James Thurber and E.B. White asked the question Is Sex Necessary? in the title of their humorous 1929 book. In the book Thurber and White set out to parody the pseudoscientific works flooding the market on the subject.
In his foreword to the seventy-fifth anniversary edition of the book, John Updike explored its origins. He recalled Thurber’s own troubled marriage to former campus beauty queen Althea Adams. “Their union early encountered sexual disarray,” Updike writes. Updike quotes Thurber’s ungentlemanly if powerful testimony: “Sleeping with Althea is like sleeping with the Statue of Liberty.”
Now comes Mark Steyn with a related question. Steyn asks, “Do you notice anything shrivelling?” He reports:
In the Netherlands, the most progressive nation in Europe, the land where whatever’s your bag is cool, where naked women beckon from storefront windows, a certain ennui is palpable. Last week, the ANP news agency released a poll showing that the Dutch now derive more pleasure from going to the bathroom than from sex. It wasn’t a close-run thing: eighty per cent identified a trip to the toilet as the activity “they enjoy the most”–or, as the South African newspaper the Witness put it, “The Bog’s Better Than Bonking.”
The serious thesis of Steyn’s column is that “the developed world’s massive expansion of personal sexual liberty has provided a useful cover for the shrivelling of almost every other kind.” How so? “Free speech, property rights, economic liberty and the right to self-defence are under continuous assault by Big Government. But who cares when Big Government lets you shag anything that moves and every city in North America hosts a grand parade to celebrate your right to do so?”
A case in point is the shriveling of the right to free speech under the regime of campaign finance reform. For pornography, virtually no legal restriction survives. By contrast, political speech is subject to complicated regulations and restrictions. I took a stab at describing the phenomenon in the 2005 Standard column “Dream palace of the goo-goos.” Writing in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Hans von Spakovsky provides a striking case study in “What’s wrong with ‘Hillary: The movie’?” It’s a good question, as is the one Steyn asks in his Macleans column.