The title of a recent article in USA Today says it all: “Survey: Sleeping together before a first date is a-OK, but cracked phones are a put off.” The story focuses primarily on the attitudes of my fellow millennials towards dating and relationships.
Read and behold the death of western civilization:
Millennials are 48% more likely to have sex before a first date than all other generations of singles… Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific adviser to Match, [says]… “Sex before the first date could be a sex interview, where they want to know if they want to spend time with this person… In many ways sex has become a less intimate part of dating… We used to think of sex as you crossed the line now you are in an intimate zone, but now sex is almost a given and it’s not the intimate part…”
But don’t get the impression that we millennials have no standards. We do demand that our partners treat their phones with respect, if not their bodies and souls:
“Singles don’t like people who have a cracked phone, or an old phone or those who use a clicking sound when typing,” she says, citing the survey.
Ah yes, I’ll never forget when I first laid eyes on my wife’s immaculate phone and thought to myself, “I want to spend the rest of my life with this woman. At least until her phone breaks.”
Of course, the article doesn’t tell the rest of the story. The part where these same people complain incessantly to their friends about how it’s so difficult to find a man or woman who isn’t a shallow, self-interested jerk. The part where they quickly grow bored with each new partner. The part where they conduct these “sex interviews” but somehow keep hiring the wrong candidates. Everyone is lying on their resumes, they conclude.
They tread water like this for years, deathly afraid of marriage, stuck in an endless string of casual sexual encounters and relationships so superficial and ridiculous that they won’t even call them relationships. We’re just “hanging out,” say the grown adults as they rapidly approach middle age.
They tell themselves that this is just how relationships are, this is how people are, this is how it has to be. They never stop to consider that it isn’t some inherent flaw in human nature preventing them from discovering a deeper and more mature bond with another human being. Rather, it’s their own flaws. Curable flaws, thankfully. But if they are to cure them, if they are to change the parts of them which lead constantly into these cheap and unfulfilling hook ups, they have to drastically adjust their attitude towards sex.
There are a great many problems with viewing sex as “casual” or a “given” — something that isn’t intimate, a mere interview strategy or recreational activity — but we’ll focus on just a few:
1. “Casual” sex is impossible.
A high five is casual. Waving hello is casual. Small talk is casual. Treating sex like a casual greeting doesn’t make it casual. It just makes you immature and selfish.
Life offers some clues as to whether a particular activity is casual or not. Here’s a good rule of thumb, though it may not work in every case: If you dress up to do something, such as attend an Easter service or a fancy dinner, it’s probably not casual. Likewise, if you completely undress to do something, such as have sex, it’s probably not casual. Casual things are things that you can do in any attire, anywhere, with anyone, in front of anyone. You may have a casual conversation with an acquaintance at the park in the middle of the day. But if you have sex with an acquaintance at the park in the middle of the day, you’ll find yourself in jail. Why is that? Because sex is intimate and private. People who actually would have sex in the same places and in the same contexts that they’d have a conversation are called sex offenders.
It’s not just the location that provides clues as to the extremely non-casual nature of sex, however. Our hearts and souls give an even stronger indication. Now, it’s hard to talk about this aspect of the issue because everyone lies about it. They lie to themselves and to each other. Those who frequently have casual sex will claim that they can do it without growing attached to the other person. And this may be true, after a while, if they’ve done it so often, and are so numb inside, that they’ve developed the same attitude towards sex as a prostitute.
Fortunately, most people aren’t quite that dead inside. Most people experience a whirl of strange and intense emotions before, during, and after the act. They may suppress or ignore these natural feelings, but that leads to depression and anxiety. Having a casual discussion with someone doesn’t result in this sort of internal strife. Treating sex as if it were a casual discussion does.
I haven’t even gotten to the most obvious indication that sex is not casual. Here it is: sex creates people. Yes, we may go to great lengths to prevent such “unintended” consequences, but that doesn’t change the fact that sex, by its nature, is a reproductive act. Only disease, old age, or surgery can absolutely remove the life-giving potentiality of sex. Outside of that, anytime you have sex, there is a chance you may make a person.
Can an architect casually design a high rise building? Can an aerospace engineer casually build a rocket ship? I don’t know about you, but I can’t even casually poach an egg. Simply making a meal requires a certain commitment and seriousness of purpose. Are we really prepared to say that the process by which we create a breakfast dish ought to be treated with greater respect and caution than the process by which we create humans?
