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. Chastity demonstrates to them that the commitment you are offering is not based on things that fade, like beauty or youth.
Women who lost their virginity as young teenagers are more likely to divorce – especially if it was unwanted, according to new research.
The University of Iowa study shows that 31 per cent of women who had sex for the first time as teens divorced within five years, and 47 per cent within 10 years.
Among women who delayed sex until adulthood, 15 per cent divorced at five years, compared to 27 per cent at 10 years.
The findings were published in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Author Anthony Paik, associate professor of sociology in the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, examined the responses of 3,793 married and divorced women to the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth.
The study showed, however, that if a young woman made the choice to lose her virginity as a teenager, there was no direct link to a marital split later in life.
If the sexual act took place before the age of 16 women were shown more likely to divorce, even if it was wanted.
Thirty-one percent of women who lost their virginity during adolescence had premarital sex with multiple partners, compared to 24 per cent of those who waited.
Twenty-nine percent experienced premarital conceptions, versus 15 percent who waited.
One in four women who had sex as a teen had a baby before they were married, compared to only one in ten who waited until adulthood.
Only one per cent of women surveyed said they chose to have sex at age 13 or younger, compared to five per cent at age 14 or 15, and 10 per cent at age 16 or 17.
Forty two per cent reported that their first sexual intercourse before age 18 that was not completely wanted.
Fifty eight per cent of the group waited until age 18 or older to have sex. Of those, 22 per cent said it was unwanted, compared to 21 per cent who said it was wanted.
Researchers concluded sex itself may not increase the probability of divorce, while factors such as a higher number of sexual partners, pregnancy, or out-of-wedlock birth increased the risk for some.
If you want a stable marriage, then you don’t have sex before you’re married. There are tons of virgins out there, and there is a huge difference in the quality of romantic relationships when both parties exercise self-control with physical touching. Don’t let it go too far – you lose some of what love and marriage can be.
Brad Wilcox tweeted this article from Family Studies that talks about how the number of pre-marital sex partners that a woman has increases her risk of divorce.
American sexual behavior is much different than it used to be. Today, most Americans think premarital sex is okay, and will have three or more sexual partners before marrying. What, if anything, does premarital sex have to do with marital stability?
This research brief shows that the relationship between divorce and the number of sexual partners women have prior to marriage is complex. I explore this relationship using data from the three most recent waves of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) collected in 2002, 2006-2010, and 2011-2013. For women marrying since the start of the new millennium:
Women with 10 or more partners were the most likely to divorce, but this only became true in recent years;
Women with 3-9 partners were less likely to divorce than women with 2 partners; and,
Women with 0-1 partners were the least likely to divorce.
Earlier research found that having multiple sex partners prior to marriage could lead to less happy marriages, and often increased the odds of divorce.
[…]Even more noteworthy has been the decline in the proportion of women who get married having had only one sex partner (in most cases, their future husbands). Forty-three percent of women had just one premarital sex partner in the 1970s.
[…]By the 2010s, only 5 percent of new brides were virgins. At the other end of the distribution, the number of future wives who had ten or more sex partners increased from 2 percent in the 1970s to 14 percent in the 2000s, and then to 18 percent in the 2010s. Overall, American women are far more likely to have had multiple premarital sex partners in recent years (unfortunately, the NSFG doesn’t have full data on men’s premarital sexual behavior, and in any event they recall their own marital histories less reliably than do women).
Here’s the change:
And the problem with this, of course, is that more premarital sex partners means a higher risk of divorce:
Why is the 2-partner number so high?
In most cases, a woman’s two premarital sex partners include her future husband and one other man. That second sex partner is first-hand proof of a sexual alternative to one’s husband. These sexual experiences convince women that sex outside of wedlock is indeed a possibility. The man involved was likely to have become a partner in the course of a serious relationship—women inclined to hook up will have had more than two premarital partners—thereby emphasizing the seriousness of the alternative.
