Breaking a Cord of Three Strands: Recreational Sex, Roe v. Wade, and Raising Fewer Kids
A triple braided cord is not easily broken, says the preacher we call Ecclesiastes (4:12). And the preacher was right. Case in point: For over a half-century we have been weaving the braided cord of recreational sex outside of marriage, abortion as a means of birth control, and a decrease in the number of children we bear. This cord is proving very difficult to break.
First came recreational sex. With the advent of the birth control pill in 1960, women could now—the argument went—enjoy sex without the threat of conception. The pill was thought to be a savior to women weighed down and held back by the burden of childrearing. Sex was set free from the shackles of pregnancy. But these same women were betrayed with a kiss. Men enjoyed, so to speak, a free ride from responsibility. They began to marry later, if at all. Sexually transmitted diseases increased exponentially after the advent of the pill, and many of these diseases led to infertility. Women have, in fact, borne fewer children since the advent of the pill (3.6 in 1960 vs. about 2.1 today), and their chances of getting married have declined substantially.
The recent book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying shows that there is a whole lotta matin’ going on among today’s college-aged men and women—and it also shows the sheets are not always made of satin! Sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker claim that three-fourths of 18- to 23-year-old women are in some kind of relationship, and 94 percent of those are sexually involved with their partner. But as one reviewer noted, while love and marriage no longer go together, promiscuity and depression do. The authors’ research revealed that a hook-up culture is particularly consequential for women. Young women who have multiple “sexual partners are eleven times more likely than virgins to report elevated depression symptoms.” Furthermore, Regnerus and Uecker see a link between premarital sexual activity and a decline in marriage.
The second strand of the cord came with Roe v. Wade. Pill or no pill, sex tends to make babies, and many women found themselves with unexpected pregnancies. The pill was intended to prevent pregnancy, but it gave birth to the abortion industry as a culture of promiscuity came to be. Between 1960 and 1972, abortion rates skyrocketed in the United States. Then came Roe v. Wade. The 1973 Supreme Court found a right to privacy in the Constitution and allowed abortion during a woman’s first trimester. Then Doe v. Bolton, another court decision handed down simultaneously with Roe, gave women unrestricted abortion rights until the baby was born. Essentially, the Supreme Court outlawed laws against abortion. The numbers are staggering. About one-third of all pregnancies in America end with an abortion, and American women have had over 50 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. Like the pill, this court decision is replete with irony. Specifically, Roe was intended to settle the issue of abortion in the United States, but we have been fighting about it ever since.
In recent years, pro-life advocates have employed an incremental, step-by-step strategy in seeking to overturn Roe. As a result of that strategy, 37 states now have on their books fetal homicide laws that treat the unborn as full human beings. This means, for example, if a drunk driver swerves into another car and kills a pregnant mother and her baby, he will be charged with two homicides, not one. Ironically, that same mother could have, by law, been driving to an abortion clinic to terminate the life of her child.
Consider how much Roe has muddied our logic and confused our thinking. For example, on Sunday, January 22, 2012, the Santa Barbara News-Press ran an editorial by Richard Solomon and Christine Lyon to commemorate the 39th anniversary of Roe. Early on, these authors did some handwringing over Republican presidential candidates who might seek to overturn Roe. Why does this matter? The authors say this:
It matters because government simply has no business interfering with the intensely personal decision of how to respond to a pregnancy.
So abortion is a personal decision, but notice what Solomon and Lyon say next:
For millions of women, the embryo and then fetus is a baby, and abortion is not an option. For millions of other women, abortion is the best and perhaps only option at that point in a woman’s life.
So, it is a baby if the mother wants it to be a baby, and it is an option if the mother has no other alternative. Since when does being wanted determine one’s personhood? How can we say in one hospital room, We will abort your fetus since you do not want to give birth but in the room next door say, We will take whatever measures we can to keep your baby alive? How can we live with these contradictions?
Then came the third strand in this cord that won’t be easily broken: a declining birthrate. We are having far fewer babies than our grandmothers had and thus doing less childrearing than ever. As previously mentioned, as recently as 1960, the fertility rate of U.S. women was 3.7 children. Today, it hovers at about 2.1 (1.7 for non-Hispanic whites, 2.0 for African Americans, and 2.3 for Hispanics). Children, we believe, are inconvenient and expensive. According to one calculation, it costs $1.1 million to raise a single child. As Jonathan Last wrote in the Weekly Standard, The median price of a home in 2008 was $180,100. Having a baby is like buying six houses, all at once. Except you can’t (legally) sell them—and after thirteen years they’ll tell you they hate you (9/27/2010).
So what began as an experiment in liberation with the advent of the birth control pill has resulted in the braided cord of Roe, recreational sex for its own sake, and an increasingly child-free society. What kind of a knot this cord will tie has yet to be determined, but we have been moving into unexplored terrain.
Consider, though, what the posture of the church is to be in such an environment. How are we, as the disciples of Jesus, to behave in a culture of death? The answer is, simply, wait till marriage, get married, and then make babies! In other words, let’s show the world the deeper joy of holiness rather than the shallow thrill of promiscuity. As God’s people, we need to create and enjoy a marital and sexual counterculture that cherishes the things God cherishes and loves the things God loves. God loves marriage, he loves fidelity, he invented sex, he made it very pleasurable, and he loves children. God designed us for these things. Those of us who truly follow Christ will find ourselves living in a world of wonder and witness. We will wonder at the beauty of marital love, even when it is difficult. And we will witness to the greatness of God as we trust his instruction and live accordingly. In other words, we are to live holy and godly lives and enjoy the fruit of both. As C. S. Lewis said,
How little people know who think of holiness as dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible. If even 10 percent of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end?