The “feminist” case against having sex for fun


PREMO Member
In a post on X, the “anti-woke” crusader Christopher Rufo wrote, “‘Recreational sex’ is a large part of the reason we have so many single-mother households, which drives poverty, crime, and dysfunction. The point of sex is to create children—this is natural, normal, and good.”

Much gawking at Rufo’s grimly utilitarian take on sex ensued. Yet the firestorm largely ignored the woman whose anti-birth-control tirade had ignited it.

Rufo’s remarks were sparked by a video of a 2023 Heritage Foundation panel. In that clip, a bespectacled British woman details the supposed ravages of both oral contraception and the sexual culture that it birthed. She claims that the normalization of birth control has condemned women to higher rates of mental illness while offering them little in recompense beyond the freedom to endure “loveless and sometimes extremely degrading” sex. Therefore, she continues, the world needs “a feminist movement” that is “against the Pill” and for “returning the consequentiality to sex.”

That woman, the writer Mary Harrington, is an unlikely spokesperson for fundamentalist Christian morality. A onetime leftist, Harrington remains a fierce critic of free-market economics and an opponent of abortion bans. Yet her 2023 book, Feminism Against Progress, won her an avid following among American social conservatives, receiving adulatory notices in the Federalist and the National Review and earning her bylines at the conservative Catholic journal First Things.

Harrington’s appeal to these institutions isn’t hard to discern. She is a proponent of “reactionary feminism,” an ideology that shares Christian conservatism’s hostility toward permissive sex norms, birth control, rights for transgender people, and mainstream feminism. But instead of indicting social liberalism on theological grounds, Harrington does so on entirely secular and avowedly feminist ones.

Her complaint with birth control is threefold:

  • First, Harrington argues that the Pill undermined sexual norms that had previously protected women from the hazards of single motherhood and exploitation.
  • Second, she insists that the advent of oral contraception led the feminist movement to embrace an excessively individualistic vision of women’s liberation. Before birth control, according to Harrington, the movement aimed to challenge the values of capitalism, insisting that familial caregiving was socially indispensable even if it had no market price. But once they gained control over their fertility, feminists no longer felt compelled to defend the value of caregiving. Their critique of capitalism ceased to be that it valued what was profitable over what was socially valuable and became that it merely didn’t pay women equal wages.
  • Third, by dramatically reducing women’s vulnerability to unplanned pregnancy, the Pill led feminists to indulge in the fantasy that there were no innate differences between the sexes that couldn’t be transcended through social reform and biotechnology.

In sum, for Harrington, feminism is now defined by the quixotic pursuit of women’s freedom from all social and biological constraints. And this anti-social, utopian quest has served most women poorly, condemning them to a sexually exploitative dating market, alienating them from their own bodies, leaving them vulnerable to the predations of Big Biotech, and exacerbating their caregiving burdens by promoting social atomization and male irresponsibility.