Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Conjugality - a New Blog on Marriage

Conjugality is a MercatorNet focus blog which deals with the true nature of marriage and the challenges it faces in a post-modern world. In particular we deal with the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage. 

Monday, 27 February 2012

After Liberalism?

Can we sustain a vibrant, free, pluralistic society without the liberal dogmas of neutrality and diversity? Is there a vision of justice and international cooperation that does not lead us toward a thin and shallow cosmopolitanism? Are we able to defend the dignity of the individual without liberalism’s commitment to the isolated, autonomous, and atomized self?

R.R. RenoToday, with the support of the Simon/Hertog Fund for Policy Analysis, the Institute on Religion and Public Life, publisher of First Things and host of firstthings.com will gather a group of nearly twenty scholars for the After Liberalism Seminar. Our goal will be to answer these questions, or at least outline some approaches.

After liberalism? Isn’t that a far-fetched idea? In the universities and media liberalism seems dominant. Perhaps, but it is also decadent. Over the last few decades, American liberalism has turned against its historical strengths, becoming so parochial and negative that it has difficulty functioning as a governing philosophy:

• A confident liberal patriotism has become an anxious, hand-wringing, and sour stance of perpetual critique. Liberals tend to agree with, or at least accept the superior moral authority of those who deny the importance of Western culture, holding it responsible for racism, class differences, and national chauvinism

• An earlier sympathy for religious convictions has turned into a deep antagonism toward their expression in the public square.

• Post-sixties liberalism continues to support the expansion of the welfare state, but to a great degree the unifying ideals of liberalism have shifted from economic fairness and welfare to social and cultural liberation. As a consequence, most contemporary liberals either support or provide no resistance to the extremists who attack the traditional cultural norms that underpin a healthy civic culture—the culture liberalism itself requires.

• The liberal virtues of tolerance and support for social institutions that transcend politics have declined. The family, for example, is treated as a source of oppression, and the institution of marriage is redefined to serve the goal of equality. An aggressive, authoritarian mentality now prevails among liberals that will not tolerate conservative political, moral, and religious views. Legal activists treat the law as an instrument of attack. Universities and art museums have become largely partisan institutions.

• Instead of a cosmopolitan sensibility capable of a sympathetic grasp of opposing views and political competitors, liberalism now encourages an insular mentality. Those who wish to remain faithful to theological orthodoxy or who call themselves conservatives, for example, are not engaged in debate, but rather are denounced as “fundamentalists,” “mean-spirited,” and “divisive.”

These changes and others indicate that liberalism now trends toward a sectarian mentality. For example, when deciding a case concerning abortion, Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have written: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

This notorious formulation amounts to the bald assertion of a metaphysical prejudice akin to a pious judge basing his jurisprudence on the explicit claim that at the heart of liberty is our perfect obedience to God’s law. Neither can provide a basis for a democratic, pluralistic, and tolerant society, but it seems that today only conservatives recognize this fact.

Another sign of extremism is the self-purifying impulse in contemporary liberalism. For a long time liberals themselves affirmed conservative strands of thought. Walter Lippmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Lionel Trilling: the middle years of liberal ascendancy in America saw important voices of restraining moderation. However, those voices have become far less common and less effective. In recent decades American liberalism has expelled those who have tried to moderate liberalism—e.g., Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Richard John Neuhaus.

The insouciance of liberalism—its lack of self-criticism, its insular quality, its increasingly aggressive use of state power—has moved America rightward. Today, the dominant tone of our politics is reactionary, a reaction against the decadence of liberalism.

However, reaction lacks real political and social consequence, because it defines itself in terms of what it is against. Is there an alternative to liberalism? Can we envision something after liberalism?

To a great degree, as religious believers, we already have. For example, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have reaffirmed the humanizing authority of God’s revelation—an affront to liberalism and its exaltation of free self-determination as the highest good. Many in other religious traditions have expressed similar commitments. Harvey Cox’s fantasies of a secular city no longer have currency. Men and women of faith in the West are in an important sense living after liberalism rather than against liberalism.

