“Polymorphous Perversity” and the Human Condition

In Sexuality by eric holmberg2 Comments

FREUD-POLYMORPHOUS-PERVERSE“It is instructive to know that under the influence of seduction the child may become polymorphous-perverse and may be misled into all sorts of transgressions. This goes to show that it carries along the adaptation for them in its disposition…. it is absolutely impossible not to recognize in their uniform disposition for all perversions the universal and primitive human.” (Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 1905)

A big part of my job involves studying, thinking and writing about people and cultural trends as they interface with the Gospel and the kingdom of God. Because issues related to sex — along with money, power/politics and religion — make up the vast majority of that interface, I have given a lot of time and attention to it over the years. From videos on the influence of pop culture to a variety of productions on abortion, issues relating to human sexuality have been common themes in my work.

Several years ago it became apparent to me that Western culture was entering a third – and what I believe will be the final – stage of the sexual revolution. Very broadly speaking, stage one involved radically untethering sexual activity from its procreative aspects and potential. Stage two untethered it from marriage as well as the consequences of engaging in non-marital sex: disease and unwanted pregnancy. Antibiotics and abortion seemed to promise the acolytes of the sexual revolution a form of absolution. The third and final stage? Untethering sex from gender and any remaining vestige of biblical morality. Nothing is any longer transcendently true. Everything becomes permitted.

And as the record of both scripture and history clearly demonstrate, once that genie is out of the bottle and the taboos lifted, there is ultimately no constraining them. Profound social consequences and an eventual “plowing under” are the inevitable result.

Glimpsing this trajectory, about four years ago I began to study the sea change in sexual mores in earnest. I have since read, traveled and interviewed people extensively and, more to the point, widely. It may come as a surprise to people who think that Christians are close-minded bigots, but a slight majority of my reading (100+ books and countless articles) and nearly half of my interviews have been on the pro-sexual revolution side of this issue.

Among the many conclusions I have reached — I trust as much on the basis of rational observation as the influence of my worldview and its presuppositions (hey, at least I admit to mine) — is that of all the “soft sciences,” psychology and psychiatry are among the least reliable as far as discovering truth and genuinely helping people. In fact, I would argue they are often doing more harm than good.

There are a number of reasons for this. The near infinite complexity of the human mind and heart and the reasons we do what we do and believe what we believe is a big one. Another is that many (most?) practitioners in these fields consider moral truth to be subjective and situational, a virtual guarantee that any rational enterprise is doomed. Relatedly, two of the most important – and egregious – reasons that aspects of the “mind sciences” have become so soft-headed are the degree to which they have been hijacked by materialistic presuppositions and sociopolitical agendas. The American Psychiatric Association’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a disorder in 1973 is perhaps the classic example of this, as a National Public Radio anniversary story on it inadvertently revealed.

When it comes to issues involving homosexuality, this frequent lack of intellectual rigor and integrity is often on full display. I could – and perhaps will one day – fill a good-sized book with examples: from studies that suggest that a child is no better off being raised by a mom and a dad (even biologically related parents) than by two moms or dads; that homosexuality is as normal and conducive to individual and societal flourishing as heterosexuality; that anyone who resists this normalization is homophobic; that things like absentee or abusive fathers or sexual molestation play no role in many people’s homo-erotic impulses; that homosexual orientations are innate, akin to race or left-handedness and are irreversible; that homosexuals aren’t interested into seducing/recruiting straight people into their lifestyle; that there is no agenda or slippery slope; etcetera.

But even a broken clock is right twice a day – and my reading of Sigmund Freud did uncover something with which I can more or less agree. Along with insisting that we are all born bisexual – and then either stay there or gravitate to heterosexuality (which he did suggest was optimal though not necessarily more normal (?!)) or homosexuality depending on how we transition through his sundry stages of development – Freud also claimed we come out of the womb polymorphously perverse. This means that as babies we can experience erotic (that’s right, we’re sexually charged from the get-go) satisfaction in all manner of ways and from all manner of sources.

Change “babies” to “adolescents and older” and for once Freud is on to something. As a result of the Fall, as a result of our innate thralldom to sin (Eph. 2:1-3), we are all capable, apart from the grace of God, of becoming slaves of any of the one-thousand-and-one libidinous fixations sin has invented. The potential for “polymorphous perversity” shadows all of us.

And this is precisely why our current monkeying with gender and sexual norms is so chilling. Sex is among of the most powerful forces and appetites a person can experience. It is the only thing that has the potential to create new human beings. The intense pleasures associated with it can release all manner of powerful compounds (dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, serotonin) that can affect our brains as powerfully as a potent drug. Younger men think about it slightly more than they do eating, an appetite that unlike sex needs to be satisfied or we, as individuals, will die. (Without procreative sex a culture will eventually die.) And the social and epidemiological fall-out from misusing our sexual capacities can be as destructive in terms of lives lost, money spent and negative social consequences as any major war.

And this is precisely why our Creator was so specific in His commands as to how sex and gender identity were to understood, practiced and circumscribed. The mighty river of sexual energy has to be carefully channeled. It is to be leveed on the one side by rigorous attention to and protection of the image of God as reflected in the fundamental binary structure of man (Gen. 1:27). And it is to be banked on the other by its celebration within the marriage covenant* and corresponding protection by an absolute proscription outside of it.

And when the levee breaks…


* It is sad beyond words that I have to here state the obvious (so obvious to past generations that it would raise eyebrows to even mention this): marriage is a covenant relationship between one man and one woman for life.

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2 Comments on "“Polymorphous Perversity” and the Human Condition"

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Deeply appreciated this article. God bless.

Pamela Schwarz

Very interesting insight and well written. Enjoyed your article very much.