The woman has an alternative, the woman makes comparisons, the woman has firsthand experience of sex with someone other than her eventual husband. This is not trivial, it should not be dismissed by men who are evaluating marriage candidates.
I was really glad to see Dr. Wilcox tweet this article, because a lot of men’s rights people judge him unfairly for being blindly pro-marriage, as if he doesn’t see the risks to men. No, he sees those risks, and he warns men about them, and he holds women accountable. He is saying to women: if you want your marriage to last, you are responsible to study this research, to say no to your heart, to resist the culture, and to make wise decisions to protect your future husband and children.
Now, many traditional marriage people will tell young men “feminism and the sexual revolution change nothing, go out there and get married to these women anyway”. No one condemns women for their unilateral decision to believe in radical feminism, and their decisions to act against the moral laws by having premarital sex. It’s like the Bible has no authority for men – it can only be used to tell men what to do. I have met pastors and parents who have this double standard that excuses women from everything, and blames and shames men for everything. Even if the men are virgins, they are blamed and shamed by pastors and parents when the woman’s poor choices do not “work out” for her.
The culture is filled with voices who rationalize women who choose to get drunk and hook up with good-looking men, including from the pulpits of churches. Few people are aware of the logical consequences of selfish actions. There is just this view that it is a terrible, horrible thing to stifle the freedom of women to “follow their hearts”. Pastors and Christian parents feel that it is wrong to tell young women that the Bible somehow should act as a brake on their desires to have feelings with a man, and to show off a boyfriend to their friends, and to have fun – to have a good time now, in the moment. I have seen these conversations happening, where grown-ups who claim to be Bible believing Christians condemn men for not manning-up to rescue women in one breath, and then admit that those women should not be shamed or judged for not having any moral compass. It’s enough that the women look pretty – that makes them “Christian”, regardless of their past selfishness. No one cares about the risks that a man will face by having to take on that damage.
Previously, I blogged about how most divorces are initiated by women. If you are a man who has made good decisions with his education and finances, you need to be aware of this research. Although you may think that it’s harmless that the woman you want to marry has had multiple premarital sex partners, it’s not. It will affect her ability to be attracted to you, and to be satisfied by you. According to my friend Dina, previous cohabitations should be treated by men as a previous divorce. And previous divorces make a woman more unstable for marriage – that’s a fact. And divorce is risky for men financially and emotionally – another fact. Men didn’t ask to live in a world where they can lose all their savings, future income, and access to their children should their wives become unhappy and decide to divorce them – but that is the world that men live in.
I would like to see women make better decisions with men before they marry, rather than be influenced by their peers and culture to give themselves to men who are not marriage-minded. Maybe a little skepticism should be shown to “follow your heart”? Women need to understand what they are losing when they choose to have premarital sex.
In my group of friends, the men are aware of the Biblical prohibition on premarital sex. My friends know about the research on marriage, and what it takes to make a marriage work. We don’t follow our hearts, because we do what we know will work to achieve the results we want. We don’t listen to the culture, and we don’t listen to radical feminists. Men generally take an engineering approach to marriage – we want to know what the best practices and tradeoffs are, and then we plan and act to succeed.
So, I have about a half-dozen older and/or experienced Christian women who advise me and assist me in various ways. The wisest and most experienced is calm and thoughtful Dina. She has a very stressful job dealing with demanding women, and what she admires most in men is “masculinity”, which she defines as a man’s ability to tell a woman what is right and wrong, what God expects from her, what she should be doing with her life, and guiding her and providing for her through the steps to get there.
What makes Dina angry is when a man makes a fool of himself for youth and beauty, abdicating his role as moral and spiritual leader because of attraction / lust. According to Dina, men who have self-control think about what a woman should do that is morally right, with the goal of her producing a return for God. Men who are swayed by youth and beauty are willing to give up that leadership role in exchange for attention and/or sex.