But what about culture and public life? Here we need a similar confidence. Perhaps this will involve a restoration of the patriotic, self-critical, and humane dimensions of liberalism. Burke and Tocqueville provide examples of a conservatism that seeks to save liberalism from its excesses. Or perhaps it will be a different way of thinking about the dignity of the individual and the common good, one more willing to give public currency to the concepts and categories of Aristotle or St. Thomas.

One way or another we need a governing new consensus in America, one that either reforms the decadent liberalism that has for too long predominated, or sets it aside for something new. The After Liberalism seminar seeks to see how far we can go in formulating this consensus.

We won’t be keeping the results a secret. The seminar papers and responses will be published in First Things in the upcoming months. Another good reason to subscribe.

R.R. Reno is Editor of First Things. He is the general editor of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible and author of the volume on Genesis. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.

Monday, 20 February 2012

All the Single Ladies

By Kate Bolick
In 2001, when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behavior, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down.

The period that followed was awful. I barely ate for sobbing all the time. (A friend who suffered my company a lot that summer sent me a birthday text this past July: “A decade ago you and I were reuniting, and you were crying a lot.”) I missed Allan desperately—his calm, sure voice; the sweetly fastidious way he folded his shirts. On good days, I felt secure that I’d done the right thing. Learning to be alone would make me a better person, and eventually a better partner. On bad days, I feared I would be alone forever. Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?

"Ten years later, I occasionally ask myself the same question. Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck... Well, there was a lot I didn’t know 10 years ago. The decision to end a stable relationship for abstract rather than concrete reasons (“something was missing”), I see now, is in keeping with a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfillment above all else."

"But what transpired next lay well beyond the powers of everybody’s imagination: as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with."

‎"For starters, we keep putting marriage off. In 1960, the median age of first marriage in the U.S. was 23 for men and 20 for women; today it is 28 and 26. Today, a smaller proportion of American women in their early 30s are married than at any other point since the 1950s, if not earlier. We’re also marrying less—with a significant degree of change taking place in just the past decade and a half. In 1997, 29 percent of my Gen X cohort was married; among today’s Millennials that figure has dropped to 22 percent."

"Our own “crisis in gender” isn’t a literal imbalance—America as a whole currently enjoys a healthy population ratio of 50.8 percent females and 49.2 percent males. But our shrinking pool of traditionally “marriageable” men is dramatically changing our social landscape, and producing startling dynamics in the marriage market, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent."

‎"when confronted with a surplus of women, men become promiscuous and unwilling to commit to a monogamous relationship. (Which, I suppose, might explain the Amazons’ need to keep men in slave quarters.) In societies with too many women, the theory holds, fewer people marry, and those who do marry do so later in life. Because men take advantage of the variety of potential partners available to them, women’s traditional roles are not valued, and because these women can’t rely on their partners to stick around, more turn to extrafamilial ambitions like education and career.

In 1988, the sociologists Scott J. South and Katherine Trent set out to test the Guttentag-Secord theory by analyzing data from 117 countries. Most aspects of the theory tested out. In each country, more men meant more married women, less divorce, and fewer women in the workforce. South and Trent also found that the Guttentag-Secord dynamics were more pronounced in developed rather than developing countries. In other words—capitalist men are pigs."

Friday, 17 February 2012


Posted on by Love and Fidelity Network Today, the Love and Fidelity Network is pleased to introduce an intercollegiate advertising campaign with the prominent tagline “My sexual choices now are making a difference.” This campaign–presented by 19 colleges and universities (including five Ivy Leagues) through 9,000 posters–sends the message that college students’ current sexual choices can increase their confidence in achieving other desirable life goals (higher income and better physical and mental health, in addition to greater marital sexual quality, relationship satisfaction and stability). Specifically, that is, when their sexual choices counter the hook-up culture and the predominant mentality of testing sexual compatibility.
The five ads in the campaign advancing this message, along with the research supporting them, can be viewed here. This blog will also feature an ad per day on February 10-14.

(LFN-supported events are also occurring on 10 campuses throughout the country during National Marriage Week, February 7-14. See a list of these events here).

We would especially like to thank Love and Fidelity Network supporter and former national conference speaker Dr. Jason Carroll for this blog post, presenting theoretical and statistical support for this campaign and providing answers for some of the questions that are often asked in response to such a counter-cultural message.

