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No, “Cheap Sex” is Not Why No One’s Getting Married

No, Cheap Sex is not why no one's getting married -- FemCatholic.com

Is cheap sex making marriage obsolete? A popular New York Post article sure thinks so.  (Incidentally, so does my late grandmother, who took every opportunity to counsel, re: “giving the milk away for free.”)

The New York Post is right on one point: marriage rates are decreasing. But slut-shaming, with a side of porn and masturbation, isn’t the primary source of this decline.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/23/144-years-of-marriage-and-divorce-in-the-united-states-in-one-chart/?utm_term=.0a4b89d3d4f8

Do we really believe, as a society, for the past 241 years of American history, men simply followed their phallus into lifelong marriage in exchange for an exclusive, all-access pass to unlimited sex?

I’d expect this kind of reasoning from Hugh Hefner or James Bond. Surprisingly, it’s quite prevalent in Christian dating advice books. The best cure for sexual desire before marriage? Simply get married!

As a married woman, please, hear me out: this is terrible, terrible advice.

If you’ve ever had the flu, a late night at work followed by an early morning back at work, a newborn, any kind of surgery, visiting in-laws, a high-risk pregnancy, or an episode of mental illness – or if you love someone who’s experienced any of this – then you’re already aware that, sometimes, the most loving gesture in a marriage is to keep your pants on.

Despite 241 years of American sexual folklore, marriage is not actually a sex free-for-all.

Despite 241 years of American sexual folklore, marriage is not actually a sex free-for-all.

While there’s unmistakably a strange obsession-bordering-addiction with consequence-free sex in our country, it’s too simplistic to blame America’s declining marriage rates solely on the increased acceptance of extramarital sex, porn, and masturbation.

Looking further into the issue, why would men and women be less inclined to marry in America in 2017?

It could be an increased sense of financial burden or responsibility. Most major cities require two incomes to afford decent housing. Student debt is at an all-time high. With unstable employee family policies in our country, the birth of children brings a complication to careers and financial stability that many couples determine not worth the risk.

Rather than judge the childless or unmarried for their financial anxiety, perhaps, we could introspect, as a country, to evaluate how our housing costs, debt structures, and work policies contribute to an anti-family mindset among young Americans.

Another contributor to our declining marriage rate aligns with the downward trend of church affiliation and attendance in our country.

Secularization in American society has re-categorized marriage from a sacramental tradition to an optional sentimental gesture. If someone doesn’t give credence to the idea of “God as my witness,” then why would he or she pay $1,000 to rent a church, pianist, and priest, just to secure some irrelevant deity’s blessing on a loving relationship?

If someone doesn’t give credence to the idea of “God as my witness,” then why would he or she pay $1,000 to rent a church, pianist, and priest, just to secure some irrelevant deity’s blessing on a loving relationship?

Rather than condemn the heathen youth of America for their godless and hell-bent aversion to marriage, perhaps we could consider why the religious institution of matrimony doesn’t seem to draw them in.

How do our churches currently invest in marriage, what we claim to be the most fundamental building block of society?

What would it look like if we prioritized the enrichment of marriage and family life with the same passion and funding that goes into our building and capital campaigns? (I picture affordable, high-quality marriage enrichment opportunities that include free childcare.)

What would it look like if we prioritized the enrichment of marriage and family life with the same passion and funding that goes into our building and capital campaigns?

In the same way that some mistakenly conclude marriage to be an outdated institution for unrestricted sex, we have also failed to uphold the goodness of children, in the relational and formative opportunity they bring to family life.

We need simpler lives and expectations. In this area, millennials are leading the charge. Even as they embrace fewer possessions, less square feet for living, public transportation, community initiatives, and support of local family businesses, for some reason, the inclusion of marriage and family life in this ideology of simplicity and solidarity has not yet been realized.

Kids do not need a wardrobe bursting with branded outfits, personal themed bedrooms, laptops, cars, or even a college fund. It’s only in the past century that parenthood has become such an overwhelming financial consideration. Given the expectation, it’s not surprising that many opt to avoid it, and so, why not the marriage as well.

It’s easy to dismiss the underlying legitimate reasons that the marriage rate in our country is declining when we demonize men as untame-able sexual beasts and women as shameless harlots. Once we push past these sexual caricatures to address the actual issues involved, dialogue can begin on how to stabilize the complicated and important institution of marriage in America.


Charlene Bader is a FemCatholic Contributor. She writes about family life, current events, Catholicism, and social justice at Sunrise Breaking. She’s worked in the arts, administration, and education, as a full-time working mom, part-time working mom, work-from-home mom, and homeschooling mom. She’s currently a full-time stay-at-home-mom of five kids in Conroe, TX. She is changing the world one diaper at a time. 

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3 Comments

  • Reply Monica

    “It’s only in the past century that parenthood has become such an overwhelming financial consideration. Given the expectation, it’s not surprising that many opt to avoid it, and so, why not the marriage as well.”

    It’s not just financial–there’s also the emotional/psychological/spiritual consideration of Being A Mom and the ~*~mom lifestyle~*~. I’m married but don’t have kids yet, and honestly I’m pretty freaked out that when I do, I’ll end up just hanging out with other moms, talking about Mom Stuff for the rest of my life, and lose my own identity and interests. I think there’s a similar social divide between married and single people, where people get married and then stop hanging out with their single friends. If all your friends are single and it feels like marriage would mean abandoning them, that’s a huge deterrent.

    September 20, 2017 at 10:32 am
  • Reply Kerri

    Charlene, your wisdom, kindness and bluntness just astonish me. God has given you a very real spiritual gift, and I am so glad you recognize it and embrace it with such relentless and fearless abandon.

    September 21, 2017 at 9:19 am
  • Reply Jen

    Seriously! This is so well-written. Thank you for taking the time to put these thoughts onto paper (well, screen). I read that New York Times Article, and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. You hit the nail on the head.

    I would add a few points, though. For example, the cost of a wedding itself is at an all-time high, and it’s completely unaffordable for many. Moreover, between two or three jobs apiece–none of which provide paid vacation time–when are young people supposed to be able to take the honeymoon?

    September 30, 2017 at 2:53 pm
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