The Shadow Side of Sexual Liberation
It is not possible to devalue the body and value the soul. The body, cast loose
from the soul, is on its own. Devalued … the body … sets up a counterpart
economy of its own, based also on the laws of competition, in which it de-
values and exploits the spirit. These two economies maintain themselves
at each other’s expense, living upon the other’s loss, collaborating without
ceasing in mutual futility and absurdity. You cannot devalue the body and
value the soul—or value anything else.
Today’s emerging adults have grown up in a culture that is two generations on from the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. What were once daring and rebellious acts of “love” outside of committed relationships have now for many emerging adults become routine, almost pedestrian. Emerging adults today inherit and help to perpetuate a culture that is highly sexualized, in a casual and sometimes chaotic way. Some commentators bemoan this fact, while others celebrate it.1 Our concern here is not to take sides in these partisan debates. Rather, we seek to help inform such larger discussions by offering insights into some of the complexities and difficulties involved in contemporary emerging adult dealings with romance, physical intimacy, and sexuality.
In this chapter, we first briefly review research findings describing the prevalence of emerging adult sexual behaviors. We then describe some cultural themes in emerging adult life that we think are important to understand for what follows. The bulk of the chapter then focuses on emerging adults’ evaluations of their own sexual experiences.2 We find a lot of variance among emerging adults in these matters. They can have very different experiences and viewpoints on the subject. But amid those differences we note an important theme that most academic studies and cultural commentaries miss. That is that for a significant number of emerging adults—especially but not exclusively women—sexual freedom is accompanied by real hurt, confusion, grief, anger, and regrets. This is