We hear a lot today about declining marriage rates. Only a few weeks ago Pew Research reported that since 1960, the percent of married adults has experienced a drop of over 20 points. Furthermore, the median age for first marriage has increased by seven years in that same time period.
This decline appears to be driven in part by both the rise in cohabitation and the rise in the hookup culture.
But while casual, premarital sex with multiple partners seems to have become the norm, it also seems to cause a bit of confusion, particularly for females. A Wall Street Journal article penned by University of Texas professor Dr. Mark Regnerus describes this problem:
“Many young men and women still aspire to marriage as it has long been conventionally understood—faithful, enduring, focused on raising children. But they no longer seem to think that this aspiration requires their discernment, prudence or self-control.
When I asked Kristin, a 29-year-old from Austin, whether men should make sacrifices to get sex, she offered a confusing prescription: ‘Yes. Sometimes. Not always. I mean, I don’t think it should necessarily be given out by women, but I do think it’s OK if a woman does just give it out. Just not all the time.’”
Dr. Regnerus goes on to analyze this confusion:
“Kristin rightly wants the men whom she dates to treat her well and to respect her interests, but the choices that she and other women have made unwittingly teach the men in their lives that such behavior is noble and nice but not required in order to sleep with them. They are hoping to find good men without supporting the sexual norms that would actually make men better.”
So why do women appear to be in a confused state over how to handle such relationships?
One answer to that question is hinted at by the famous twentieth century author, J.R.R. Tolkien, in a letter to his son. As Tolkien explains, men and women come from quite different ends of the spectrum when it comes to ideas of marriage and relationships:
“[Women] are instinctively, when uncorrupt, monogamous. Men are not. …. No good pretending. Men just ain’t, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed’ ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh. Each of us could healthily beget, in our 30 odd years of full manhood, a few hundred children, and enjoy the process. Brigham Young (I believe) was a healthy and happy man. It is a fallen world, and there is no consonance between our bodies, minds, and souls.
However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’ (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering.”
Since Tolkien wrote this, however, many women have come around to feminist lines of thinking, rejecting the differences between the sexes and taking control of their sex life, their careers, and any number of other areas. Women have, at least externally, become more like the non-monogamous, unrestrained male that Tolkien describes.
But could that be where the confusion lies? Is it possible that women still have that internal drive toward committed relationships which Tolkien outlines, but are conflicted by the external cultural voices which tell them such a state is no longer possible, nor desirable? If so, one can’t help but wonder if the feminist push to eliminate all differences between the sexes has actually hurt women – both physically and mentally – instead of helping and elevating them as it was supposed to do.
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.