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When Society Makes Sex its God

sinIt’s time to bring to light a forgotten text that may be the definitive work on the rise and fall of civilizations.

The book is called Sex and Culture and British anthropologist J.D. Unwin published it back in 1934.

Unwin set out to test the idea put forth by Freud that civilization is born out of repressed sexuality. He studied 86 different societies, great and small, including the Anglo-Saxons, the Romans, the Greeks, the Sumerians, and the Moors. In addition to these historical giants, Unwin also studied dozens of smaller societies down to tiny South Sea Islands.

His research led to the following conclusion:

“In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.”

To put this in everyday language, societies flourish during those times when they practice strict sexual fidelity and they decline when sexual mores are loose.

Unwin’s data showed an inseparable link between a society’s destiny and its willingness to exercise sexual restraint

To suggest today that we control our sexual desires is akin to suggesting that we control our desire to breathe oxygen. Yet Unwin’s data showed an inseparable link between a society’s destiny and its willingness to exercise sexual restraint.

These findings came as a surprise to the researcher himself, who made no religious judgment on his findings saying, “I offer no opinion about rightness or wrongness.”

Unwin simply noted that societies that practice absolute monogamy, meaning no extramarital or premarital sex and which discourage divorce, tend to be the most vital economically, scientifically, and artistically.

It’s important that we don’t mistake the control of our sexual passions for the destructive squelching of them. These civilizations that chose to regulate their sexual behavior simply channeled their desires in ways that provided greater benefit than mere pleasure seeking.

Brian Fitzgerald explains how this type of monogamy serves to define the appropriate roles for men in society,

“Monogamous civilizations require men to choose either lifelong celibacy or the responsibilities of a husband: fidelity, breadwinning, and fatherhood. Most men choose to marry, to their good fortune, because married men tend to be healthier, happier, and more productive than bachelors. Those committed husbands create stable marriages, which offer the greatest opportunity for raising healthy, productive children who can keep a society strong and growing.”

This type of commitment to a strict moral code can only occur in a more sophisticated society that takes its religious beliefs seriously.

By contrast, the more pagan and primitive cultures were those that had simpler beliefs and, in turn, practiced very little restraint on sexual expression.

Of course, the prospect of modern American society accepting the value of practicing sexual self-control is about as likely as Diane Feinstein becoming an NRA spokesman. Anyone who was on Facebook for more than a few minutes in the past week will understand why this is so.

We have become a culture that is increasingly obsessed with sexual behavior. Anything that even hints of resisting the urge to act on our desires is decried as being oppressive and harmful to society. But Unwin’s research shows that, historically, the exact opposite has been true.

Dennis Prager said,

“The creation of Western civilization has been a terribly difficult and unique thing. It took a constant delaying of gratification, and a rechanneling of natural instincts; and these disciplines have not always been well received.”

To illustrate the attendant dangers of tearing down a fence before ascertaining why it was built in the first place we can simply look at what has happened to our society since monogamy went out of style.

Joseph Sobran summed up the fruits of the sexual revolution that began nearly 50 years ago when he wrote:

“That revolution has reached its dreadful fulfillment in our inner cities, where uninhibited behavior has resulted in bastardy, crime, poverty, disease, and general disorder.”

Sobran drives the point home when he notes,

“Now we have to talk about ‘safe sex,’ a phrase that didn’t occur to us when sex was really safe because it was confined to marriage.”

The freer we feel to indulge our inner hedonist, the less stable our society is. If life is really about pleasure at any cost, who can be faulted for breaking vows or abandoning family when they become inconvenient?


bryan-hydeBryan Hyde is a husband, father, disciple, teacher, guardian, reader, writer, truth seeker, stirrer of pots, radio talk show host, and PITA to those who seek dominion over others. He’s also a proud member of the Pro-Freedom Conspiracy.

He does professional voice work through his company One Clear Voice.

Bryan and his wife Becky are raising their six children in Cedar City, Utah. He does professional voice work through his company One Clear Voice. He is also a frequent and popular contributor to St. George News.

Subscribe to Bryan’s blog here.


  1. GREAT article! There was a link for it in the comments section of another blog and I am sooo glad I “followed” it.

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