With allegations of sexual assault and rape against comedian Russell Brand dominating news headlines, Dominic Hewitson asks whether his downfall will mark the end of the Sexual Revolution’s cultural reign – and where we go from here
The former poster boy of male promiscuity and hedonism, Russell Brand, has recently been accused of serious sexual offences, including rape and sexual assault. He strenously denies these allegations, and no charges have been brought.
The comedian, who has reinvented himself over the past few years as a wellness guru, posted a video across his social media accounts, in which he stated that all of his sexual relationships have been consensual.
Brand has always been incredibly open about his promiscuity over the years, and even went to rehab for sex addiction in 2005. Everyone laughed and egged Brand on, and his career went from strength to strength, even after his appalling treatment of Andrew Sachs on BBC Radio 2, when Brand boasted to the comedian about sleeping with his granddaughter live on air.
No longer funny?
However, the tide seems to have now turned on the man who was once the high priest of sexual liberation. The disturbing details of Brand’s alleged sexual assaults were laid out in detail across the front pages of The Sunday Times and in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme, which intertwined clips of Brand’s past performances with anonymous actors voicing the victim’s allegations.
This juxtaposition would have sent a shiver down the spine of all who were watching, but especially those who were involved in showbiz in late 90s and noughties. Brand brazenly joked about graphic sexual acts and his overt womanising to millions every week and, strangely, that was all part of his appeal back then.
Christianity needs to offer a strong alternative to the culture, a place that women and men can be protected
Dispatches opens with a segment from his 2006 sell-out stand-up tour, Shame. On the front of the DVD recording of the show, he is described as “the most exciting comedian of his generation”’ and in the blurb of the audio CD his humour is described as “dark, provocative and very very funny”.
Fast forward to 2023 and the same channel that gave Brand a platform are now using their own archives to highlight his bad behaviour. In a strange twist of fate, various clips of Brand presenting Big Brother’s Big Mouth on E4 (owned by Channel 4) were used in Dispatches to demonstrate Brand’s predatory and transgressive behaviour towards women.
So the presumption is that Channel 4 thought his sexually explicit jokes were funny back then, but they don’t now? And if so, what has changed?
Speaking into the vacuum
In her book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, Louise Perry says that the story of the sexual revolution “isn’t only a story of women freed from the burdens of chastity and motherhood. It is also a story about the triumph of the playboy.” And boy did Brand triumph, bragging about sleeping with almost 1,000 women and supposedly bedding nine in one day on one occasion.
“We now have a vacuum when it comes to sexual guidance,” explained Perry on Premier Unbelievable?’s ‘The Big Conversation’. “The dominant message is: prioritise your own freedom and pleasure. As long as you consent, and the other person consents, and you are all adults, it’s all fine. I think that’s a completely inadequate ethical system. Removing the social guardrails was dangerous.”
Brand brazenly joked about graphic sexual acts and his overt womanising to millions every week
If a sexually liberal culture celebrates the promiscuity of men like Brand, should we be surprised when it enables them to abuse their power? When a product (Brand) of this cultural movement (the sexual revolution) is now looked at by one of its major proponents (Channel 4) as suspect, what happens next?
Rod Dreher believes that this is where Christianity should step up: “The Church needs to…not be apologetic for what it teaches. Sex is a good thing, but it must be channelled in a way that is life-giving and holy. The Church knows how to do this, it just needs to quit being so afraid and stand up unapologetically for the wisdom of scripture.”
Christ’s message in the Sermon on the Mount makes his thoughts on sexual immorality crystal clear: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Not only does Jesus reaffirm that adultery is wrong, but he also extends this commandment to include even lustful thoughts. In doing so, he underscores the importance of purity not just in action, but also in thought. Imagine if this teaching was seen as the ideal in our current culture. It would be an incredibly radical shift – but surely, if anything, that’s what Christianity should be.
A new way
This kind of teaching is something that Rod Dreher claims he never heard from the pulpit: “When I converted to Catholicism at the age of 26, I was living in Washington DC. I knew that, for me, the greatest dying to self that I had to do was dying to sexual activity. I knew I had to be chaste until I married. That was so difficult because I couldn’t find any priest who wanted to help me walk the straight and narrow. They were embarrassed by the Church’s teaching. Four years later, when I did get married, I found I had grown so much spiritually and emotionally through my chastity, but I had some bitterness that I had to do it almost entirely on my own.”
As the latest ONS figures have reported, Christianity is on the decline in the UK, and ‘no religion’ is on the up. Perhaps this is, in part, to do with the Church - across all denominations – failing to show moral authority on matters of sex and relationships.
Now that their progressive poster boy, Russell Brand, has fallen, the sexual revolution’s liberal stance on these matters should come under some welcome scrutiny.
But Dreher’s experience is a common one for young people looking to the Church for guidance while attempting to weave their way through the minefield field that is sex and relationships in the secular West. It is clear that something needs to change. Christianity needs to offer a strong alternative to the culture, a place that women and men can be protected physically and spiritually. Could this radical alternative be the rediscovery of the benefits of orthodox Christian teaching?