Red Sex, Blue Sex
I saw an interesting article about the sociology of sex recently: Red Sex, Blue Sex. Specifically, the difference in attitudes between "red" communities and "blue" communities. One observation in particular really jumped out at me.
Social liberals in the country's "blue states" tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter's pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in "red states" generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn't choose to have an abortion.
But that wasn't all. Apparently, the truly religious (rather than the socially religious) teen-agers do act differently than their peers. But that difference may be more related to the religious support network than to the affects of religion itself.
Religious belief apparently does make a potent difference in behavior for one group of evangelical teen-agers: those who score highest on measures of religiosity--such as how often they go to church, or how often they pray at home. But many Americans who identify themselves as evangelicals, and who hold socially conservative beliefs, aren't deeply observant.
Even more important than religious conviction, Regnerus argues, is how "embedded" a teen-ager is in a network of friends, family, and institutions that reinforce his or her goal of delaying sex, and that offer a plausible alternative to America's sexed-up consumer culture. A church, of course, isn't the only way to provide a cohesive sense of community. Close-knit families make a difference. Teen-agers who live with both biological parents are more likely to be virgins than those who do not. And adolescents who say that their families understand them, pay attention to their concerns, and have fun with them are more likely to delay intercourse, regardless of religiosity.
Finally, the article points out some of the drawbacks of each approach to sex. Pay attention to the warning at the end. If religious conservatives want to make a difference in societal behaviors we'll have to work a lot harder on actually being involved in our communities and helping young Christians.
Each of these models of sexual behavior has drawbacks--in the blue-state scheme, people may postpone child-bearing to the point where infertility becomes an issue. And delaying child-bearing is better suited to the more affluent, for whom it yields economic benefits, in the form of educational opportunities and career advancement. But Carbone and Cahn argue that the red-state model is clearly failing on its own terms--producing high rates of teen pregnancy, divorce, sexually transmitted disease, and other dysfunctional outcomes that social conservatives say they abhor. In "Forbidden Fruit," Regnerus offers an "unscientific postscript," in which he advises social conservatives that if they really want to maintain their commitment to chastity and to marriage, they'll need to do more to help young couples stay married longer. As the Reverend Rick Marks, a Southern Baptist minister, recently pointed out in a Florida newspaper, "Evangelicals are fighting gay marriage, saying it will break down traditional marriage, when divorce has already broken it down." Conservatives may need to start talking as much about saving marriages as they do about, say, saving oneself for marriage.
"Having to wait until age twenty-five or thirty to have sex is unreasonable," Regnerus writes. He argues that religious organizations that advocate chastity should "work more creatively to support younger marriages. This is not the 1950s (for which I am glad), where one could bank on social norms, extended (and larger) families, and clear gender roles to negotiate and sustain early family formation."
This entry was tagged. Christianity Family Policy