Casual interactions can only have significant consequences by accident. If a fist bump has some Earth-shattering, life-altering result, it was an aberration. Sex, on the other hand, has a significant consequence by its nature. If you “accidentally” make a person through sex, you have experienced the same result as billions of other people. You might say that sex is not casual, it’s causal (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
2. You devalue yourself and your partner.
It’s technically possible that a relationship that began with a superficial sexual encounter may lead to something lasting, committed, and fruitful. But if it does go that direction, which it probably won’t, it will be in spite of how it began.
Casual sex is fundamentally selfish and degrading. Both partners agree to use and be used by the other. The message they send to each other, quite explicitly, is this: “I’m using you for your body, which I value only as a masturbatory object. You are a sex toy with a brain, but I don’t care about your brain and would rather you not use it right now.”
Ironically, the very people who defend this approach to sex are the ones who usually shout the loudest about feeling “used” and “objectified” by our culture. It is they who allow themselves to be used. They make objects of themselves and pretend that it’s acceptable, in their case, because they’re getting something in return, as if it’s only a problem to objectify a human being when both parties don’t profit from it.
Our culture can’t even get it right on the very few moral principles it still defends. I want to agree with those who demand that a woman not have her dignity stripped of her, but then I realize that they mean it in a mercenary way. She ought not have her dignity taken for nothing, they mean. But if she gets something out of it — financially or carnally — it’s OK. Don’t use people unless they can use you too. I find this mantra extremely uninspiring and inadequate.
And this is the exact opposite of how healthy, successful relationships work. In marriage, we give ourselves to the other, lifting them and ourselves up in the process. This is why sex ought to wait for marriage, because only after that lifelong oath has been sworn can we hope to use sex in a way that’s truly sacrificial and self-giving. Sex should be enjoyable, but it should also be an expression of love and devotion. If we take the love and devotion out of sex, we’ve turned it into an act of mutual objectification. And eventually, without the love and devotion, we won’t even have the enjoyment anymore.
3. You set yourself up for heartache and betrayal down the line.
Let’s say some of these sexually enlightened millennials actually manage to find spouses through this rigorous sex interview process. They’ve already made it clear that sex is no big deal, it’s casual, it’s recreational, it need not involve emotions or commitment or any of that icky stuff. Well, if they stick to this outlook, they’ve put themselves on the path to the divorce attorney before they even walk down the aisle. I’ll explain why.
First of all, this numb, emotionless, “casual” sex is utterly boring. They’ve deprived themselves of the full experience of sex and replaced it with this stale version. Quickly they’ll find their sex life unsatisfying, not because it necessarily has to be, but because they don’t see any real difference between this sex and the sex they’ve already had with dozens of other people. It’s like watching a movie for the 50th time. Die Hard is still great no matter how many times you see it, but it can never be as fun to watch as it was the first time. When having sex is like the 50th viewing of Die Hard, the next step is predictable: One or both partners will go off and watch another movie.
And what happens then? Let’s say the husband decides to search for sexual fulfillment with some lady he met at the gym. On what grounds can the wife even complain? Sex is casual, is it not? It’s just recreation. It’s like playing checkers or ping pong, except naked. Would she get very upset if she caught her husband playing ping pong with another woman? Why should sex be any different? Isn’t that what she and her husband already established? Their relationship was founded on this idea.
Someone may respond that cheating is wrong simply because it breaks an agreement. That it does, but how serious was the agreement? If you and your spouse are binge watching a show together, and you watch a couple of episodes when the other isn’t around, you’ve broken an agreement. If you have sex with the secretary, you’ve also broken an agreement. The latter infraction can only be considered more severe if sex is considered vastly more intimate and morally consequential than watching TV. But we have an entire generation who’ve been raised on the notion that watching TV and having sex really aren’t different at all. The wife, according to her own philosophy, can only be as upset about an affair as she’d be about her husband watching episode 5 of Luke Cage without her.
Yet, in this moment, her liberal ideas about sex suddenly melt away and she’s left with the horrible fact that her husband did something private and serious with another woman. Her husband gave something away that belongs to her. Her husband, through this act that she so often described as “casual” and “no big deal,” betrayed her. Now, when he offers the very defenses of his “casual encounter” that she had been giving for years — it’s only sex, it’s just physical, it doesn’t mean anything — she sees them for the pitiful, childish excuses that they are. Progressive ideology gives way to reality, and the reality crushes her.
Better, I say, to confront the reality of sex before it asserts itself so painfully. If we do that, a lot of my generation’s relationship troubles will begin to magically disappear.
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