Forty-seven years ago a band named Crosby, Stills & Nash released a song that made sex seem so simple, so right, and so cheap. The song was written by Stephen Stills and was titled “Love the One You’re With.” Yes, that kind of love. Sexual love untethered from the bonds of matrimony. The song is written to a man separated from his lover, and he is heartbroken. “But, alas,” the song implies, “don’t despair!”
Don’t be angry, don’t be sad
Don’t sit cryin’ over good times you had
There’s a girl, right next to you,
And she’s just waiting for something to do
And if you can’t be with the one you love
Love the one you’re with
Love the one you’re with
The song was a hit. It was a lighthearted retrospective of the new morality of the 1960s that was quickly becoming the established morality of an entire generation. Sex was demythologized. Our sexual appetites, we were told, are just like our appetites for food, water, oxygen, and such. Your body belonged to you. So love the one you’re with! No big deal!
Well, that was then; this is now. Over the past few months, we have been bombarded with sex scandal after sex scandal. From Harvey Weinstein to Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore, from Kevin Spacey to Dustin Hoffman, we are having to admit that the radioactive fallout from casual sex is having grave consequences. We are finding that loving the one you’re with, without the benefit of marriage—as an earlier generation put it—is complicated and often fraught with pain and suffering. Sex, which we were told is free and easy, turns out to be anything but.
How did we get here? How did we get from “Love the One You’re With” to the headlines today in the Santa Barbara News-Press? I write this missive on the day after Thanksgiving. The headline article, page one, above the fold, draws attention to the fact that the Girl Scouts of the USA has advised nieces and nephews not to hug their uncles and aunts lest something inappropriate take place. In other words, the pendulum appears to be swinging wildly from freedom to fear—and fear not only about all things sexual but also fear about showing affection.
What happened? What happened between Hugh Hefner’s Playboy philosophy established in the early 1960s and today’s Title IX rape trials on university campuses across our nation?
What happened is that we have cheapened sex, and now we are finding out that cheap sex is not so inexpensive after all. Sociologist Mark Regnerus has written a thorough study entitled Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy that discusses what happens when we desacralize sex.
Regnerus, a professor at the University of Texas, explains how the price of sex has come down exponentially in the past half-century.
Sex is cheap if women expect little in return for it and if men do not have to supply much time, attention, resources, recognition, or fidelity in order to experience it.
The sometimes controversial author says that men will do virtually anything to have sex, and women have the deciding vote as to when sex begins in a relationship. The old price for sex was, generally, a wedding ring. Sexual relations came, by and large, with marriage or at least the promise of marriage. And children were soon to follow.
But after the Pill and penicillin, the price of sex fell rapidly.
Coupled sexual activity has become more widely accessible, at lower “cost” to everyone than ever before in human history. Pregnancy, childbearing, and childrearing are, after all, extremely expensive in terms of time, investment, lost (paid) labor and income. (They have their rewards, no doubt.) But infertile sex is surely “cheaper” than sex that risks—and occasionally entails—pregnancy. Sexual intercourse also costs men less today than ever before, on average.
What the sexual revolution did not anticipate was the toll that casual and serial sexual intercourse would take on long-term relationships and on staying married. According to Regnerus, staying married has long been a predictable pathway to greater economic, social, and emotional flourishing. But with a cheapened sexual marketplace, Americans are marrying later, if at all, and their marriages are more likely to dissolve than ever before.
In this environment of easy sexual access, from one-night stands to 4D pornography, we find men—famous men, powerful men—in the news for their abuse of power. Both the breadth of the revelations of sexual impropriety and the number of accusations are breathtaking: Al Franken, Charlie Rose, John Conyers… Even Bill Clinton is back in the news as those who defended him after the Lewinsky affair run for cover.
Writing on the recent scandals in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan made the same point as Mark Regnerus. Quoting a Catholic priest, Noonan states that contraception degenerates men, as does abortion.
Once you separate sex from its seriousness, once you separate it from its life-changing, life-giving potential, men will come to see it as just another want, a desire like any other. Once they think that, then they’ll see sexual violations as less serious, less charged, less full of weight. They’ll be more able to rationalize. It’s only petty theft, a pack of chewing gum on the counter, and I took it.
In this movement from “Love the One You’re With” to “Don’t hug your uncle,” we are finding that God will not be mocked. If we sow the wind, we will reap the whirlwind. As twentieth-century British philosopher Herbert Farmer said, When you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters.
As believers, we know that God has called us to something better, something higher, something infinitely more pleasurable than cheap sex, and our lives are more joy-filled because of this calling. It is therefore good news when God says this to the married, the not-yet married, and the never-to-be married:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
SBCC, let us be found among those who glorify God with our bodies. Whether we give God glory by sexual abstinence or by sexual fidelity within the context of marriage, let each of us choose to glorify God in our body.