Saturday, April 12, 2003

Listening to a conversation between two young men (20-21) at St. Thomas the other day and then reading (good writer, nice girl, very romantic in the classical sense) I am struck again by the cultural pressure to have sex. Not (necessarily) good sex, or sex with the right person, or for the right reasons. Just to have sex as often as possible. And if you do not, you are a failure, or a loser, or a hag, or a prude, or a religious nut, or... well, you get the idea. I'm sure I didn't even need to list any of the derogatory terms I did, and you can certainly add more.

The two young men were commenting that they didn't ever want to get married because married people, on average, have sex once a week or so. And that is too little.

So these 2 men (I use the term loosely) would forgo the concept of having a life-long loving partnership with someone who loves them deeply, cares for them more than she cares for herself, and is willing to do more for them than for her own interests because they would *ahem* "not be getting nearly enough".

My first reaction was to dismiss them as two emotionally-challenged men trapped in hormonal tides; but I realized that virtually everything in our culture tells them that marriage is, in fact, a sucker's bet. Women who insist upon some level of emotional commitment before sex are 'prudes' or other less-savory terms. And a woman who insists upon marriage vefore sex is a loony, right? I mean, a man can go anywhere - what makes her so special? Books, movies, etc. all assume that sex without permanent emotional commitment is the norm. Many parents insist that abstinence is insufficient as sex ed because 'kids will have sex anyway'.

Why? Why do parents believe that their underage children will have sex no matter what? And doesn't such an attitude on the part of a parent make it de factoacceptable? I mean, if my Mom and Dad are telling the school board that they know kids will have sex no matter what education they receive, then they just expect me to have sex, right? And if I do (no matter what they or anyone else tells me) then it can't be wrong in their eyes, can it?

And marriage is no longer acceptable to many men. And face it, lacking a moral or ethical compass, why would a man ever marry? I have an aquaintance who has been dating the same woman for 22 years, since 7th grade. They have been living together for 15 years, since college. They have a house, two cars, and a lovely daughter. I asked him one day why he didn't just marry her: he laughed and said "why should I get tied down?"

No, really. You see, he lives in a state with no 'common law' marriage statute. He keeps a separate bank account, the house and cars are in his name, and his daughter has her mother's last name. He is perfectly open in admitting he won't marry her because he can't get her to sign a pre-nuptual agreement that keeps him as free as he currently is. After all, if he decides he's "tired of her" (his words) he can just throw her and 'her' daughter out of his house. She has no legal claim on the house, the cars, or any of his money. And she would have to go through a rather lengthy court battle to get any child support for their daughter because they were never married.

When he explained at length how he 'had it made' I was tempted to drop-kick him through the goalposts of life. But the other guys in the office who heard this were, one and all, jealous. They either wished they were that 'free' from their wives or expressed hopes to find a woman as 'agreeable'. And why does his live-in girlfriend put up with it? Well, she told me she was 'lucky to have a man who loved her'.

That was what started me thinking, years back, about how modern society has stripped women of their few real cultural protections. Yes, there is much argument that chastity until marriage, life-long monogamy, and such are all 'patriarchal impositions meant to oppress women'.

I don't buy it. Why would men culturally deny themselves access to sex? Why would a patriarchal society limit themselves to one sexual partner for life? And why would the women in such a society particpate so strongly in such a system if they felt it oppressed them? Yes, women wanted the ability to divorce abusive husbands, but to shame them as much as to escape them.

Further, why do so many "primitive societies" (I hate that term) have strong chastity and monogamy rules, even the matriachal ones? Indeed, chastity and monogamy (or at least polygyny) are pretty darn common worldwide throughout history. Why is this?

Well, your host suggests this - these cultural norms are imposed by women to avoid sexual exploitation by men. Walk with me for a moment.... Men want to have sex with women (think in general terms, nitpickers!). Sex leads to pregnancy. Pregnancy physically limits the abilities of a woman to care for herself and the little nipper that is the result of sex. The mother needs help for years to make sure her child survives and thrives. And if you think I'm talking about the African savannah, I am - but I'm also talking about modern New York.

To ensure this support, cultures impose rules that tie the male to the female and their children. These range from laws to shame and shunning - if a man does not commit to his sexual partner and their children, he is punished, somehow. And this is all to protect the woman.

"But, Deep Thought," you say, "modern birth control means that sex doesn't lead to children. So we don't need these outmoded cultural norms". And Deep Thought says to you, "Bullshit". Just because a woman doesn't get pregnant doesn't mean she can't be sexually exploited.

The concept that since sex doesn't necessarily lead to pregnancy then sex is free of consequences is a logical fallacy. And an ethically-challenged male's dream come true. Here's a chain of I deas that I want to posit as how males in modern society took this idea:
1) With birth control, women don't get pregnant
2) If women don't get pregnant, I don't have to worry about providing for my sexual partner
3) If I don't have to provide for her, why do I need to make a lifelong commitment to her?
4) If I don't need to make a lifelong commitment to her, why do I need to make a deep emotional commitment to her?
5) Oh, some women want a deep emotional commitment regardless. Whatever, I'll try it.
6) Come on! I have a deep emotional commitment and she can't get pregnant - she had better have sex with me tonight!

So we end up with a situation where it is very possible for a woman to feel that she must have sex routinely or risk losing emotional commitment. And we're just touching on the edges, here. There are also the cultural triggers that tell women that having sex is chic, hip, cool, modern, and 'the thing to do'. From Cosmo to TV, smart, trendy women are having sex. A lot of sex. Those who aren't having a lot of sex bemoan their fate. Of are frigid, bitter, loony, or weird. Or tragically unhip. Or ugly. And she certainly won't partner with the cool, trendy, modern guy who wants to have sex and can always move on to a more-modern girl to get it.

Is it any wonder that more and more girls are having sex as young as 12 years old? Or younger? That fewer and fewer people are getting married? Or that divorce is so rampant (she had a headache)? Or that so many women are young, single mothers (birth control ain't perfect) and, thus, probably going to remain poor and single for a long time? Or that abortions are so common (children are only a burden, after all. Just an unwanted side effect of fun. Having a child would interfere with my life/career/education/plans to buy a nice car next year)? And can you tell me that this is weighted toward the benefit of women in anyway?

Sex is an amazing thing. The closest thing to real magic in the world. One of the greatest gifts God has given humans. The closest sharing of emotionality and physicality two people can ever experience. An action that can create a new life, a child that is totally dependent upon her parents for years and will both love her parents and be a physical embodiment of their love for each other.

It is NOT something to be cheapened as 'fun', 'trendy', or 'cool'. I know a girl who told me in all seriousness that she wouldn't share a toothbrush with her live-in boyfriend until they were married. No, seriously. She had more qualms about sharing dental plaque than about comingling gametes. I know a couple where they didn't want to live together because that 'implied too much commitment' - to them sharing the most intimate act possible wasn't as weighty as divvying up sock drawers.

And, of course, there is the girl I wish I had had better advice for. I met her at a party long before I thought these things through. She was well-dressed, smart, and had a lovely smile. After we had talked for about 15 minutes she offered to go upstairs with me. I was a bit shocked - your host has never believed himself to be in the same time zone as "irresistable" - and I actually asked her why she was willing to have sex with someone she had just met. Her reply haunts me, "I'm not so special - why else would someone fall in love with me?"

Why else, indeed.

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