SOWING YOUR WILD OATS: IS IT HELPING OR HURTING YOUR FUTURE MARRIAGE? by Jason S. Carroll, Ph.D., School of Family Life, Brigham Young University

For years, the phrase “sowing wild oats” has been used to describe the sexual activity of single adults–particularly young men. However, what exactly does the phrase mean? And more importantly, does having multiple sexual partners help or hurt you when you eventually get married? These are important questions to ask since most young people in the United States today desire to have a successful, lifelong marriage. However, they also report desiring to have multiple sexual partners before they get married. Studies show that most college students would like to have multiple sexual partners each year1 and that college men, on average, desire to have ten sexual partners before getting married; while women, on average, desire to have four sexual partners before they marry.2 Are these desires for “sowing wild oats” in the single years compatible with the desire to have a loving and lasting marriage later? Let’s take a look at these questions.

Sowing Wild Oats

What does the phrase “sowing wild oats” actually mean? A careful look at this question reveals that there are some contradictions in how people use this phrase. Traditionally, the phrase is referring to a European grass species with the formal name Avena fatua, which is often called “wild oats.” Farmers for centuries have hated this plant because it is a useless weed whose seeds are difficult to separate from those of useful cereal crops, so the seeds tend to survive from year to year and ruin the harvest. Thus the phrase sowing wild oats “was applied figuratively to young men who frittered away their time in stupid or idle pastimes.”3

However, modern uses of the phrase often cast the saying in a positive light. The term is now commonly used to refer to a useful, and perhaps even needed, part of the young adult development where a young man gets out all of his promiscuous and impulsive sexual desires before “settling down” and getting married. The thought process is that if “he got all the sex out of his system before he settled down he would be more likely to remain faithful to his wife” later in marriage.4 The same perspective is now applied to young adult women too.

These two uses of the phrase “sowing wild oats” seem to be based on very different views of healthy sexual development. The current use of the term implies a “get it out of your system” hypothesis that contends that having multiple sexual partners helps young adults gain greater appreciation of the range of possibilities in a sexual partnership. By experimenting with these possibilities, individuals will discover their personal sexual preferences and be better able to form an eventual marriage with “sexual chemistry.” This way of thinking views premarital sex like “test driving a car” and having multiple sexual partners is simply the process of “shopping around.”

However, the traditional use of the term “sowing wild oats” implies that sexual promiscuity creates unrecognized problems, like a field full of weeds, that will emerge later in committed marriage relationships. This perspective implies a “get it into your system” hypothesis that suggests that numerous sexual experiences might produce “wild attitudes” that separate sex from emotional intimacy in a relationship that might make staying in a committed relationship less likely.

Research Perspectives

Until recently, studies on the effect of “sowing wild oats” before marriage have been limited. However, several recent studies provided some evidence that having multiple sexual partners before marriage inhibits healthy relationship formation and leads to higher rates of divorce.5 In a just-completed study of nearly 2,700 married individuals, my colleagues and I found that spouses who had multiple sexual partners before marriage had lower levels of sexual quality, communication, and relationship stability in their current marriage, even when controlling for a wide range of variables including education, religiosity and relationship length. These findings were similar for husbands and wives. We found no evidence that increasing the number of sexual partners before marriage benefitted later marital outcomes.6

These research findings also suggest that the negative consequences associated with “sowing wild oats” may reach beyond just marriage outcomes. Numerous studies have shown that getting married and staying married is linked to several aspects of individual health and well-being, such as better financial status7, improved physical health8, enhanced mental health 9, and higher sexual satisfaction10. Therefore, if sexual experimentation before marriage increases marital instability and the likelihood of divorce, it may also cause people to miss out on these other benefits of marriage as well.

Why Doesn’t Sexual Experience Help?

We need more studies to confirm exactly why having multiple sexual partners before marriage is associated with poorer marriage outcomes. However, there are some likely explanations for why sexual restraint and abstinence increases young people’s chances of forming loving and lasting marriages. A primary reason why sexual restraint benefits couples is that it facilitates intentional partner selection. Simply put, you have a better chance of making good decisions in dating whey you have not become sexually involved with your dating partner. Proper partner selection is often skewed for sexually involved couples who experience strong physical rewards with each other, thereby causing them to ignore or minimize deeper incompatibilities in the relationship.