So, with that said, Dina asked me to watch a recently-made movie called “Far From the Madding Crowd“, based on a novel by Thomas Hardy. I immediately said “no” because I know about Thomas Hardy from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, where he presents Tess as the helpless victim of Providence. I really hate that view of women, where they can do reckless, selfish things and then blame everyone but themselves for the destructive consequences of their own free-will decisions. But Dina said “wasn’t I right about the debate between David Robertson and Matt Dillahunty?” I said yes, and watched the movie. And of course, she was right, as she almost always is. This movie is a punch in the face to the radical feminism that seems to have infected so many young women, even in the church.
What does this 19th century tale offer to modern audiences? This latest rendering emphasizes something actually surprising and unexpected given that it is made in our age of radical feminism. It is Gabriel Oak’s character that shines the most, not the proto-feminist Bathsheba. […]In Bathsheba and Gabriel we see how men and women support one another in such a way as to ensure a flourishing in any role that fate might thrust on them.
[…]The relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba, though unequal in earthly terms of authority and wealth, is one of mutual dependence. We see Oak taking on a role of both counselor and conscience with Bathsheba – roles that in her striving towards independence she struggles to admit her need for. She is not unlike the modern feminist in this regard, nor is she unlike all of us in our relationship with the Lord. Her struggle is best seen in the various times she repels Gabriel only to find herself in desperate situations in which only he can help. The filmmakers’ clever use of a recurring theme of Bathsheba galloping after Gabriel on a horse when he is needed is particularly moving (and surprising) here. In the end, the film resists the urge to pander to our more extreme modern views on what women require to thrive.
Gabriel Oak also seems to be an embodiment of the biblical virtue of selflessness. We see in his actions towards Bathsheba the Philippians admonition to refrain from “being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity,” but rather “in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” Indeed, vanity itself can be seen as a fateful character flaw of every major character apart from Gabriel. He alone is able to move past rejection and carry on. In fact, he is required to go so far as to be under the authority of the very woman who rejected his offer of marriage and, despite his continuing affections for her, witness her being courted and then married by another far less worthy man, Frank Troy. No other major character is able to accomplish this challenge to their pride. Though Bathsheba does eventually overcome the rejection of her husband, she only does so after tremendous tragedy and with the selfless and steady support of Gabriel.
Gabriel respects her independence, but, like a good shepherd, stays close by to protect and guide her. Though he cannot protect her from her free-will choices, he does warn her. He then remains faithful to her in the midst of the trouble she brings upon herself. In this, he is not unlike our God, for he allows her to stray, all the while letting her know of a better course when asked. And, she does ask.
In an important scene at a party, where Bathsheba must decide whether or not to marry a particularly obsessive suitor, when she asks, “Tell me what to do, Gabriel,” he simply tells her to “Do what is right.” Is that not like our Lord? Gentle shepherd, indeed, for our wild, independent hearts. In this, I see Gabriel as most suitable for the role as the husband written of in the epistle to the Ephesians. He loves Bathsheba “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…”
Men and women both struggle with self-centeredness, but men usually work themselves out of it by studying hard things in school, and doing hard work that pays. Men have a natural desire to provide for others, and it is actually a duty laid out for them in the Bible. As a result of studying and working at things they don’t like, men typically are better at resisting their feelings and desires. In fact, if you ever want to make a woman less self-centered and emotional, leading her to study STEM and work a demanding job is a good plan. Dina has multiple STEM degrees, and a very difficult, challenging work history.
I would be suspicious of men who don’t prioritize providing, (as in 1 Tim 5:8), because working and saving gives a man practical experience at self-denial. When a man gets accustomed to working to share with others, it helps helps him to lead a woman to do the same: deny her feelings and desires, and make prudent decisions that will allow her to love and serve others – including God – in a sustainable way. Over the long-term, this practice of effective, self-sacrificial love will be worth more to the woman than the short-term pursuit of fun and thrills. To provide for a woman means to look into her future, and make a decision today to set aside something that will help her to deal with what the future has in store for her.
