Sexual Revolution Deconstructed

The “60′s” and “sexual revolution” are synonymous. The 60′s generation nurtured children and taught the public the ways of the sexual revolution. The implications of that nurture and that teaching — that is, a generation of sexually liberated Americans — pervade our culture and it is hardly all good. Christian Smith and his team, in Lost in Transition, put it this way: “… for a significant number of emerging adults — especially but not exclusively women — sexual freedom is accompanied by real hurt, confusion, grief, anger, and regrets” (148).

What resources are available for emerging adults? What are churches doing about this?

The sexual revolution means casual sex; it means “amorphous and transient relationships”; it means hooking up. Some numbers: never-been-marrieds (71% oral sex; 73% sexual intercourse). The avg age for for first sex is 16 yrs old. “The typical never-married American 18- to 23-year-old has had an average (median) of 3 oral sex partners and 3 sexual intercourse partners” (149).

The cultural context of emerging adult sexual behaviors includes five topics, and these are the conclusions of Smith’s research over the years:

1. Tremendous optimism about their personal futures.
2. Smarting from hard lessons learned.
3. They profess to have no regrets about their lives. This does not match their own realities.
4. Hook-up culture is common. Not sure what hooking up means but it is common.
5. A new set of terms: sexiled, booty call, sexting, friends with benefits, and the walk of shame.

They observe, however, that there is a significant number of devastating romantic breakups. There is real emotional trauma.

Their next two sections deal with self-perceptions and behaviors, the first that they have “no problems” with their casual sexuality and the second that have problems. About half of emerging adults engage in casual sex and have no regrets.

But the focus of this chp is on the second group: those with hurt and regrets. Here are the major themes:

1. 75% of males have no regrets; 66% of females have regrets. Women bear the brunt of casual sex.
2. Their regrets are about early pregnancies, abortions, STD’s, sexual coercion, date rape.
3. Their regrets are also about a lack of enjoyment of sex and that it led to undesirable, complicated relationships. They knew they gave some of themselves away and it is irretrievable. Sex for some is meaningless.
4. Males have been problematized by pornography more than women; this complicates their sexuality.

The sexual revolution has created a culture of norms and expectations that are also creating a culture of sexual problems for emerging adults. There is then a deep and dark side to the sexual revolution.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Mike M

    Define ” problematized.”

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    The heart of the matter for me is that half of children are now born to unwed parents. Everyone wants to talk about how contraception decoupled sex and procreation, but it didn’t. It’s a myth. These young people who may or may not have been harmed by their sexual behaviors are almost besides the point. The people who are condemned to grow up in broken homes, often with no father, right from the start are the point. Even if the hook-up culture isn’t harming those who take part in it, its effects on those whose births result from it are often devestating. Sure, a good number of people are responsible and lucky enough not to wind up with an unwanted pregnancy. But they are still participating in, normalizing and perpetuating a set of sexual norms and behaviors which have terrible consequences for many others.

  • Jag

    Teenagers have sex and have always have had sex. That is why God made them so horny :) This being an anonymous board, I can say that I would not want my daughter to be a virgin when she is married; sexual compatibility is too important to the success of a marriage and too large a factor in divorce. When I see teenagers wearing those rings that indicate they are saving themselves for marriage, I wonder what it is that drives them to be so public about that decision. If virginity becomes a way of being better, more holy than your peers, then it is in danger of becoming an idol.

    Just quoting wikipedia:

    “Until the mid-1700s, it was normal and acceptable for the (British) bride to be pregnant at the nuptials, the later church public ceremony for the marriage.”

    “Marriage and birth records from the late 1700s reveal that between 30 to 40 percent of New England brides were pregnant before marriage.”

    “In a study conducted in the United States, 61 percent of men and 12 percent of women born prior to 1910 admitted to having premarital sex.”

