Cheap Sex & The Race to the Bottom

Recently, amidst Conservative circles, there’s been quite a bit of hullabaloo over Mark Regnerus’ new book, Cheap Sex, and quite rightfully so as the book may well be one of those rare seminal works that has the opportunity to change cultural attitudes. In it, Regnerus discusses how the rise of birth control, sexual technology, and general attitudes about sex & sexuality in our society have shaped it today. In short, Regnerus makes & defends the claim that as Feminism has made women act more like the stereotypical, boorish man that men in turn have engaged in a race to the bottom; becoming even less gentlemanly than ever before.

This argument isn’t a new one, I’ve been making it for years, but Regnerus work stands out precisely because of the research he’s done into the topic and because of the mountain of data he has compiled to back this argument in the book.

In a fascinating article Regnerus recently wrote on the book in the Wall Street Journal he perfectly describes this in the form of one young man he interviewed in the course of his research:

“Kevin, a 24-year-old recent college graduate from Denver, wants to get married someday and is “almost 100% positive” that he will. But not soon, he says, “because I am not done being stupid yet. I still want to go out and have sex with a million girls.” He believes that he’s figured out how to do that:

“Girls are easier to mislead than guys just by lying or just not really caring. If you know what girls want, then you know you should not give that to them until the proper time. If you do that strategically, then you can really have anything you want…whether it’s a relationship, sex, or whatever. You have the control.”

Kevin (not his real name) was one of 100 men and women, from a cross-section of American communities, that my team and I interviewed five years ago as we sought to understand how adults in their 20s and early 30s think about their relationships. He sounds like a jerk. But it’s hard to convince him that his strategy won’t work—because it has, for him and countless other men.”

Speaking as a young man & recent college graduate myself, I can attest to the attitude espoused by, “Kevin” in Regnerus’ interview with him. It’s a surprisingly, and disturbingly, common take on sexuality and relationships by young men today. While Kevin is most certainly a boor who has quite a bit to learn if he ever hopes to get married, we can’t be putting the blame entirely on him. While men are certainly guilty of failing to provide women with higher expectations, women are just as guilty of failing to provide men with a reason to strive for a higher standard of behavior. As Regnerus goes on to write, our society is seemingly trapped in a negative feedback loop. In which women give sex away too freely and in which men proceed to act evermore boorish and crude in a race to the bottom which in turn leads women to expect less from men and on the cycle goes. As Regnerus writes:

“For American men, sex has become rather cheap. As compared to the past, many women today expect little in return for sex, in terms of time, attention, commitment or fidelity. Men, in turn, do not feel compelled to supply these goods as they once did. It is the new sexual norm for Americans, men and women alike, of every age.”

But what caused this shift? Regnerus swiftly answers:

“This transformation was driven in part by birth control. Its widespread adoption by women in recent decades not only boosted their educational and economic fortunes but also reduced their dependence on men. As the risk of pregnancy radically declined, sex shed many of the social and personal costs that once encouraged women to wait.

These forces have been at work for more than a half-century, since the birth-control pill was invented in 1960, but it seems that our norms and narratives about sexual relationships have finally caught up with the technology.”

Regnerus is spot on and while it would be easy to react with shock and horror at the revelation that seemingly benign birth control could be to blame for the decline of marriage & the rise of sexual libertinism, it isn’t. Indeed, many if not all of the things we see affecting sex, relationships, and marriage across the west was predicted, almost word for word, by Pope Paul VI in his masterwork, Humanae Vitae.

From Paragraphs 17-19 of the late Holy Father’s encyclical:

“Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.

Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.


Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

Needless to say, the aforementioned “Kevin” certainly fits the description laid out by Pope Paul VI. A man who has forgotten the intrinsic human value of women and who now has come to view them as little more than sex objects with which to please his own vacuous desires.

I recently wrote about the passing of Hugh Hefner and the destructive legacy he leaves behind. Regnerus appropriately taps into this as well. Discussing how pornography has become more than just some lurid sideshow entertainment and how it has now, for many young men, come to actually compete with real women for the role of being a sexual partner. Why? Because porn does not make any requirements of these young men. It does not ask them to pay for a nice dinner or to spend time with it’s family. Unlike real world relationships, in which sacrifice plays a vital role in ensuring both happiness and fulfillment, porn makes no demands.

Some time ago I wrote a column in which I described Millennial’s aversion to self-sacrifice as the reason for the decline in not only marriage but also in their declining religious observation. Regnerus would seem to agree, writing:

“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.”

Going on, in a separate yet equally fascinating piece he wrote for the Washington Post  Regnerus adds:

“Cheap sex, it seems, has a way of deadening religious impulses. It’s able to poke holes in the “sacred canopy” over the erotic instinct, to borrow the late Peter Berger’s term. Perhaps the increasing lack of religious affiliation among young adults is partly a consequence of widening trends in nonmarital sexual behavior among young Americans, in the wake of the expansion of pornography and other tech-enhanced sexual behaviors.

Cohabitation has prompted plenty of soul searching over the purpose, definition and hallmarks of marriage. But we haven’t reflected enough on how cohabitation erodes religious belief.

We overestimate how effectively scientific arguments secularize people. It’s not science that’s secularizing Americans — it’s sex.”

In my piece on the life and times of Hugh Hefner, I noted that the late pornographer was completely wrong when he claimed that, “The major civilizing force in the world is not religion, it is sex.” Indeed, as the data would seem to indicate, sex does have the power and capability to change people but not necessarily for the better.

Take the recent events that transpired at a tech conference in Barcelona, Spain for example. “Samantha,” a sex robot featuring the latest in technological advancements, was on display where conference attendees could interact with her to get a feel for the AI at work as well as the more crude hardware that makes her seem, “lifelike.” Needless to say, in our cultural race to the bottom, this did not end well. The men at the conference who came to interact with the robot quickly began to act, “like barbarians” as her designer tells it.

“The people mounted Samantha’s breasts, her legs and arms… Two fingers were broken. She was heavily soiled,” Santos said before noting that she had to be sent away for repairs and maintenance following the conference.

How truly right Pope Paul VI was when he warned that men would begin to look at women as little more than objects for their own pleasure; and forget to treat women with the dignity and respect they deserve. For all the alleged, “progress” achieved by Feminists and, “visionaries” like Hefner; it would seem that our society today is quickly regressing to the very worst tendencies of the hunter-gatherers. Where a caveman would conk a woman over the head with a rock and take her back to his den to do with as he pleased.

Sex is a beautiful thing. Created by God so that man & wife can grow in their love for one another in the marriage bed and that they also might demonstrate the communion between Christ and his Church. While it would be easy to write Regnerus, and myself, off as just some prudes who don’t want anyone to have fun, the reality is that the sexual revolution has quickly come to leave people more depressed and confused than ever before about their relationships with their fellow men. It has led to women being treated as mere objects for men’s amusements and men to act evermore like the cavemen that we thought we’d left behind with the advent of civilization brought about by religion. As Regnerus concludes,“It turns out that a world in which it is possible to satisfy our sexual desires much more immediately carries with it a number of unhappy and unintended consequences.”

His book, Cheap Sex can be purchased online here or at your nearest book store.

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