Dina’s advice to young women
I asked Dina to take a look at the draft of this post before I hit “Schedule” and Dina said:
What I would advise to all young women is not to expect a Gabriel Oak to be waiting for you at the end of your reckless years of hooking up, partying and wasting your youth on fun and men who have no desire to lead you to God or guide you to goodness. Don’t expect the hot stud that your friends approve of to turn into someone with the character of Oak with the magic powers of your premarital sex life. Find a man who doesn’t give in to your every whim, because if he does, you will only resent him for it, and blame him, for being what you thought you wanted him to be. Find a man who leads, one who demonstrates self control, self denial, who can provide and protect. And most importantly, respect him for doing it.
Sound advice from the Dina, young ladies. By the way, Dina’s favorite drama is the BBC production of “North and South” from 2004. I also give it a 10/10.
Here is a striking essay from the Public Discourse. It talks about how we, as a society, have generally taken on an anything-goes approach with respect to sex. The one exception (for now) is pedophilia, which is the sexual abuse of children by adults. The essay points out that there is no moral reason for having this one exception, on secularism. The exception exists because of a sort of “ick” factor – not because we have a moral framework that makes anything right or wrong objectively. The essay argues that we are not shy about harming children in a million other ways, and lists some examples. I just want to quote a few and then I’ll comment about my own moral views around sexuality.
Quick summary of his argument:
The moral structure of pedophilia is simply this: the welfare of children is subordinate to the sexual gratification of adults.
[…]We should be thankful that the Sanduskys and Laheys are still considered monstrous. But in contemporary America that condemnation rests on sentiment and not on moral reasoning. No one can simultaneously explain why their actions were so vile and uphold the first commandment of the sexual revolution: fulfill thy desires.
[…]No, it isn’t how Sandusky and Lahey did what they did, or under what circumstances, that explains the disgust. It’s what they did—but nobody wants to acknowledge that.
The reason for that reluctance becomes clear, if we keep in mind the moral structure of pedophilia. Sexual gratification trumps. Thank goodness that for now, there aren’t many men who are sexually attracted to youngsters. In that single case, we raise the banner for the children. But in no other case.
That’s his argument.
Now, a quick excerpt:
If we altered the question, and asked not how many people have done sexually abusive things with children, but how many people have done sexual things that redounded to the suffering of children, then we might confess that the only thing that separates millions of people from Jerry Sandusky is inclination. Everything that was once considered a sexual evil and that is now winked at or cheered, everything without exception, has served to hurt children, and badly.
We might point here to divorce. Unless it is necessary to remove oneself and one’s children from physical danger and moral corruption, the old wisdom regarding divorce should hold, if children themselves have anything to say about it. Parents will say, “My children can never be happy unless I am happy,” but they should not lay that narcissistic unction to their souls. Children need parents who love them, not parents who are happy; they are too young to be asked to lay down their lives for someone else. It is not the job of the child to suffer for the parent, but the job of the parent to endure, to make the best of a poor situation, to swallow his pride, to bend her knees, for the sake of the child.
We might point to births out of wedlock. The child has a right to enter more than a little nursery decorated with presents from a baby shower. He should enter a human world, a story, a people. He should be born of a mother and a father among uncles and aunts and cousins and grandparents, stretching into the distant past, with all their interrelated histories, with his very being reflected in all those mirrors of relation, not to mention his eyes and his hair, the talents in his fingers and the cleverness in his mind. This belonging to a big and dependable world can be secured only in the context of the permanent love of his mother and father, declared by a vow before the community and before the One in whom there is no shadow of alteration.
And now my comments about this article.
So pretty much all my regular readers know that I take extremely conservative views on social issues, since I am an evangelical Protestant Christian. But I don’t just have conservative views – I am also chaste at a personal level. I am not one of these re-virgins – I have never had sex. Not once. And I don’t mean I have never had sexual intercourse only, I mean that I have never even kissed a woman on the lips. I am a radical on the issue of chastity. I don’t view chastity as depriving oneself of something good, I view it is as a thing that serious Christian men do when we want to enable and develop other capabilities. It’s my conviction that chastity enables the capability to see women as God sees them, which is a precursor to growing them up to serve him. That’s what women are for, on my view – exactly like men are for knowing and serving God. It’s my belief that once a man has premarital sex, it becomes much harder for him to view women that way.
