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October 24, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Technology put an end to my days of giving dating advice on my blog Seraphic Singles. Before I hit the techno-wall, my counsels had been heavily influenced by the 1990s bestseller “The Rules.”

“The Rules” harkened back to the days of yore, when women worried about “looking cheap” because society said only women who put a high value on themselves would find a good husband. Preaching that men value only that (or she) for which (or whom) they have to strive (like a sports car), “The Rules” counseled that women not, for example, return men’s every phone call — at least not right away — for fear of looking overly available.

“But what about texts?” wailed my young blog readers, who were two or so when “The Rules” came out. “How soon after a text should I reply? And what if he texts me right back?” As I pondered how long a young woman should prudently wait before answering a young man’s instant message, I began to doubt my ability to give advice in the Internet Age.

Technology trumps 'The Rules'

Some tech developments I understood. For example, having been a subscriber to Catholic dating websites myself, I have personal experiences to draw upon. However, stories about Tinder and Grindr — smartphone applications that linked strangers for sexual encounters — and about  internet porn completely depressed me.

I betrayed my total ignorance of The Way Things Are Now when I wrote overly harshly about women who use porn. It turned out that at least one of my female Catholic readers was addicted to internet porn, and reading how “unwomanly” it was only increased her sufferings. (NB 19 percent of American women ages 18-29 report viewing pornography in the past week.)

However, I did know that some of my very devout Christian female readers were having sex. Yes, girls, I know you didn’t mean to, you didn’t plan on it, and you figured you would marry those boys anyway. Although you left gaps in your emails asking for advice, I was certainly able to read between the lines and I didn’t care for you any less. In fact, I thought of you when I read this in Mark Regnerus’ amazing, must-read book “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy“.

… What happens among many religious Americans in their later twenties and thirties is seldom radically different from that which other Americans narrate (about their dating lives) except by degree. They want love, like nearly everyone else. They couple. Sex often follows after a (longer) period of time, a pattern which confuses them more than most, since premarital sex remains proscribed — meaning it is actively discouraged, but impossible to effectively prevent — among them.

Having read “Cheap Sex”, which offers a deeply scholarly — yet easily read — examination of the mating habits of the under-40 set in the USA, I feel like I’ve caught up on the Way Things Are Now. So with a firm hat tip to Mark Regnerus and his book, here’s why you’re not married yet.

Romantic love no longer the norm

First, you no longer need a husband to be financially comfortable, and a man no longer needs a wife for uncomplicated and socially safe sex. Therefore, the “exchange model” of marriage, in which a wife provides her husband with comfort — a clean house, clean clothes, hot meals, fun in bed; a husband gives his wife financial and emotional stability in exchange; and they give each other children, is no longer the norm for Americans under 40.

In fact, even romantic love — which implies permanence — is no longer the norm for young people in the USA. Both marriage and romantic love have been replaced by what Regnerus calls “confluent love,” which has at its heart neither “settling down” nor “starting a family” nor “happily ever after” but the goal of sexual fulfillment. In today’s mating market, sex has kicked the stuffing out of any notion self-sacrificing love.

This has come about through three technological changes:

  1. highly effective oral contraceptives, which have freed women from the cradle for the labor market, and made us less afraid of the consequences of premarital and extramarital sex,

  2. ever more sophisticated internet pornography, which has led to a staggering increase in self-abuse among both women and men, reshaped sexual expectations, made men dissatisfied with monogamous and “ordinary” sex, and made women fearful of losing out to the virtual competition

  3. communication systems that help men access men and women willing to have sex with them ASAP

Before the advent of the Pill — and for a few years afterward, before the implications began to reshape women’s attitude toward our hardwired role as sexual “gatekeepers” — consensual sex was hard for American men to get. Some paid prostitutes, but the average young man competed with other men for a wife, associating — as did everyone else before 1960 — unpaid sex with marriage, fertility and family life. Sex was subordinate to love, marriage and the family.

