect younger viewers, who may be inexperienced and emotionally immature, and warp their perspective of what their partner wants.

However, it seems limited to claim the predators at the heart of the #MeToo sexual misconduct stories learned their bad behavior solely from pornography or the issue with such predators is simply “emotional unintelligence.”

Abuse of power is one of the most common themes in history and has occurred since the dawn of time, long before the sexual revolution nearly six decades ago or the rise of Internet pornography — from kings and their subjects, to slave-owners and their slaves, to managers and their subordinates. In particular, women of color and women in poverty throughout history have frequently been at the mercy of the powerful men in their lives, and it is vital these women’s experiences are not erased or treated as insignificant or invalid.

“The time for defending gender-cide in the name of feminism is over,” Eberstadt said.

It is pro-woman to be pro-life, and it is consistent with feminist messages to argue the baby in the womb is a human being with his or her own autonomy.

Furthermore, it is indisputable sex-selective abortion and infanticide affect females far more than males. 

“Around the planet, millions more unborn girls are killed every year than boys. They are killed because they are girls,” Eberstadt said. “It is as anti-female as it is possible to be.”

The modern feminist movement needs to acknowledge and address this, as well as other issues within the movement — as Eberstadt said, “Like wolves in Planned Parenthood clothing, some men have been using pro-abortion politics as protective coloration for harassment and exploitation.”

Left-leaning men often use their support of progressive issues, particularly abortion, to establish themselves as “allies” or progressive heroes. They co-opt supposedly “feminist” messages for their own selfish purposes, in order to remove any responsibility from their own actions and to gain protection.

From Harvey Weinstein, to Eric Schneiderman, to Tim Murphy, public figures and politicians from both sides of the aisle have taken advantage of the abortion debate for power, for political gain, and to avoid personal responsibility.

Dr. Suzanne Hollman, a professor of clinical psychology at George Washington University, referred to a 2012 study that found 78% of women regret their most recent casual sexual encounter. She discussed how men and women’s non-verbal signals of consent (or non-consent) differ, which can result in miscommunication that is made even more confusing when two partners are unfamiliar with each other.

However, the sexual revolution focused on consensual sex between willing participants; sex is not something taken or given but shared, and it’s completely in line with the sexual revolution to encourage women to take agency to directly say “no” at any time and to simultaneously encourage men to pay attention to their partners’ non-verbal cues.

Unfortunately, many empowering aspects of the sexual revolution get overlooked, while time before the sexual revolution is often mistakenly remembered as though sexual misconduct was nonexistent.

For example, the term “sexual harassment” was coined in the 1970s because women demanded it no longer be considered acceptable behavior. Furthermore, the events of the sexual revolution led to women obtaining the ability to seek legal recourse for such behavior and for discrimination (such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Williams v. Saxbe of 1976, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1980).

Other positive outcomes include the Equal Opportunity Credit Act of 1974 giving women financial freedom and the courts beginning to treat domestic abuse, sexual violence, and marital rape as serious crimes, rather than as family or private issues.

Furthermore, violence or abuse of power should not be placed in the same category as consensual or premarital sex, and it’s important to remember fifty years is ultimately not a significant length of time in the history of mankind.

But there were certainly negative repercussions. Dr. Monique Chireau, a obstetrician-gynecologist at Duke University Hospital, discussed the increase of sexually transmitted diseases since the sexual revolution — sexually transmitted diseases hit a record high in California in 2017, with more than 300,000 diagnoses — and how such diseases can lead to infertility.

Dr. Chireau also pointed out that “women’s fertility regulation strategies” can “have unintended consequences.”

Our workplace system was created before women in the workplace was common, before the average age of first-time parents increased, and before both parents working became common. “[Contraception] has hurt women in not allowing for flexibility or changes in professional structures,” Dr. Marguerite Duane said.

This perspective takes women into consideration and values them both as part of the family and as part of the workplace. It does not insist every woman’s place is only in the home or insist the structure is inflexible and therefore cannot accommodate or better serve women.

Dr. Duane noted, “Women spend [their] twenties trying to avoid pregnancy and their thirties trying to become pregnant.”

Because the biological window to have children is so small, it is of vital importance there are no problems or issues. Yet many women lack important knowledge and information about our own bodies and fertility, only becoming educated and informed upon deciding we are ready to have children.

The Church encourages the Natural Family Planning method, which results in women becoming more familiar with their bodies and more knowledgeable about their fertility than many women using other contraceptive methods like the birth control pill.

Unfortunately, though the birth control pill gave women sexual freedom, there are side affects of interfering with one’s natural hormones. Dr. Duane stated that 65% of women who stop using oral contraceptives do so because of side effects and wondered if the world will someday view the birth control pill as negatively as tobacco.

The speakers also examined the profitability behind exploitation.

Jennifer Lahl discussed the effects of surrogacy. “Bodies of women in particular are valued for their reproductive capacities — their eggs, their wombs,” she said. “The global fertility industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar a year industry.” According to Market Watch, the industry will reach $30 billion dollars by 2023.

An increase of 846% in reports of suspected child sex trafficking online in only a five-year period is horrific.

We must all be aware of the horrors being inflicted on children and women. We cannot remain ignorant to the evils that people are willing to commit for the sake of pleasure or money.

The Church has formed groups with the goal of ending trafficking.

Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at George Mason University, provided the event’s closing remarks, in which she revealed at least one positive result of the sexual revolution by noting the significance of a panel of female scholars. “It really did take some decades to have this many qualified women,” she said. “We could not have had such a conference thirty years ago.”

The EPPC and the Catholic Women’s Forum were willing to engage in this discussion and to try to examine issues in our society, which is an attitude that’s sorely needed.

However, one topic that was missing was the Catholic Church sex abuse and the more recent #ChurchToo stories. These are uncomfortable truths to face, but it is necessary to acknowledge these abuses occurred, to examine how and why they were able to occur, and to ensure they never occur again. Furthermore, it is necessary to ensure predators in the church know they will not be tolerated, accepted, or welcomed and to ensure victims in the church know they will be heard, believed, and supported.

The event was nevertheless thought-provoking. And, because the panelists were all scholars who used empirical data, their points cannot be easily disregarded, even for those who disagree.

I hope these organizations continue to encourage these discussions — and I plan to be at the next such event they hold.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.