In 2005’s “Hitch,” Will Smith’s title character gets into a conversation with a buddy at a bar about relationships. His friend, recently married, gushes about how the love between his wife and himself is on a different level from the philandering these guys once enjoyed. “You know what your problem is?” the friend asks. “You’re all about the short game.” As two attractive women stroll by, Hitch smiles and retorts that married life isn’t for everyone: “Just leave me to my hot, sweaty, totally varied, wildly experimental short game.”
To be fair, the movie ends with Smith’s character swearing off his womanizing ways and settling down with the girl of his dreams. But you don’t have to look far to find movies, TV shows, bestselling novels, and political organizations touting no-strings-attached sex as the good life. It’s fun, exciting, and so much better than being stuck with the same person night after night. Casual sex on screen is the purview of sophisticated, attractive, career-focused urban socialites. Everyone has a good time, goes to work the next day, and laughs about it over cocktails come Friday. At least, that’s how it goes in the movies.
And left-wing political groups like Planned Parenthood have set about giving the short game a patina of medical and scientific approval. (Shocker: The nation’s largest abortion provider wants folks shacking up as often as possible.) These groups put tremendous effort into normalizing bed-hopping among young people, with sex-education campaigns that could be more accurately described as promiscuity propaganda.
And then, of course, there’s pornography, an industry whose Internet bandwidth dwarfs that of Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. The unspoken premise of every millisecond of porn is that women (and men) are bodies to be used and discarded at the viewer’s leisure. Everyone is physically flawless, no one catches any diseases or gets pregnant out of wedlock, and the guilt and regret described by real people who’ve lived the dream and found out it’s a nightmare are nowhere in sight. Emotional attachment, long-term faithfulness, and yes, love, are to porn what Brussels sprouts are to fried Twinkies. They may be better for you, in the long run, but they’re just no fun.
At least, that’s the message, fed intravenously through screens of all sizes to Americans of all ages, day and night. But lies are tough to maintain, and the truth about this rosy picture of casual sex keeps slipping out in embarrassing places.
Recently, it happened at Buzzfeed. James Ball, who I strongly suspect will find himself unemployed shortly, reports the results of a new YouGov survey, which found that “very right wing people” are the happiest with their sex lives. Carried out for a new edition of the book “Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box,” the survey involved more than 19,000 people in the U.K., Germany, France, Denmark, and Sweden. In all five countries, participants with the most right-wing political views were likeliest to report being sexually satisfied. A connection emerged on the opposite end of the political spectrum, as well. Those in the U.K. who leaned furthest left were the least likely to describe their sex lives in positive terms. Right-wing political views, meanwhile, predicted the greatest overall happiness.
But this routine qualifier does little to soften the blow to the promise of consequence-free casual sex, made primarily by the left. At the very least, this survey means that those who espouse views Americans would call socially conservative have, on average, a better time in bed. This raises the obvious question: If casual sex is so mind-blowingly awesome, why are the fuddy-duddies on the right enjoying themselves so much?
Could it have anything to do with the fact that, all things being equal, conservatives tend to emphasize monogamy? After all, despite the existence of Donald Trump, the average person on the right still cannot practice promiscuity with the impunity those on the left can. For social conservatives, casual sex and open relationships are simply not viable end-games as they have been for years among liberals. The expectation to settle down and stay faithful remains strong among traditionalists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Part of it is likely because married couples simply have more sex, and that (unsurprisingly) makes life better. A study published in 2010 by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University—one of the most extensive to date—found that married Americans have sex five times more often than unmarried Americans. A vanishingly small percentage of singles, meanwhile, had the kinds of rough-and-tumble sex lives portrayed in romcoms and sitcoms. Most reported not having had sex in at least a year. Contrary to popular portrayals, single people—even attractive, successful single people—aren’t enjoying new conquests nightly. In reality, they just don’t get that much action compared with their married neighbors.
How much are lifelong lovers enjoying themselves (or should I say, each other)? Decade-old research from Dartmouth shows that having sex at least once a week produces the equivalent boost in happiness of a $50,000 raise. One study in the British Medical Journal found that men in long-lived marriages live longer, themselves—surviving their unmarried counterparts by up to five years. And we hardly need to rehearse the benefits of not engaging in high-risk sex. By taking sexually transmitted infections off the mind and usually taking the “crisis” out of “crisis pregnancy,” marriage defuses a minefield of major stressors.
The dirty little secret of the modern era is that the kind of behavior entertainment promises will make us happy is nearly the exact opposite of what actually makes people happy, according to research. That “hot, sweaty” short game turns out to be less fulfilling than the dreaded ball and chain known as marriage.
Does having sex with one person your whole life guarantee you’ll be happy? No, but nothing really does. Rather, rejecting the false promises hawked by our popular culture steers you clear of the wreckage-strewn shoals of promiscuity, and sets you on a course that conforms, at the deepest level, with the way God designed you. I know it’s tempting to believe otherwise when young, attractive actors and actresses on screen constantly seem to be having the time of their lives. And maybe in their fictional worlds, they are. Here in the real world, lifelong love, not lechery, is what most people find truly fulfilling.
This piece originally ran at BreakPoint.org