Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” describes two neighbors who meet every spring to walk the fence dividing their properties. After a hard winter, damage has to be assessed and repaired. Perhaps, after Miley Cyrus’ controversial and crass performance at the VMA awards, it is time to assess today’s culture and seriously consider how to repair the damage to the nation’s girls and women. The objectification and exploitation of women — as seen in all its crudity in Cyrus’s performance — is a wake-up call for us all. Is that what women really want? Is that what any of us really want? But isn’t that the inevitable result of our anything-goes, sex-and-drugs saturated culture?
Since the early ’60s, our nation has been experiencing a harsh cultural winter. Howling winds of change — insidious myths and outright falsehoods — have undermined and torn apart the faith, values, and morality that have held together a diverse and multicultural people. Those myths — those attacks — those falsehoods — by those who present themselves as champions of women’s rights constitute a very real “war on women.”
It is a senseless war of promoting casual sex: spreading the myth that women don’t need marriage, pushing a culture climate that objectifies and exploits our girls and implementing public policies that inevitably lead to women being the majority of those in poverty. That war against women has loosened and upended many of the foundation stones of Judeo-Christian principles. Primary among those huge boulders crashing into the culture are: casual sex, cohabitation, and the collapse of marriage.
Conventional wisdom says that if you tell a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it. The mantra, heard from middle school onward, is that… sex is great recreation… it’s free and fun. Sadly, many girls don’t recognize the lie until it’s too late. Start sexual activity in your early teens, and you’re likely to have more than a dozen partners (four times higher than those who begin sexual activity in their early twenties).
Further, girls who are sexually active in their early teens are twice as likely to get an STD and about 40 percent will become pregnant. According to Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician and author, “Almost half of all girls are likely to become infected with an STD during their very first sexual experience.” Girls are far more susceptible to STDs than guys because of the biology of the cervix. And, a report, The Cost of Free Love, from Concerned Women for America (CWA), documents the fact that there are now some 49 different STDS. There is no escaping the fact that we are in the midst of an STD epidemic with more than 20 million new STD cases every year — the majority of them affecting 15-25 year olds — triple the number just six years ago. These inconvenient facts go unreported and supposedly responsible adults still encourage early sexual activity for girls.
Even less discussed are the psychological and emotional problems associated with early sexual activity. Only one-third of girls who had early sexual activity describe themselves as “happy” as compared with over half among those who waited. More than a quarter of sexually active girls report depression. Sexually active girls are three times more likely to commit suicide. The bottom line is that 72 percent of girls who are sexually active admit they desperately wish they had waited. As Dr. Miriam Grossman warns in her book, Unprotected, women are hard-wired to attach through sexual behavior and no condom will protect them from the psychological consequences of sexual permissiveness — empty relationships, feelings of self-contempt and worthlessness, even depression.
Students at Yale University have a sad term for it now — SWUG-Nation — Senior Washed-Up Girls. The Yale Daily News quoted one of them: “Whatever empowerment we’re supposed to be deriving from this version of the feminist movement is looking pretty thin on the ground.” The harsh realities of casual, drunken sex should make the choice of abstinence very simple and uncomplicated. If there were more honest discussion of the pain caused by promiscuity, the market value of virginity would dramatically increase.
In addition, the trend to cohabit instead of marrying produces at least two opposite problems. Couples are delaying marriage beyond the time when the woman can have children — resulting in record levels of infertility (a heartbreak for millions). Numerous other couples are having children without the benefit of marriage. A quarter of women who cohabited before the age of 20 have a child — leading to record levels of single-mothers, record levels of poverty and record levels needing government assistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that almost HALF of all women are living with a man they are not married to. That number is a sharp increase from 43 percent in 2002 and 35 percent in 1995. In the absence of real-life husbands and fathers, the government is becoming the father in too many families – though not a very effective one. Today, record numbers of Americans are dependent upon government assistance to survive and almost half of Americans are “one crisis” away from the “bread line.” Personal wages, at barely over 50 percent, account for the lowest share of income since the government began tracking the data in 1929. We’ve tried fixing our economic problems with government solutions, perhaps it’s time to look at root causes.
In 2009, Caitlin Flanigan, in a Time magazine cover story, wrote, “There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage.” If you visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you’ll see a bronze sculpture of a woman with three children playing around her. Called “Happy Mother,” the sculpture amounts to a celebration of fatherlessness. Put simply, since the 1960s, American elites have vigorously promoted the myth that women don’t need marriage, with the result that marriage rates are now half what they were in 1969. Only 21 percent of Millennials (those young adults ages 18-29) are married.
According to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the average age of marriage for women is now 27 years old and 29 years old for men, up from 23 and 26 in 1990. Still, despite the ideological onslaught’s effect on our values, Pew Research reports that more than 60 percent of young adults want to get married. But couples today think they have to have an expensive ring, extravagant wedding, a house, a car and… the list goes on and on.
While materialism and ambition are certainly factors in the decline of marriage, another factor is monumentally important: today’s young people have few role models of happy, healthy marriage. Dr. Neil Clarke Warren, founder of an Internet Matching service, interviewed 500 couples, asking them to tell him about marriages they admired. Nearly half could not recommend even a single healthy happy marriage.
But the trends are not just statistics; there are personal stories associated with every data point. In their book, Premarital Sex in America, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker describe “sex scripts” — stories prevalent in the popular culture that shape attitudes. The authors make the case that women are disproportionately harmed by these cultural scripts that denigrate marriage. Women don’t see sex and marriage necessarily linked together any longer. Therein lies the harm: The girls and women, in Regnerus’s economic terms — are trading their most valuable commodity and getting nothing in return . . . except, of course, heartache, disease, infertility, and poverty. Having a baby out of wedlock means a 50-50 chance that a woman and her children will end up in poverty. Having a second child out of wedlock raises the likelihood of ending up in poverty to more than 60 percent.
This assessment of the fence-lines is clear: We are fast approaching the point of no return in terms of the harms from casual sex, cohabitation, and the growing number of single mothers. Re-establishing the walls of morality, faith, and marriage is no longer something that would be merely nice; it is a vital necessity for the well-being of the nation’s girls and women. Like the neighbors in Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” we must lift the heavy boulders — of truth — and put them back in place. We must repair and restore the cultural and public policy boundaries needed to defend our girls and young women against the culture’s pernicious “war on women.”
This article was adapted from remarks made at a Family in America symposium on Capitol Hill.