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Lauren Wilson’s recent article defending the decadence of modern sexual norms portrays a simplistic and inaccurate conception of sex and requires a correction.
Just a few decades ago, the vast majority of individuals saw premarital sex as immoral and wrong. While premarital sex still occurred, the idea of extramarital procreation was met with revulsion and condemnation. Today, those who oppose casual sex publicly are ridiculed as close-minded and prudish. Ironically, though, the close-minded and prudish ideas of our grandparents—not the trendy and comforting ideas of today—represent reality.
Ms. Wilson claims casual sex devoid of emotional attachment is a good thing; she claims it allows for an open dialogue about sex and can increase happiness because we get all the pleasures of sex without the emotional complications of a relationship. Unfortunately, her vaticinations of happiness and harmony regarding care free sex are almost entirely contradicted by the evidence.
First, her argument begs the question as to whether or not sex can actually occur detached from emotion. Sexual intercourse is a unifying act that brings man and woman together in one flesh, and is naturally ordered towards the bearing of children. Sex and emotion are inherently connected.
Second, sex does not lead to happiness unless there is an emotional component. Sociologist Susan Sprecher has discovered a positive relationship between love, commitment, and sexual satisfaction. The more commitment the more satisfying sex the couple is bound to have.
Third, hook-up culture has decimated what used to be a marriage culture, and that has destroyed families and harmed children. A woman being nearby when a child is born is simply a matter of biology; there is no way to escape this fact. Whether or not a father is nearby is almost entirely dependent on the cultural and political institutions in a society. If such institutions collapse, the chance a child grows up without a father dramatically increases. The collapse of marriage—the collapse of the institution that keeps men faithful and willing to commit resources to their children and their lovers—has an enormous impact on children and their wellbeing.
In the 1980s, only 13 percent of Americans who would be considered “middle America” were born outside marriage; in the late 2000s, that figure had risen to 44 percent, and this has significant ramifications for American public policy.
David Popenoe in his famous book, Life Without Father, summarized the research on fatherless children. He argued “[i]nvolved fathers-especially biological fathers-bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. … They have a parenting style that is significantly different from that of a mother and that difference is important in healthy child development.”
Even former President Barack Obama noted the importance of fathers in reducing the propensity for children to engage in crime and drug abuse, as well as reducing the likelihood a child lives in poverty or goes to jail.
Cheap sex isn’t the only reason behind the decline of marriage, of course. There are a plethora of adscititious factors influencing marriage trends. The fact remains, however, that hook-ups, which provides easy access to sexual interaction outside the confines of marriage, is a major factor in the destruction of American marriage culture.
Fourth, more sex doesn’t always equal happiness. A report by the National Bureau of Economic Research calculates the optimal number of sexual partners—if the goal is happiness—is one partner per year. Clearly, Ms. Wilson’s formula of multiple sexual partners with no emotional or institutional connection is not likely to increase happiness; in fact, it will probably do the complete opposite.
Hook-up culture destroys families, reduces happiness, and is not associated with sexual satisfaction. Even putting aside religious or moral arguments, hook-up culture has a deleterious impact on ourselves, on our partners, and on our institutions. It’s time to rethink our cultural norms.
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