Sexual restraint also benefits couples because it requires partners to prioritize communication and commitment as the foundation of their attraction to each other. This gives couples a different type of foundation than couples who build their relationship on physical attraction and sexual gratification. This difference becomes particularly critical as couples naturally move past an initial period of intense attraction and excitement into a relationship more characterized by companionship and partnership.

Ultimately, loving marriages are ones where sexual intimacy is a meaningful physical symbol of the emotional intimacy shared between the spouses. Without this, sex is just physical and lacks the meaning needed to be truly satisfying and lasting. In dating, couples should focus on developing a foundation of friendship and communication that will serve as the ongoing foundation for sexual intimacy in their marriage. By practicing sexual restraint, couples allow themselves to focus on a true foundation of intimacy — acceptance, understanding, partnership, and love.
  1. Fenigstein, A., & Preston, M. (2007). The desired number of sexual partners as a function of gender, sexual risks, and the meaning of “ideal”. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 89-95.
  2. Pedersen, W.C., Miler, L. C., Putcha-Bhagavatula, A.D., & Yang, Y. (2002). Evolved sex differences in the number of partners desired? Psychological Science, 13, 157-161.
  3. Wikipedia (2011). Avena. Downloaded from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avena on September 12, 2011.
  4. Aarons, Z. A. (1970). Normality and abnormality in adolescence: With a digression on Prince Hal–”The sowing of wild oats.”. Psychoanalyitc Study of the Child, 25, 309-339.
  5. Heaton, T. B. (2002). Factors contributing to the increasing marital stability in the United States. Journal of Family Issues, 23(3), 392-409; Kahn, J.R., & London, K.A. (1991). Premarital sex and the risk of divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53(4), 845-855; Paik, A. (2011). Adolescent sexuality and the risk of marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 472-485; Teachman, J. (2003). Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 65, 444-455.
  6. Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Carroll, J. S. (In review). Sowing Wild Oats: Valuable Experience or a Field Full of Weeds?
  7. Ahituv, A., & Lerman, R. I. (2005). How do marital status, work effort, and wage rates interact? Demography, 44(3), 623-647.
  8. Schoenborn, C. A. (2004). Marital status and health: United States, 1999-2002, Advance Data, 351, 1-36.
  9. Waite, L. J., & Gallagher, M. (2000). The Case for Marriage. New York: Doubleday.
  10. Busby, D. M., Carroll, J. S., & Willoughby, B. J. (2010). Compatibility or restraint? The effects of sexual timing on marriage relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(6), 766-774.

Monday, 6 February 2012

National Marriage Week - Feb. 7-14th

From February 7th to 14th every year— is a collaborative effort to encourage many diverse groups to strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a stronger marriage culture, which in turn helps curtail poverty and benefits children. Together we can make more impact than working alone. Please join with others to host special events, launch a marriage class or home group, or place local advertising or news stories during National Marriage Week USA.
Informative webinars with leading scholars and clergy at http://www.marriagewebinar.com
Photos of U.S. Congressional Representatives and U.S. Senators at the 2012 Inaugural U.S. Congressional Launch of National Marriage Week USA in the U.S. Capitol

Together For Marriage

Marriage works. It makes people happier, live longer, and build more economic security. Children with married parents perform better in school. Click here for new research on "Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from Social Science."
Deep down, everyone wishes they could have a rewarding lifelong commitment with their spouse. But in the midst of challenges, we forget how marriage can benefit our personal lives. We are losing our determination and the skills to keep marriages heal thy and strong.
Marriage breakdown is costly to our kids and to society at large. Divorce and unwed childbearing cost the U.S. taxpayers a whopping $112 billion annually. In these economic challenging times, building stronger marriages helps build a stronger nation.

Goals of National Marriage Week USA:

1) To elevate marriage as a national issue in the media and with policy leaders.
2) To promote the benefits of marriage, that stronger marriages bring economic stability to individuals and to the nation, and provides the best environment for thriving children.
3) To create a national calendar for existing, trusted marriage classes, conferences and events where people can find the help they need, or reach out to help others