John Blake’s recent CCN article, “Why Young Christians Aren’t Waiting Anymore,” sparked a flurry of thousands of responses. Released in September 2011, the piece cited an article in Relevant magazine entitled “(Almost) Everyone’s Doing It,” exploring the sexual activity of Christian singles. But one finding, in particular, stood out from the miscellany: According to a December 2009 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 80% of evangelical young adults (18 to 29) reported having had sex—just under the 88% statistic of unmarried adults overall. “Relevant theorizes about why it’s so hard for so many young Christians to wait, including the saturation of sex in popular culture, the prevalence of pornography and a popular ‘do what feels good philosophy,’” Blake writes. But are these listed sociocultural factors solely to blame? Or is there a concomitant reality at play here?
Perhaps the past fifty years of American history can shed light on the matter. Hugh Hefner and Alfred Kinsey set the stage for the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s, in which Margaret Sanger and other activists created a social movement challenging traditional norms surrounding sexuality and intimate relationships. Their efforts led to greater acceptance of extramarital sex and artificial birth control, wide normalization of public nudity, pornography, and homosexuality, and, soon thereafter, the legalization of abortion on demand.
Such revisions, lobbied in the name of progress, had unclear orientation at best. If their purported aim was freedom, it was freedom from—not freedom for—the other. If their grail was redefined feminism, it was androgyny—not femininity—that won the day. Indeed, in a strange turn of events, women were told that they must become ‘manly’ if they ever hoped to realize social equality—immanently suggesting that there is nothing uniquely valuable about being a woman. Distinctly feminine qualities could be spayed by a Pill, and, meanwhile, masculine traits could be fabricated in their stead, insinuating the superiority of the latter. Was not this the inverse of what the early feminists yearned to achieve?
As sex differences became hazy, men learned to adapt to their newly perceived social and sexual roles. Apparently many women no longer wanted a ‘Prince Charming,’ but preferred independence and self-sufficiency. The idea of a man boldly pursuing his beloved, wooing her and finally capturing her heart, became patriarchal and old-fashioned. And traditional courtship—with its establishment of an enduring romantic relationship, often with family approval—was promptly considered antiquated and chauvinistic. Thus the framework of dating was dismantled (but not reconstructed) in the matter of two short decades.
Where there once was wonder and mystery encompassing the opposite sex, now there was widespread disesteem. Inasmuch as the sexes were basically one and the same—interchangeable and thus replaceable—there was little to discover in the other’s maleness or femaleness, masculinity or femininity. Society hardly endorsed physical sex differences, let alone those bound up in one’s personal identity or intrinsic nature. So the enchantment of the ‘other’ faded, and with it, perhaps, true ardor and romance began to die.
This demise, only enlivened today in rare bits of clearness amidst the confusion, has sown hopelessness. We’ve buried dreams of a lifelong lover, partner, companion, and best friend. We’ve lain to rest our wishes for an affection that is silly and playful, for a love that is brave and true. We think the current state is all there is—a state where every man fends for himself, too afraid to make his heart vulnerable to the ‘other,’ who, we still do know to be hauntingly distinct from ourselves. And we witness this reduction of expectation as it stems from a more desolate reduction still—a reduction in the value of the human person, most especially in the arena of sex.
Hefner inculcated sex solely for pleasure. Sanger divorced sex from its power to generate a new human person—a person that has never before existed since the foundations of the world. Imagine. We say, “It is only sex,” or, “It is only one night;” yet, in the words of Dr. Anthony Esolen, “For the lover who has found the truth and fell in love with it, there is never an ‘only,’ but always ‘more, yet more.’” For the betrothed, it is never ‘for now’ but always ‘forevermore.’ To be sure, authentic love is daring in its eternality, fearless in its fidelity. It looks not for an ‘out,’ but delves deeper and deeper still, plunging nearer to the core of the beloved and thus nearer to ‘gift’ in its totality.
No doubt Relevant is on to something when it cites our sex-saturated culture, dependence on pornography, and ubiquitous ‘do what feels good philosophy’ as contributors to premarital sex among Christians. But perhaps it is the case that Christians—like the culture at large—primarily have hopelessness to blame.
Most women still want to be princesses, and most men still seek to win a woman’s heart. Hefner and Sanger diminished the person to the mere sum of parts, yet we know that men and women are remarkable and multifarious, fantastic and so much more. There is still magic in the differences of the sexes—and what a joy it is to encounter them! Indeed, our world contains the possibility of being radically altered by this ‘other,’ who, through the eyes of love, suddenly becomes much larger than we saw before.
What an enormous capacity we have to love. With a revival of appreciation for the splendor of the person as male or female, we can experience both the mirth and the fulfillment that comes with encountering the other sex, and—just perhaps—pen an article titled, “Why Young Persons Would Wait Forevermore.”