This post was originally published at liberateandconserve.wordpress.com.
Sexual liberation was the movement to legalize all forms of consensual extramarital (particularly heterosexual) sex (i.e. premarital sex and open marriages), usage of contraceptives, all forms of consensual sexual practices (i.e. sodomy), and softening of the measures delivered to adulterous spouses. This movement was completed during the 1960s and 1970s, though attitudes persist till today. Sexual liberation is linked to abortion and women’s liberation, but those will be separate posts.
From the introduction:
The liberal worldview, as currently conceived in America, holds that humans, in their natural state, are equal in character, virtue, intelligence, beauty, aptitude, and worth, and that actualizing that equality constitutes the noblest political pursuit. Entwined in the worldview is the perspective that the natural is essentially good, and that actions to change the natural constitute corruption, and not improvement.
Sexual activity is natural. For mammals and other living things, it may be considered the most natural thing since it is the perpetuator of life itself. Liberalism on its own can have no restrictions on adult consensual sexual behavior (caveat for homosexual behavior: one can be a liberal and believe it to be unnatural, see post). However, since most people have a sense to not hurt others, most liberals believe cheating and adultery are wrong.
The conservative worldview, as currently conceived in America, holds that humans, in their natural state, are basically savages. This perspective holds that the natural is essentially suspect, and that the noblest political pursuit constitutes advancing and strengthening those social structures that enable man or woman to overcome, restrain, and master nature and become stable, civilized, and content.
Sexual desire is clearly one of the base desires that conservatism tries to rein in. Premarital sex, for conservatism, is “jumping the gun”; it is acting prematurely, without the sanction of parents/society, and it delivers the choice of partner to the individual rather than to the advice of wiser seniors. Promiscuity is abject destruction, harming the emotional lives of many people, and promoting the spread of disease and death and fatherless and/or motherless children. Sodomy (read here as “heterosexual oral or anal intercourse”) is not obviously in conflict with conservatism. That would require beliefs to the effect of “God is displeased with sodomy” and “God’s displeasure harms society.” Contraceptives are, surprisingly, not out of tune with conservatism on its own, but rather require influences such as Roman Catholicism, which holds that “Be fruitful and multiply” is a command to maintain sexual intercourse fertile (+ “Disobeying God’s commands harms society”), or ancient Judaism, which believes sperm to be a finite, expendable resource (+ “It is a man’s duty to be fertile and have children” + “Failing to comply with duty harms society”). In fact, promiscuity with contraceptives is a more conservative behavior than promiscuity without contraceptives. Open marriages would seem to be in conflict with conservatism; however, it’s necessary to know whether open marriages are less stable than traditional ones. Any given marriage would probably be destabilized by opening it, but that doesn’t imply that spouses psychologically able and willing to handle it should be prevented from doing so. Finally, harsh measures against adulterous spouses are completely warranted, given that adultery directly destabilizes marriage.
Libertarianism holds that any victimless behavior should be legal. Externalities do not enter the libertarian calculus for violence or victimhood, so STDs, subsequent marital instability, and other effects are not relevant. Libertarianism would hold to enforcing whatever consequences were agreed to in the private marriage contract in the case of adultery.
My view is that premarital sex, contraceptives, sodomy, and open marriages should all be legal because of freedom. Adultery (in the ordinary nonconsensual sense) should invite sanctions such as surrender of alimony in the event of a divorce, and other preferential treatments for the faithful partner. Pursuing no-fault divorce should be treated as some level of adultery. The current divorce culture in the USA, however, awards alimony and equal assets to the adulterous partner. On this issue, liberalism has won completely.