Sex is king

But today, with the gradual replacement of romantic love — which always had permanence as a goal — with confluent love, sex is king. Sex, says Regnerus, is now being seen as essential to the human being as edible food, potable water, air and shelter. And not just ordinary sex either: sexual tastes and expectations are being shaped by internet pornography, and increasing numbers of young women are identifying themselves as bisexual. Regnerus predicts that straight men, too, will begin experimenting more than they are with same-sex sexual activity. They won’t call themselves “gay” or participate in “gay culture,” but they will be much more willing to do things that would have made their grandfather’s vomit. (That’s my image, not Regnerus’.)

Meanwhile, if you think you would never have anything to do with a young man who uses internet porn, Regnerus suggests you have another think. Forty-one percent of never-married 18- to 39-year-old heterosexual men reported use of porn in the last week. (“Heck,” Regnerus writes, “one in three married men age 60 or under said they’d looked at pornography in the past week.”) The professor says that if porn-watching is a deal breaker for women, then “a comparable number of women will not find themselves in a committed relationship at all.”

Women are the losers

And that’s the kick in the teeth. If women want mind-blowing sex, we will certainly find willing men. But if women want faithful marriage untainted by porn, the odds are stacked against us. Here’s what Regnerus says about women’s new powerlessness:

Women are learning to have sex like men. But peel back the layers, and it becomes obvious that this transition is not a reflection of their power but of their subjection to men’s interests. If women were more in charge of how their relationships transpired … we would be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts by men, fewer hookups, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on … In other words, the “price” of sex would be higher: it would cost men more to access it. Instead, none of these things are occurring. Not one.”

So what can we women do? Or — since I am married already — what can unmarried women do get married? Regnerus is a sociologist, so he doesn’t give advice. He just tells it like it is, and tries not to sound too doleful about it. He also repeats several times that he’s not nostalgic for the past.

Well, maybe he’s not. I am, and I’m only talking the 1980s, when at my Italian-Canadian dominated high school you could get called a “putana” just for open-mouthed kissing at a dance. So here are some suggestions from a married woman Culture Warrior:

Advice from a married woman culture warrior

  1. Make sex expensive again. Tell yourself marriage and children mean more to you than “mind-blowing sex” and consciously refuse to participate in the new social norm that makes marriage and family so much harder for men and women to obtain. Not only should you not engage in premarital sex and porn, you should explain to your peers why they shouldn’t either. Read them passages from Cheap Sex, and avoid being alone with attractive members of the opposite sex. Don’t assume you are immune from the Culture of Mind-Blowing Sex because you are religious; if you live in the English-speaking world, it is in the very air you breathe.

  1. Gently encourage those you love and who love you to keep sex subordinate to marriage. Only heaven knows how many marriages have been made by a mother or sister saying, “So when are you going to marry that nice girl?” And only heaven knows how many boys and men are saved from porn by their parents or wives taking bold steps to keep it out of their house. I speak as one who shrieks “Change the channel — NOW” at her husband when topless ladies appear on our British TV. In loving family ties, sisterhood really is powerful.

  1. Confine your search for a spouse to your religious community. Regnerus identifies religious as marriage’s only true friend right now. Although even some weekly church attenders use porn and engage in premarital sex, they are the least likely to do so. They are also the most likely to want to marry.

  1. Do not despair. Regnerus believes that marriage in itself is so stable that it will not entirely disappear. The median age for first marriage for women in the U.S. is now 27 and rising, but Regnerus thinks it will peak “below age 30.” Healthy women who marry at 29 still have a good chance of conceiving children.  

  1. If you are a high-earning woman with a Ph.D, do not expect to marry a man who earns more money and has more education than you. You cannot have your take and eat it, too. As Regnerus points out, more women go to college than men, and more women than men are in the active labor force. Pay off your student debts ASAP, save like crazy, and look for a spouse among kindly men who enjoy their work and make enough to live on. There are simply not enough high-earning, highly educated men for all the single ladies. Now more than ever, it’s character that counts.  

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Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and has contributed to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.


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