Love, Economics, and Cheap Sex

Aug 10, 2018 by

by C R Pakaluk, Public Discourse:

Last month, the Catholic Church was rocked by a grotesque reminder that things are not all right for the institution that stands, singularly and without exception, against every form of “cheap sex”—masturbation, pornography, birth control, and divorce. Ironically, the allegations against Theodore McCarrick became public just days before the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical letter that condemned the use of the pill, reaffirming the ancient teaching of the Catholic Church against contraception. For many, the revelation of sexual abuse and cover-up at the highest levels in a Church that asks its members for seemingly unattainable purity is too much to bear.

But while journalists, commentators, and media outlets scramble to make sense of the rot in the Catholic hierarchy, most would do well to have another look at the latest and most ambitious monograph from University of Texas-Austin sociologist Mark Regnerus, called Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy (Oxford, 2017). Despite being better known for the controversial New Family Structures Study, Regnerus previously authored Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, 2009) and Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying (Oxford, 2011). Like those works, Cheap Sex mixes nationally representative survey data with qualitative interviews, presenting a vivid picture of the relationship behaviors of American adults. Regnerus’s conclusion is that cheap sex has left American men so chokingly awash in orgasmic experiences that the meaning of maleness itself is under threat. Where the biblical story of Jacob, who “served [Laban] seven years for Rachel . . . because of his love for her” (Gen. 29:18-20), once stood for male virtue par excellence, it is now merely incomprehensible.

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