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.

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Charlene Bader

Born and raised in Texas, Charlene enjoys teaching, editing, and writing while raising 5 boys (ages 3-9) with her husband, Wally. Charlene learned to love Scripture from her Baptist parents and liturgy from her Episcopal grandma. A personal interest in church history and social justice led to her conversion to Catholicism in 2003. In 2004, Charlene graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Communications. She’s worked in the arts, administration, and education in the non-profit, private, and public sectors, as a full-time working mom, part-time working mom, work-from-home mom, and homeschooling mom. She’s passionate about social justice, ecumenism, and helping others experience a personal, relevant connection to the Lord in their everyday lives. Charlene’s blog can be found at www.sunrisebreaking.com.

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