This is from Family Studies blog. (H/T Brad Wilcox)
My own research with working-class young adults leads me to believe that they have basically made peace with sexual permissiveness—at least outside of marriage—even as they retain some ambivalence about it. They tend to move in quickly with new romantic partners, even as they worry that people rush too quickly into relationships. From survey data, we know that people without a college education have more lifetime sexual partners than those with a college education, and that most of them see no problem with premarital sex.
But there is one problem: easy access to sex with multiple partners can make for complicated relationships. As sexual partners accumulate, so does the potential for distrust. As one man whose ex-girlfriend had cheated on him explained, “It’s gonna take a lot more time for me to ever trust somebody again like that. I let her in quick, and now it’s never gonna happen again.” One divorced man said simply, “Everyone has to watch their ass all the time.” There is the feeling that no one is safe—even in marriage. As another young man claimed, “Nowadays, even though you got a ring on your finger, people tend to look past that.”
So people describe keeping vigilant watch over their partners’ cell phones, policing for messages from exes. They live an all but married lifestyle, yet they say that they are hesitant to make the commitment of marriage. Why? Part of the reason is that they don’t trust their partner, or themselves, to remain in the marriage. In one survey, 42.5 percent of low-income, unmarried respondents cited “worry that the marriage would end in divorce” as a reason they might not be pursuing marriage, and 23.5 percent cited “questions about whether your partner is trustworthy.” As one young man that I interviewed said after learning that his fiancée was cheating on him, “I don’t trust nobody.”
That distrust is at least partly the legacy of the libertarian sexual ethic, which assumes that sexual activity outside of marriage is typically okay so long as people are mutually consenting to the acts. And that distrust is why I have a hard time believing—as Noah Smith does—that sexual permissiveness will somehow evolve into more stable marriages for the working class. (Indeed, having more sexual partners prior to marriage is linked to greater odds of divorce, as Nicholas Wolfinger and W. Bradford Wilcox recently documented.) There is no invisible hand that will transform James and Jessica’s distrust and cynicism, which stems in part from their multiple past sexual relationships, into trust and an enduring marriage. What the working class needs—what we all need—to achieve our shared aspirations for lifelong love and a stable family is social permission to date without immediately having sex.
That’s important because today young people often assume that withholding sex is a sign of distrust. As James said, if you begin a relationship and don’t have sex, “they automatically assume that you’re cheating.” But sliding into sex often translates into sliding into a relationship—and children—without first building trust and discerning for character and compatibility. And that slide often contributes to the erosion of trust in the opposite sex and in lifelong love. We must confront that reality if we’re serious about empowering working young adults to achieve trusting relationships.
“Withholding sex” makes it sound bad. You don’t have sex or even do sexual things before marriage because you are trying to prove to your partner that you have self-control enough that when you are married, he/she need not be concerned that you are OK with sex outside of a lifelong commitment. You restrain yourself in order to prove to the other person that you have what it takes in order to be trusted, and the other person does the same to you. It’s not that you are trying to reduce the amount of “fun” you are having, it’s that you are auditioning for a role, and this is what the other person needs to see from you during the courtship – chastity. It’s even better if your exes can produce letters of reference. I always produce letters of references from my exes and they tell the woman “you have nothing to worry about, he may push you for many, many things as he leads you, but sex isn’t one of those things”. I am very demanding about women learning and growing – just not demanding about sex. Sex is for marriage.
Usually, when a girl I court has sexual experience, it’s because she had a period when she was not a Christian. This is fine with me (it’s something that requires adjustments and some extra work). You might think because I am so demanding and judgmental, that this is an immediate disqualifier, but it’s not. What I like to do is try to lead the woman to learn apologetics, conservative ideas, how marriage works, etc. Usually what happens is that she compares me to her ex-boyfriends who were not Christians and thinks “wow! those guys had no plan for me beyond making me fulfill their sexual needs”. Which is what you can expect from a non-Christian man – they have no interest in introducing you to the Boss, and telling you what the Boss requires. That’s one of the pluses of being courted by a Christian man – we put the woman’s service to God first. We don’t push her into sex, because we find other ways for her to show that she loves us other than sex. There are a BILLION ways for a woman to show that she loves you and is interested in you without pushing her for anything sexual.
It does have a strong effect on a woman when she sees me putting my needs second, and trying to get her to learn stuff that is helpful to the Boss. I think when a woman experiences that, it’s difficult for them to go back to non-Christian men. At least, that’s my experience. The more you teach a woman about how a marriage actually runs, and what a man actually does in a marriage, the less she tends to like guys who have not prepared for marriage. Well, at least a good woman will connect the dots and adjust what kind of man she is interested in. Men are designed to be protectors, providers and moral/spiritual leaders. Although it’s tempting for a woman to go for men who don’t make demands and don’t make judgments, in the long run, it’s not good for a marriage project. It would be like stepping on a football field and preferring to talk to the guy who doesn’t take winning too seriously. He’s fun to talk to, not very demanding, but it’s not going anywhere. I think women who choose men who don’t lead or judge on purpose may feel more comfortable, but a goal-directed, demanding relationship is actually more stable.