Men and women have to get on the same page if we’re ever going to get marriage and family life back in good shape.
I usually write book reviews here, but reading and then telling you *most* of the story and how well I thought it was written is just part of my skills as a critical reader and writer. Analysis is my favorite, actually, but to analyze a novel, I have to tell you how it ended! No one wants to read spoiler alerts left and right. In this post, I’d like to share my critical, faith-informed response to what I’ve encountered online.
In case you missed it, much of my Facebook community (well, the Catholics at least) shared a “research animate” presented by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. The members of the institute are largely people of faith, but their research is sociological, philosophical, and secular. Although we as Catholics are guided by the truth of Jesus Christ, what good is truth if you can’t frame it in a way that appeals to those who aren’t as far along on the journey? Some of my favorite pro-life arguments are completely secular. That’s where “The Economics of Sex” comes in.
I encourage you to watch the whole video. It is narrated and features custom “live” drawings, so give it your full attention—it goes quickly. The content is not explicit, but it is frank, so save this one for adults and maybe older teens.
The Austin Institute makes a compelling argument! If you can’t watch the video or have trouble following the line of thought, here’s a brief summary:
- Marriage rates in the U.S. are at an all-time low, and the average age at first marriage is at an all-time high.
- In general, men want sex more than women do, and women desire commitment (marriage) more than men do. Thus, women determine whether and when men will have sex.
- In previous generations, there was a demand for sex, but the price was high. Sex was understood to be part of the path to marriage, and the couple might become parents along the way. Thus, the supply of sex was lower.
- In recent generations, the demand for sex has increased as the price has decreased. The invention and widespread use of the Pill “shocked” the established economic system because parenting was no longer automatically part of the price to pay for sex. Thus, the supply of sex is higher. We saw a similar “shock” to the food supply system with the introduction of pesticides, but we’re only realizing the long-term effects now, generations later.
- In the current sexual economy, more men want sex, and more women want marriage. We see this in the rise, profitability, and language used in online dating services.
- Men and women do not participate equally in this economy. Women’s fertility sharply declines and ceases, but men’s fertility does not. Therefore, men can be more selective about choosing a marriage partner and demand more sex or sexual experience before (or instead of) making their lifelong selection.
- If women joined together (colluded) to raise the price of sex, they would decrease the cheaper supply. The demand would remain, and they could regain control of the system. Instead, women mostly remain in competition at low prices for the existing demand. This is where we are today.
Ugh. That’s not a pretty picture, but it seems like a realistic one to me, and it made me think. Here’s what came to mind.
Women have more to risk in the sexual economy (the “price” of pregnancy and possible abandonment), so it makes sense that they could control it. I don’t think they should, though. The ideal situation is not one of female collusion, but of male and female cooperation. Men and women work best when they work together, so if men demanded sex less or were more willing to pay the higher price, women wouldn’t have to sell each other out by raising or lowering it at the risk of their bodies and their futures. I don’t know how that fits into the economic structure, but it fits into what I know of theology.
Furthermore, I think we are currently seeing the fallout of the “shock” of the Pill and other forms of contraception. The green movement hasn’t yet run up against the contradiction of contraception, but it will. The rise of the fertility industry has spread to artificial wombs and three-parent embryos. The same women who spent years suppressing their fertility with contraception later spend thousands to jump-start or supplant it with fertility treatments or surrogacy.
Finally, we need to remember that sex ought to be ordered toward marriage and family life—always. The Church teaches us that sex belongs within the bond of marriage precisely because she knows the price we will pay for losing that eternity-focused mindset. This economy shouldn’t be about changing the supply, raising prices, and shocks to the system. It should be about spouses getting each other to heaven and raising up new souls to join them there.
So I say to men and women: Restore the economic system of sex. Be willing to pay the true price, to give all of yourself without counting the cost, and do not yield. Christ calls you to greatness, not riches.
Featured image from redpepperflakes at Flickr