David M. Halperin
The War on Sex
The world is waging a war on sex.
It is a quiet war. It is often an undercover war. It has gone unnoticed, for the
most part, except by those who have been affected by it, directly or indirectly.
And yet it is hardly an unpop u lar war. Many people, when asked to endorse
it, do so enthusiastically. It has aroused little indignation, opposition, or re-
sis tance. It is painfully diﬃcult to contest. It relies on a mainstream consen-
sus — if not exactly in its favor, at least in support of the general princi ples in
whose name it is fought.
It is also a terribly destructive war. It has devastated civil liberties. It has had
grave consequences for the autonomy and agency of women, young people,
the disadvantaged, and the vulnerable. It has ruined many, many lives. It has
had a particularly violent impact on those who are socially marginalized,
socially stigmatized, or racially marked, or who cherish nonstandard sexual
practices. Sexual freedom has lost signiﬁcant ground to it — ground that will
take a very long time to recover.
Costly for some, the war on sex has turned out to be im mensely proﬁtable
and useful for others — not only for politicians and academics, therapists and
police oﬃcers, journalists and moralists, but also for a multitude of inter-
ested parties. It is not about to end any time soon. And, as in most wars, fog
and shadows, propaganda and disinformation conceal the contours of events.
So we need to understand what is going on in order to confront it and to chal-
lenge it. And we need to do that now.
“We have heard a great deal of overblown rhe toric during the sixties in which
the word ‘war’ has perhaps too often been used — the war on poverty, the