  • Kim

    Did the study track the religious affiliation of those surveyed? Were those who felt regret more likely to have religious backgrounds?
    How to shift cultural understanding of the dignity of each person and the sacredness of each body is a tall order. How and where to begin?
    Churches teach abstinence to teens from twin perspectives of guilt and fear as to the risks of STD’s and pregnancy and breaking God’s laws. It’s not working. A new theology of sex and a new perspective is necessary.

  • Phil Miller

    This being an anonymous board, I can say that I would not want my daughter to be a virgin when she is married; sexual compatibility is too important to the success of a marriage and too large a factor in divorce. When I see teenagers wearing those rings that indicate they are saving themselves for marriage, I wonder what it is that drives them to be so public about that decision. If virginity becomes a way of being better, more holy than your peers, then it is in danger of becoming an idol.

    Well, anything can become an idol. But, personally, I do not think we need to be encouraging teenagers or young adults to be more sexually active. Sure on one hand, the Church needs to get over its culture of shame, but on the other hand, we can’t give up the idea that chastity outside of marriage is still a Biblical ideal. The problem is that rather than seeing chastity as a discipline that is for our good, we tend to see it as something where those who embrace it are missing out on fun or not being fulfilled.

    I see many of the spiritual disciplines as coming down to a matter of trust. If I choose to not partake in something now, can I trust God to be my source of fulfillment now and down the road, or will I go about trying to create my own happiness? Once we remove guilt and shame from these disciplines, they can be quite beautiful and freeing things.

    As far as sex before marriage, the one thing I’ll say is that I have seen plenty of couples who have delayed getting married for several years but chose to live together. In the end, though, the guy never really wanted to get married, and he ends up leaving. So the girl is left with regret and feeling like a fool. I know this image is somewhat stereotypical of guys wanting sex and girls wanting intimacy, but there’s still some truth in it.

  • http://disorientedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    My question would be: To what are we comparing these numbers?

    Simply looking at all these negative statistics doesn’t really give us any context; it seems to assume the reality we have now is worse than the one we had before the sexual revolution, without bothering to examine whether that’s actually true. It’s not hard for me to imagine how a sexually repressed, more institutionally misogynistic culture might have a different but equally harmful set of problems.

  • Glenn

    I am not sure shame is always such a bad thing. Having grown up in a poor area down south with a large section of the population evangelical, I saw many many male classmates from school engage in a short term relationships and abandon the girlfriend upon discovering she was pregnant. The consequences of this are clear to me now 25 years removed from high school. Those from more fundamentalist/evangelical backgrounds seemed to have much lower rates of this type of out of wedlock pregnancy due to the understanding of the weight of the consequences (poverty, lower chance for child to move out of poverty, etc.) and the well known cases where this happened did happen and the shame it brought. Is shame always bad? Maybe in the cases where it caused a mother or father to delay sex until they were equipped for marriage, the child of this marriage would not think so.

  • Mike M

    Well, the real “biblical ideal” is really polygamy which starts with the Fathers of the OT and is still acceptable amongst the Pharisees of Paul’s time. Pre-marital celibacy and marital monogamy is a fairly modern Christian virtue.
    Look for the money. The newest relationship ideal is a couple who lives together. If economic times are hard, they can receive more government benefits if they don’t marry. If they conceive, mom and child get benefits if they stay unmarried and dad is not listed as living there even if he is. If dad is honest and admits he lives in the same house, they lose their benefits. Sure, they may be in love (which is a Christian ideal), but they are having sex without being married, which is not a Christian virtue.

  • Matt Edwards

    One factor at play here is the modern economy and the delayed marriage age. The American economy now demands people go to school longer before getting a job that can support a family, yet biology is still the same.

    On a related note, I think one of the biggest reasons why the 18–30 crowd is not in church is because of this tension. They can’t get married because they are still in school, but they still have sex. So, church makes them uncomfortable and they don’t go. They still cling to their faith and consider themselves spiritual, they just don’t go to church. Once they turn 30, graduate, get married, get a job, and start having kids, they can fit in with the evangelical subculture and they come back to church.