Ross Douthat, the Fake Soft-Pedaler of the Culture Wars

Ross Douthat is at it again, with an incitement towards monogamy and fewer sexual partners as a path to happiness. (Yay happinesss, by the way!) First, there is history! “Yes, in 1950 as in 2011, most people didn’t go virgins to their marriage beds. But earlier generations of Americans waited longer to have sex, took fewer sexual partners across their lifetimes, and were more likely to see sleeping together as a way station on the road to wedlock.” Sure. Like in the late 1700s, when at least 1/3rd of all brides gave birth on average just five months after their wedding day. And then, to his point: “they may have been happier for it.” They may have! (Also, they may have had untreatable syphilis too.) Then he goes into some recent science, which finds that the more people you’ve slept with, the more “unhappy” you may be!

What’s that you say?

The happiest women were those with a current sexual partner and only one or two partners in their lifetime. Virgins were almost as happy, though not quite, and then a young woman’s likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished.

Oh dear! Poor lasses! From a review of the book in the TNR:

Consensual sex, they observe, appears to be an arena of free choice, but in practice it doesn’t quite feel that way, especially for young women. A woman might experience pressure to sleep with her boyfriend — even if he does not apply any pressure — because she thinks four months is a long time for a man to wait. The mix of societal cues that gave her that idea creates a background noise that drowns out the question of her personal willingness.

So… it’s society’s fault. (Hmm, is it?)

Be whatever as it may, I’m pretty sure onset of “depression” (which is not “unhappiness,” by the way) does not have a habit of stemming from one’s number of sexual partners. It may sometimes! And also it may just coincide. People who live in big cities are both likely to have more sex partners, more abortions and a greater incidence of depression. Ta da! ABORTION CAUSES DEPRESSION.

From the TNR as well: “Some 70 percent of young adults, in one study, think they should have waited longer to lose their virginity. And in a national college survey, nearly as many men as women — 73 percent of them — regretted at least one hookup.” I bet this is very true! Sometimes people sleep with other people for the wrong reasons or at the wrong times. (Although, to be fair to hookups, I also regret that entire pizza I ate last week.) Still, that also means that 1/4 of all college students regret exactly none of their hookups.

I would not be picky with Douthat — he is allowed to say that monogamy will make some people happier! It is likely true! Except then he goes on to pick on Planned Parenthood and that organization’s “larger worldview — in which teen sexual activity is taken for granted, and the most important judgment to be made about a sexual encounter is whether it’s clinically ‘safe.’” Spoken like a man who has never been to Planned Parenthood. Having worked in the field, I can tell you that this is not actually what sex educators who work with young people do or believe. Douthat can rest assured that these people take up the role relinquished by frightened or even ignorant parents and talk with young people about “safe” choices of not just the body but the heart, informed by the young person’s emotional, cultural and even religious impulses. To say otherwise is just more culture war-mongering.