Proper Regard for the Body - 3

Kirk Durston recalls being in a conversation years ago with fellow philosophy students:  “About an hour into the discussion, it occurred to me that some moral laws might limit pleasure and enjoyment in the short term but in the long term minimize suffering and maximize human fulfillment” (Blog, “Thoughts About God, Truth, and Beauty,” Why Sexual Morality May be Far More Important than You Ever Thought, 12/1/19).  What brought this conversation to mind was rereading Sex and Culture, “a remarkable book summarizing a lifetime of research by Oxford social anthropologist J.D. Unwin.”

In this work (the abridgement is 600+ pages), “Unwin examines the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there is a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures.  What makes the book especially interesting is that we in the West underwent a sexual revolution in the late 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s and are now in a position to test the conclusions he arrived at more than 40 years earlier” (ibid).

Unwin outlined degrees of sexual restraint in these cultures:


1. Complete sexual freedom – No prenuptial restraints.

2. Irregular/occasional restraint – Occasional abstinence. 

3. Strict chastity – Remain a virgin until married.    


1. Modified monogamy – One spouse at a time, but association can be terminated by either party.

2. Modified polygamy – Men can have more than one wife, but a wife is free to leave her husband.

3. Absolute monogamy – Only one spouse permitted for life (or until death in some cultures). 

4. Absolute polygamy – Men can have more than one wife, but wives must “confine their sexual qualities (i.e., activity) to their husband for the whole of their lives.”

Here are some conclusions of Unwin’s research (Durston notes that Unwin was not a religious man but a rationalist and a scientist):

1. Effect of sexual constraints:  Increased sexual constraints, either pre- or post-nuptial, always led to increased flourishing of a culture.  Conversely, increased sexual freedom always led to the collapse of a culture three generations later (emphasis jj). 

2. Single most influential factor:  Surprisingly, the data revealed that the single most important correlation with the flourishing of a culture was whether prenuptial chastity was required or not.  It had a very significant effect either way.

3. Highest flourishing of culture:  The most powerful combination was prenuptial chastity coupled with “absolute monogamy.”  Rationalist cultures that retained this combination for at least three generations exceeded all other cultures in every area, including literature, art, science, furniture, architecture, engineering, and agriculture.  Only three out of the eighty-six cultures studied ever attained this level (emphasis jj).

4. Effect of abandoning prenuptial chastity:  When strict prenuptial chastity was no longer the norm, absolute monogamy, deism, and rational thinking also disappeared within three generations (emphasis jj).

5. Total sexual freedom:  If total sexual freedom was embraced by a culture, that culture collapsed within three generations to the lowest state of flourishing – which Unwin describes as “inert” and … is characterized by people who have little interest in much else other than their own wants and needs.  At this level, the culture is usually conquered or taken over by another culture with greater social energy.

6. Time lag:  If there is a change in sexual constraints, either increased or decreased restraints, the full effect is not realized until the third generation.

[The above synopsis is from Durston’s article.]  Durston goes on to make application of Unwin’s work to American culture since the 1960’s.  For the sake of space I’ll only relate one of his points:

“The swiftness with which rational thinking declined after the 1970’s is astounding.  In its place arose post-modernism, characterized by scepticism, subjectivism, or relativism and a general suspicion of reason.  But it gets worse … post-modernism is giving way to ‘post-truth.’  In direct contrast to rational thinking, a post-truth culture abandons ‘shared objective standards for truth’ and instead stands on appeals to feelings and emotions, and what one wants to believe.  People can now ‘identify’ themselves as something which flat-out contradicts science and rational thinking and, in many cases, receive the full support and backing of governments and educational systems.  Not only do people feel they have a right to believe what they want, but any challenge to that belief, even if supported by truth and logic, is unacceptable and offensive” (ibid).   

I believe Durston’s initial musings in graduate school were correct:  God imposes constraints on certain activities because, if they are indulged without self-control, they become our masters and we abandon our responsibilities to God and our fellow man.  God doesn’t arbitrarily limit sexual passion.  He knows that fornication without commitment produces exactly what we see in this country:  STDs, prostitution; abortions; fatherless children; poverty; child abuse; lack of ambition; lower academic performance, etc. Self-indulgence, essentially the worship of our fleshly appetites, turns the fruitful field of godly potential into a pig sty where men wallow in their own wretchedness. 

In the first generation after the 60’s (Unwin measured a generation as 33 years) American culture held the momentum of its previous generations.  But we are now about 60 years into Unwin’s documented 100 year decline.  By his reckoning the latter half of this century will tell whether America pulls back and survives or whether it sinks into oblivion as former cultures have.  I won’t be around to see it, but my grandchildren likely will and I fear for them.  Sin’s ruin should make all of us recoil from it and stoke our courage to confront it.  May we have compassion on the confused and gently lead them to the light but roar against the lies of the evil one.