OVER the weekend local Channel 8 news featured not one but two "controversial" billboard stories. Yes, "controversial" billboard stories. The first involves a picture of a man and woman in bed (the "controversy"), facing opposite directions, and directs the terminally credulous passer-by to a website about vapid sex lives. It turns out, no surprise to anyone familiar with American culture, or advertising (but I repeat myself!), to be a species of ruse ultimately directing one to some mega-"non-denominational" church where the pastor will be offering a series of lectures, not wholesale vibrator attachments. Channel 8 interviewed the pastor.
The second was one which says something to the effect that You Don't Need God to be a Moral Person.
Channel 8 interviewed a guy from a local seminary.
And listen: I'm sorry. Writing about Ross Douthat writing about sex is like singing about Celine Dion's mastery of nuance. Don't shoot the messenger.
In fact, preteritio alert, let's not even talk about Douthat's problem with sex, and concentrate on his problem with constructing an argument.
I did not attend Catholic school. Neither did Ross Douthat. Nor did the vast majority of Americans, a statistic the incontinent-statistic-spouter seems to've missed. Instead I went to Protestant services every Sunday, where the main theme was What Did We Do In The Reformation? Catholics, so the story I got went, anyway, believed in Transubstantiation, the requirement of an Officially Licensed Intercessor between the little guy and God, a sort of roving ambassadorship for Mary, Canonization, filigree, and had a rather unseemly relationship with graven images. Plus they thought their top exec never made mistakes. We, on the other hand, did not. I don't recall anyone ever explaining they had a Big Problem with touching yourself, and the whole Contraception thing I got from headlines, not a theological discussion. I grant you, having people defined by their enemies is not always the best way to understand them. But I'd still like to know what, if anything, changed such that sex became the foundation of man's relationship to God, and when it did. And how we found out what She's into.
Honestly, now; I don't think it can be emphasized enough that an entire culture went nuts just because someone invented an oral contraceptive. In the middle of the 20th century. This was but a couple decades after the worst global slaughter of human beings in history, one which, leave us be fair about it, the Church was not exactly unequivocally on the winning side. But somehow the fact that other people could now avail themselves of an effective contraceptive without Big Moment fumbling, now that was a theological conundrum.
Look: if you think sex is "icky", I won't throw stones; I myself have much the same reaction to commerce. It's not visceral, in my case, or all-consuming, but it can be emotional, and like you and sex, the damned stuff is all around me, too, like bukkake, but flaccid. Thing is, though, that all you've got by way of argument is Disease, Pregnancy, and Eternal Damnation. And this is a perpetual runner-up to The Most Goddam Fun You Can Have While Alive. Honestly, it's like me running around lecturing mall rats about mindless consumerism. What ever happened to just holing up in the church basement, sneering at the vile and disgusting things everybody else does? You know, tradition?
Social conservatives can seem like the perennial pessimists of American politics — more comfortable with resignation than with hope, perpetually touting evidence of family breakdown, social disintegration and civilizational decline.
Were you even listening to me? No, Pessimism is not your problem. An apodictic certainty in your every last thought is your problem. The Pessimism thing is just schtick, and everybody but you knows that everybody knows it.
But even doomsayers get the occasional dose of good news. And so it was last week, when a study from the Centers for Disease Control revealed that American teens and 20-somethings are waiting longer to have sex.
Same story, Ross; when you tout every last item that can be twisted to your favor, everyone else catches on to what you're doing.
By the way, maybe now is the time to note that teens and 20-somethings are the group most likely to Fuck with Pollsters, though you can do that and still technically keep your virginity.
In 2002, the study reported, 22 percent of Americans aged 15 to 24 were still virgins. By 2008, that number was up to 28 percent. Other research suggests that this trend may date back decades, and that young Americans have been growing more sexually conservative since the late 1980s.
Sadly, one year too late to've stopped your parents. [/rimshot] Who's buying all the porn?
Why is this good news? Not, it should be emphasized, because it suggests the dawn of some sort of traditionalist utopia, where the only sex is married sex.
Right. It's because it buoys your dream of a society where other people don't have sex.
