The sexual revolution, beginning in the 1960s, set the terms for cultural debates, in America and around the world, for decades to come. Broadly speaking, cultural liberals were in favor, cultural conservatives opposed. A liberal approach to sexuality, in this sense, meant few if any judgments. By the 1990s, it meant looking on admiringly at the French capacity to abide powerful men, like the former president François Mitterrand, having a mistress, while lamenting an American inability to look past the former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs. More recently, the #MeToo moment has involved a reassessment of this outlook. In recent months, major outlets across the English-speaking world have published features arguing that the supposedly progressive sexual mores cultural liberalism were in truth harmful to women. Even France has its own version of #MeToo. Young adults appear not just to be rethinking the sexual revolution, but embracing cultural traditionalism. Why?

Default Friend is the pseudonym of an American podcaster and advice columnist on sex and relationships. She sees the beginnings of a significant shift away from culturally liberal sexual values among otherwise progressive young adults. Some of this, Default Friend argues, is simply that, where any trend is concerned, “the pendulum is always swinging.” As the latest iteration of sexual revolution—defined by dating apps and vocal support for sex work—becomes mainstream, it may be newly countercultural to embrace conservative sexual mores. But she also attributes the shift to a more fundamental dissatisfaction with modern dating culture and the structure of modern society. A pro-free-sex approach is “the de facto mainstream elite view,” but even cultural-liberal elites, says Default Friend, are starting to look down other paths for happiness.

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Phoebe Maltz Bovy: There seems to be cultural and anecdotal, more than statistical, evidence of any widespread rejection of the norms of “sex positivity.” How do we know it’s happening?

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