Contraception, Cheap Sex, and the Nonmarital Birth Rate

Every once in a while something in the New York Times will bring a smile to my face and offer hope. Well, that wasn’t this week, yet again. In Saturday’s edition came the discouraging news that over half of babies born to American women under age 30 are being born to unmarried mothers. Since the overall total is 41 percent, it means women over age 30 are more apt to be married when childbearing. But I think most reasonable people can still agree that it’s better—on average—when fathers are engaged in their children’s lives than when they’re not.

Now, I haven’t come down too hard on contraception in my previous writings and two books, but it boggles my mind to think that the logical answer to slowing the skyrocketing nonmarital fertility rate is to pump more (and free) birth control into the relationship system (which is also called the mating market, and once was called the marriage market, back when the pursuit of sex and the timing of marriage were more tightly connected). It’s a little like printing money to stimulate an economy: it sounds like a helpful thing, it could work, but it may backfire, and it’s hard to know with confidence what exactly will happen, and whatever happens may well generate unintended consequences, but it sounds noble because at least it’s doing something.

To be sure, contraceptive usage prevents very many pregnancies—duh—but what it doesn’t prevent is all of them, given normal contraceptive failure rates (which vary) and the fact that many people don’t use them correctly (due to lots of reasons, ignorance being only one of them). But what I think typically gets left out of discussions about contraception—because it’s challenging to accurately discern it [Read more...]

Why Joe Paterno’s Death Makes Us Feel Bad

Joe Paterno’s death at 85 would not be nearly so sad to us—after all, 85 is not young—if it weren’t for the fact that he was fired just two months ago in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky fiasco. I think it’s fair to admit that not a few of us wonder and fear that—amidst collective anger at Sandusky—Paterno deserved better than to be a fall guy whose last months were spent watching a career’s worth of good deeds get trampled on by a scandal he didn’t create. Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant was likewise dead within weeks of his retirement, but this feels different. It feels incomplete, wrong.

I can only imagine how blindsided Paterno must have felt to be caught up in this saga in late 2011, nine years after his assistant coach informed him about what he saw in the locker room. To be sure, Paterno regrets how he handled what he heard. But a pair of statements he made during his last interview, just days ago, continues to haunt me. When describing his assistant’s revelation of Sandusky’s actions, Paterno said, “You know, he (the assistant) didn’t want to get specific.” I understand that, having interviewed many dozens of people about their own sexual behavior. People prefer to speak in vague generalities about sexual matters, and will tend to do so unless asked to get specific. But what Paterno said next was even more telling: “And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good (if his assistant had been specific), because I never heard of, of, rape and a man.” With this jumbled assertion, [Read more...]

The Last American Sin

Watching the Penn State fiasco shake out last week awoke to my consciousness something that stirs every time we witness—or rather, hear about in the media—a sexual abuse scandal that involves children. Facebook and the blogosphere lit up with indignation from all corners. Penn State students who rallied in support of Coach Paterno were lumped in with him in Americans’ collective disgust. Simply put, there are to be no viable defenses of Penn State, its administration, or its football staff. Why? Because Jerry Sandusky committed the last American sin. I’m calling it that because I can think of no other act that can resonate so negatively with virtually all Americans. Murder is too localized. We’re no longer patriotic enough to get worked up over treason. So far as I can tell, sexual acts with children are the only egregious acts—sins, as it were—from which the vast majority of Americans still noticeably recoil, regardless of religion, race, gender, age, or politics. It’s a
strangely uniting moment when something like it happens.

What exactly is it about child molestation that uniquely unites Americans in outrage?

This is where it gets murky. [Read more...]

Shifting evangelical ideas about sex

Clearly the Atlantic Monthly is onto something in its coverage of men, women, and relationships. First it was “The End of Men,” the provocative cover-story article by Hanna Rosin back in July 2010. And now it’s “All the Single Ladies,” the November cover splash by Kate Bolick that’s gone stratospheric in reader attention before we’re even halfway through October. I argued last February in a Slate article that if the former title holds true, the second one will no doubt follow in its footsteps.

Basically, floundering men enable the flourishing men around them to become pickier about their romantic relationships and how they transpire, all the more in a world wherein women don’t really even need men anymore in order to live fruitful, satisfying, economically-secure lives. (But they still want men, which is always nice to hear.) Ergo, we should see less marrying going on, and at later ages. And voila, that is what we have.

We could argue the wisdom of this till we’re hoarse, but a piece of new research I saw recently reinforced the idea that marriage can shape how or what religious people think. In a fascinating article in the September issue [Read more...]


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