No such society has ever existed, or ever could: not in 1950s America (where, as the feminist writer Dana Goldstein noted last week, the vast majority of men and women had sex before they married), and not even in Mormon Utah (where Brigham Young University recently suspended a star basketball player for sleeping with his girlfriend).
What, no Charlie Sheen?
But there are different kinds of premarital 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.
And here is precisely what you need to understand, assuming you're someone who thinks Ross Douthat speaks to Important Social Concerns: just wait 'em out. Sooner or later he'll be willing to bargain, if you agree to be counted on his side. It's okay so long as you're really in love! It's still the Sanctity of Marriage!
This distinction is crucial to understanding what’s changed in American life since the sexual revolution. Yes, in 1950 as in 2011, most people didn’t go virgins to their marriage beds. But earlier generations of Americans waited longer to have sex, took fewer sexual partners across their lifetimes, and were more likely to see sleeping together as a way station on the road to wedlock.
I'm still keepin' that chair at the poker table open for you, Ross-o.
Jesus, you should pardon the expression, Christ. Who says "The Sexual Revolution" anymore unless they're reviewing Mad Men DVDs? Ross Douthat was born in 1979, into a family of upscale snake handlers. Hugh Hefner had probably quit talking about The Sexual Revolution by then. My guess is that we were into the 2000 elections before Ross ever heard the word Sex not followed immediately by "Causes AIDS".
Just how stupid is this? We have now spent half a column--in the New York Fucking Times--for Ross Douthat to relive an era he knows nothing about, demolishing, along the way, the very foundation of the argument he trumpets. People had sex in the Fifties, often without concern for the social convention of marriage! Therefore, the
They teach this at Harvard?
And they may have been happier for it. That’s the conclusion suggested by two sociologists, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, in their recent book, “Premarital Sex in America.” Their research, which looks at sexual behavior among contemporary young adults, finds a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression.
Look, Ross, you're not writing a how-to column, thank God, and neither am I. But speaking anecdotally, if you are considering having sex with someone, even (shudder) a contemporary young adult, premarital, post-marital, premature (no doubt), or just sport fucking, and you are faced with a choice, go for the promiscuous and depressed. Every time. You'll thank me later.
This correlation is much stronger for women than for men. Female emotional well-being seems to be tightly bound to sexual stability — which may help explain why overall female happiness has actually drifted downward since the sexual revolution.
Oh, and not to mention "since the wholesale no-choice entry into the business world largely occasioned by the Republican war on the middle and lower classes." I mean, literally, not to mention.
Among the young people Regnerus and Uecker studied, the happiest women were those with a current sexual partner and only one or two partners in their lifetime. Virgins were almost as happy, though not quite, and then a young woman’s likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished.
And lemme just note here, Ross, not that it would make any difference, but if you haven't already figured it out by Psych 101 that's the point where you're supposed to learn about causal relationships. I don't mean to give this credence, mind you, but let's just note here that we are still discussing The Socially Approved Social Model vs. Every Alternative, which, apparently, includes Women Who Desperately Wanted To Enjoy The Socially Approved Social Model, but wound up divorced, abused, or abandoned. In a traditional, marital, monogamous relationship there is one measure of success--continuing to stay married--and presumably those so inclined generally report it that way. For everyone else there are multiple, myriad ways to fail. Big fucking deal.
When social conservatives talk about restoring the link between sex, monogamy and marriage, they often have these kinds of realities in mind.
Those who have any sort of "reality" at all in mind, you mean.
The point isn’t that we should aspire to some Arcadia of perfect chastity.
Okay, then. I guess we're done here.
Rather, it’s that a high sexual ideal can shape how quickly and casually people pair off, even when they aren’t living up to its exacting demands. The ultimate goal is a sexual culture that makes it easier for young people to achieve romantic happiness — by encouraging them to wait a little longer, choose more carefully and judge their sex lives against a strong moral standard.
And so, in the end, it doesn't actually matter what you do, so much as it matters why you tell pollsters you do it. It's the love affair between Bronze Age moralism and pop sociology. And that's a marriage built to last.