So, I am really really really against any kind of sexual activity of any kind prior to marriage. I think that if a man wants to show affection to a woman, then sex before marriage is not the way to do that. There are other ways, and men ought to know how to speak the language of love to a woman in many different ways apart from sex, assuming that this is his goal for her. A man needs to create a context for sex before he can have it. Marriage is how a man provides a context for sex. Not just by giving a woman safety, but by specifying a shared vision which the woman agrees to support when she agrees to marriage. Men shouldn’t have intimate experiences with women who are not committed to a constructive partnership with specific goals, e.g. – birthing or adopting children in order to give them a stable, loving sane environment to grow up in. That is so rare nowadays, especially on college campuses which are inundated with sexual liberalism, thanks to radical feminism. My conviction that sex is not something that should be done before marriage emerges partly from a concern that children should have the best opportunity for that stable environment. And that’s what I want to focus on – sexual restraint as a means of providing for children and protecting children.
First, premarital sex creates a situations where abortion happens. Men and women should not engage in activities for recreational reasons that could possibility lead to the death of another human being, period. I am not one of these people who thinks “oh, poor woman who is pregnant, what a beastly man who did that to her – but she can do the right thing and keep the baby”. I think that women are equally to blame with men for even having sex before marriage – the mistake was having sex in the first place. So getting pregnant and keeping the baby is good, but preventing fatherlessness and not putting burdens on taxpayers is much, much better. People who engage in premarital sex are not only selfish, immature and irresponsible, but they are actually acting in a negligent fashion towards the child that may result from their choices. We should not make choices that put innocent children at risk. Premarital sex can be compared with driving while drunk in that regard. You might think it’s fun, but it’s not a good, moral thing to do because of the harm that may result. Saying “but I didn’t mean to” after the fact doesn’t change the harm.
Second, I’ve blogged before about many studies (like this one) that show that premarital sex reduces relationship stability, duration, and quality. Another study I blogged about showed that the number of sexual partners that a man or woman has before marriage directly affects the probability that the relationship will provide a stable environment for raising children. So one of my reasons for being chaste is to maximize the probability of giving my future children that stable environment. Another reason to be chaste is to give my future wife that gift of fidelity. When a man has proven that he has the ability to restrain himself with his wife during the courtship, that is a signal to her that he is good at self-control. The ability to court without premarital sex shows her that he is able to think about her as a person, and that he is able to evaluate her objectively for the purpose of filling the roles of wife and mother. And that this is, in fact, his whole purpose for her. A purpose that will survive the decline of her appearance and youth. Security is another gift that a chaste man gives his wife, so that she can age confidently.
Thirdly, I have in the past blogged about research on gay unions showing how various factors that are more probable in gay relationships, (e.g. – elevated rates of domestic violence, low relationship stability, drug abuse, high rates of promiscuity, etc.), undermine the stability of the environment in which children grow up. More here. Dr. Ryan Anderson has argued that the norms present in gay relationships will undermine the norms of traditional marriage, (permanence, sexual exclusivity, etc.), if marriage is redefined to eliminate the gender requirement. I think we need to keep the traditional definition of marriage because it’s better for children if we do (and there are other reasons to prefer natural marriage, as I’ve written about before).
I think I’ve said enough here to show that very often when it comes to sexual activity what is driving my conservative views is concern for others. Concern not just for the future children, but for the future wife. And not just for them, but for society as a whole, who would have to pay the social costs of things like divorce, and the social costs of children of divorce, etc. And not just for society, but also for God, who intends sexuality for a very specific purpose – it is a form of communication for two people who have been bonded to each other for life. Marriage has to count for God and achieve his goals. One of those goals is raising up children well for his sake. And adults need to control themselves in order to provide children with what they need.