A guy named Ross Douthat wrote an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times titled "Why Monogamy Matters." In this editorial he tells us that "young Americans have been growing more sexually conservative since the late 1980s." He makes sure we realize he doesn't believe this heralds a new society where the only sex is marital sex, but even though our societal train isn't heading express to Bangtown on the Nuptials, the fact that young people are having less casual sex is still "good news" to Douthat (seriously, that's his name).
You see, there's "pre-marital sex" and there's sex that's "actually pre-marital," and, to Douthat, sex that isn't the latter is "sex that's casual and promiscuous, or just premature and ill considered." And so, he points out, while in the 50's people didn't often go into wedlock virgins, they sure went into wedlock a heck of a lot less dirty than we go into marriage now, and people with less sexual partners are happier, he tells us, than people with more sexual partners. This has to be true, you guys, because research.
"The ultimate goal" for Douthat, "is a sexual culture that makes it easier for young people to achieve romantic happiness by encouraging them to wait a little longer, choose more carefully and judge their sex lives against a strong moral standard." Guess what he defines as "romantic happiness"? Marriage: the heteronormative happiness maker!
He goes on to cite "successful abstinence-only sex-ed programs" that might fall short of the ultimate goal (teens saving themselves for state-sanctioned-sex), but which at least lead to teenagers being less slutty, "which in turn increases the odds that their adult sexual lives will be a source of joy rather than sorrow." And this is why, he contends, conservatives like himself are actually optimists, and not self-righteous windbag prudes. And, p.s., Planned Parenthood isn't optimistic. People like Douthat, who want to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood, are only trying to spread their optimistic spirit--because if you look beyond the masses of underprivileged women who won't have access to gynecological care or birth control you'll see a shiny pot of optimism under the legalize-killing-abortion-providers rainbow. Oh, how it shimmers.
All of the above is par for the conservative course, and as is so often the case with right wing ideologues, Douthat isn't content with applying his sexual value system to men and women equally. Female emotional well-being, he tells us "seems to be" more closely tied to monogamy (what he calls "sexual stability"--as in the opposite of "fucking chaos!") than male emotional well-being.
I didn't know who Ross Douthat was before reading yesterday's op-ed, but you might know Ross Douthat from such New York Times editorials as "Liberated and Unhappy" (an unsubtle dig at feminism) and "The Unborn Paradox" (a slightly less unsubtle dig at abortion). Thank you, upper-middle-class-white-dude, for caring so much about female minds and bodies. Please tell us more about us!
"Hey," I messaged my friend Doug who works in media. "Is that Ross Douthat guy actually ON STAFF at the Times? And is he always a complete moron?" Why, yes and yes. "The case for monogamy is that it's his last best chance at actually having sex more than once with a person," Doug clarified. And it's definitely easy to find humor in people like Douthat. They're so earnestly stupid; their worldviews are naïve enough that one can almost feel sorry for them. But I don't feel as sorry for them as I feel angry that their ideals are embraced as "normal" and that that normalization is among the reasons queer people can't get married, Charlie Sheen is seen as a hero and the women he beats up as dumb tramps, and women are generally defined more by what they do with their genitals than what they do with their brains.
Female sexuality is almost always politicized by people who have agendas against gender equality. The whole idea that women are "looking for love in all the wrong places" when they have casual sex is offensive to me as a feminist and as a slut. People like Ross Douthat believe that purity should be a woman's resting sexual heart rate, and that a woman who likes casual sex or queer sex or any other variant of "deviant" sex is ipso facto damaged or unhappy.
You want to talk about how as a culture we have perhaps lost touch with sexual intimacy? Sure, let's. Also, let's talk about how being sexualized and marginalized and objectified might effect a girl's self worth and lead to unhappiness. But the idea that a heteronormative two-person marriage is the only "good outcome" or "healthy relationship" is marginalizing, offensive, and disproportionately used to shame women and queers. And intimacy is possible on many different planes. Consensual, mutually pleasing sexual activities with another adult person who happens not to be your monogamous partner is not in and of itself degrading. As a person whose adult sex life is a source of joy and not sorrow I would really love it if society in general stopped telling me that my self worth is supposed to be based almost entirely on what I do with my genitals, or as they'd put it, what I allow to be done to my genitals, because I have plenty of other shit to define myself by.
Julie Lauren Vick is a writer living in Brooklyn.