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Okay, I need to understand this 'victory,'" Jeannie started in. The governor of our state had just signed legislation stripping abortion giant Planned Parenthood of about $4 million in annual taxpayer funding. "First, you do not want to teach sex-ed and provide condoms in schools. Second, you do not want to fund an organization that provides contraception to prevent pregnancy. And you do not want abortion as an option. Do you really think that more teens will practice abstinence because of this?"
A mother of three, Jeannie's approach to teens and sex is, They're going to do it anyway, so you might as well give them birth control so nobody gets pregnant. Setting aside all the loaded presumptions in her diatribe, I was left thinking, We're talking about people, here, not animals in heat. Why should we accept such a low view of them?
Social commentators point to the sixties as the time when the sex-is-for-marriage dam broke, giving way to this "liberated" sexuality of If it feels good do it—with anyone, anytime, anywhere. Some two generations later, though, observant commentators—and not just religiously minded ones—are suggesting that maybe that dam wasn't such a bad idea after all.
The Truth for Women
In an op-ed called "Why Monogamy Matters," New York Times columnist Ross Douthat reports the findings of sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, authors of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying. Emphasizing the "significant correlation between . . . monogamy and happiness—and between promiscuity and depression," Douthat distinguishes between relationship sex and hook-up sex. "There's sex that's actually pre-marital, in the sense that it involves monogamous couples on a path that might lead to matrimony one day. Then there's sex that's casual and promiscuous, or just premature and ill considered." The latter is emotionally hazardous for women, he states, pointing to extensive research showing that "a young woman's likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed."
Whereas Douthat coolly relates research findings, Tracy McMillan speaks hotly from personal experience. In an in-your-face missive called "Why You're Not Married," which appeared on the Huffington Post on the eve of Valentine's Day 2011, the TV writer directly addresses those promiscuous (and likely depressed) young women. "[I]f you're having sex outside committed relationships, you will have to stop," she tells them bluntly. For this thrice-married, now single woman in her forties understands something important about the female heart and soul: Women want security and love, and sex is not the way to get either one.
She explains the biology of it for females. "[C]asual sex is like recreational heroin—it doesn't stay recreational for long," she writes. "That's due in part to this thing called oxytocin—a bonding hormone that is released when a woman a) nurses her baby and b) has an orgasm—that will totally mess up your casual-sex game." It's why you can be hooking up "with some dude who isn't even all that great and the next thing you know, you're totally strung out on him. And you have no idea how it happened. Oxytocin, that's how it happened."
Even setting aside moral and religious standards about sex, the practical reality is that, for the female half of every random pairing, casual sex is an emotional train wreck. Males give love to get sex, Dr. James Dobson has often observed, while females give sex to get love. The morning after a couple hooks up, only one of them has gotten what he was after. Rinse and repeat a few times—bond and break, bond and break—and pretty soon a woman finds herself either angry or sinking into a pit of despair, not knowing why.
The Truth for Men
While women suffer the more acute emotional distress, over on the male side of the equation, casual sex works a frustration of a different kind. Most men also want love, marriage, and family, but easy sex tends to sabotage their goal as well. "Couples who have sex very early on in a relationship may do so to the detriment of other aspects of their union," Dean Busby of Brigham Young University says, as reported by Brian O'Connell of The Irish Times. "When sexual behaviors are involved very early in the relationship, they become very powerful and maybe even dominate the relationship experience, so that communication and other basic relationship skills do not develop as well."
Busby and his team surveyed more than 2,000 couples, ranging in age from 19 to over 70, and they found that communication, stability, and both sexual and relationship satisfaction were better for those couples who had waited until after the wedding to consummate their relationship. O'Connell illustrates this by quoting the reflections of two men.
"Waiting until marriage has meant we were free to give ourselves freely to one another and what a gift this was!" said Patrick, who's been married to Therese for ten years.
My friends who did sleep with others before marriage tell me that there was a discontent sowed in their hearts towards their wives, because they had all these other experiences to compare her with. I am truly glad I waited and would fully recommend it to every young person.
"Succeeding in an exclusive married relationship is something that comes more easily if the concept has already been applied before marriage," added Tom, who has been married to Jacki for fifteen years. "This implies saving sex for marriage. This is not a popular concept, but neither is the truth always popular."
"The bottom line from the study," O'Connell concludes, "seems to be that if you want to give marriage the best chance of survival, it's best to make each other wait."
Joy over Sorrow
Make each other wait. That phrase, which concedes that discipline will be required, brings me back to Jeannie's question, Do you really think teens will practice abstinence? This question implies that young people are incapable of self-control, and I disagree with that premise. Making each other wait may mean going against the post-sexual-revolution norm, but people, unlike animals, have the capacity to rise above herd mentality.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a report showing, not an increase, but a decrease in sexual activity among young people compared to the rates reported in a similar study in 2002. So not only is it possible to practice abstinence, but some are actually doing so. We simply do our young people a disservice by dismissing their capacity for self-control out of hand.
Rapper phenom Lil Wayne told Playboy magazine that he had lost his virginity at age 11, when a 13-year-old girl raped him. "I just stepped back and let her do what she do," he said. When the sex-is-for-marriage dam broke, it set loose a flood of this kind of sexual chaos.
In the wake of it, we can do one of two things. We can tell our young people, Go forth and "do what you do" in the muck-laden valley. Or we can attempt a reconstruction project by giving them encouragement, information, and a higher standard to live up to. They still may not save themselves for marriage. But then again, some may. Short of that, they may save themselves for somebody, which will increase their chances of having a responsible, adult sex life that will be a source of joy rather than sorrow.
Joy over sorrow. Isn't that what they want out of their relationships in the first place? •
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