Are Morals Making a Comeback?
THE houses are empty. Signs say they are up for rent. Those houses in Hamburg, Germany, were once part of one of the world’s largest prostitution centers. Why did they shut down?
For the same reason that various popular meeting places of San Francisco’s homosexuals became deserted. Throughout the United States, many clubs and saunas for homosexuals closed their doors one after another.
What was mainly responsible for these changes? The spread of AIDS, the deadly virus that has become one of the worst plagues of the 20th century.
AIDS has already taken the lives of tens of thousands. And if current estimates prove correct, it could take millions of additional lives in the near future.
A Moral Comeback?
In the 1960’s and ’70’s, the sexual revolution hit many Western countries. Free love became widely accepted. The number of births out of wedlock increased. The age of those having sexual relations for the first time was notably lower. Traditional values were demolished in the lives of millions, and their number was swiftly growing.
Speaking of the spirit prevailing at the time, the Canadian magazine L’Actualité declared: “The sexual act became a kind of inoffensive game.” At the same time, with the rise of movements fighting for homosexuals’ “rights,” homosexuality became a prominent issue, and changes were made in laws that had previously banned homosexual relationships.
Then AIDS appeared on the world scene. As deaths from this modern plague mounted and no cure was found, people’s attitude toward sex changed drastically. As L’Actualité explained: “With AIDS, love games have become extremely dangerous.” American journalist Ellen Goodman commented on the change in attitude that this implied: “As—not if but as—AIDS spreads through the population, ‘no’ will become a much more common answer to sex.”
Practices Have Changed—Not Morals
Does this mean that we are witnessing some kind of awakening resulting in a return to good morals? As the media have sometimes claimed, is it a “revival of conservatism” or of “puritanism”?
Some practices have changed out of sheer necessity, but basic thinking has not necessarily followed suit. For example, the homosexuals who have abandoned multipartner sex and limited themselves to a “monogamous” union can hardly be said to be returning to morality. Moreover, what would happen if an AIDS vaccine were to be discovered? There is reason to believe that many would return to their former practices and that specialized establishments would reopen their doors.
In the heterosexual world, changes in behavior, but not in basic thinking, can also be observed. Felice, a student at the University of California in Los Angeles, U.S.A., regrets not having experienced the sexual freedom that once prevailed on the campus. She said: “It kind of arouses anger. . . . I certainly wish I’d had the freedom to make my own decisions.” And an American journalist explained that previous moral standards would not resurface, saying: “While the sexual revolution may be slowing, there is no wholesale return to the married-before-mating mentality of the 1940s and ’50s.”
In Canada, for example, Maclean’s magazine reported the following regarding a federally funded survey of college students: “Young adults are reasonably well-informed about sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea. But that knowledge has evidently failed to make them more cautious. Most students surveyed said that they engaged in sex, but they acknowledged that they are reckless about taking the one precaution during sex that helps to prevent disease: using a condom.”
The report also said: “Many health authorities say they are concerned that, despite all the publicity about safe sex, the message is not affecting a sexually active sector of the population.” Dr. Noni MacDonald, an Ottawa specialist in infectious diseases, said: “Most education and media campaigns to increase condom use are dismal failures.”
Maclean’s added: “The survey on 54 campuses found that three-quarters of the students had already engaged in intercourse. About half the men claimed to have had five or more partners, with a quarter claiming the total as 10 or more. Among college women polled, 30 per cent said they had had sex with at least five partners; 12 per cent claimed to have done so with at least 10 men. However, condoms were not widely popular. . . . Those most at risk were least likely to use condoms.”
Has a Moral Lesson Been Learned?
Many refuse to learn a moral lesson from what is happening. Some doctors prescribe a change in habits, recommending having only one sex partner and using condoms to avoid AIDS. But they refrain from condemning loose conduct. Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard, is representative of this tendency when he suggests that researchers should not call into question the moral aspect of sexual conduct that transmits AIDS. He stated: “Scientists should act as if the disease were transmitted by neutral conduct.”
However, the French news magazine Le spectacle du monde feels that this is not enough. It said: “No policy for the struggle against AIDS will have any effect unless it is accompanied by a rapid, global, and voluntary return to a superior form of morals. (It should not be forgotten that sexual permissiveness, prostitution, and drug addiction are the main patterns of social behavior responsible for the spread of this disease.) This return to morals could only come about if a new cultural context emerges. . . . Morals are not the product of any partisan ideology. Faced with the AIDS menace, they must be interpreted as a pressing biological necessity upon which the survival of the human race depends.”
Should morals be resumed as a “biological necessity”? Should the adoption of a system of moral values be dictated only by circumstances? Do all ethical codes have the same value? Let us see what lessons history can teach us.
[Blurb on page 5]
“THERE IS NO WHOLESALE RETURN TO THE MARRIED-BEFORE-MATING MENTALITY OF THE 1940s AND ’50s”