THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 16, 2009
Check out former Bush speechwriter Mike Gerson's column in today's WaPo. It's all about sex and relationships and the death of the traditional "courtship progression" of "dating, engagement, marriage, children."
Noting that the age of sexual maturity is coming earlier and earlier even as the average age for marriage has grown later, Gerson bemoans the lack of cultural guidance for young people navigating the widening gap between childhood and long-term (if not always lifelong) commitment. Unsurprisingly, he finds the rise of cohabitation particularly destructive and disheartening, and he trots out the usual research to support his position.
But take heart: This is not some tiresome get-God-back-into-the-schools-and-have-your-kids-sign-a-purity-pledge sermon. Instead, Gerson has the cojones to fire this shot:
The casual sex promoted in advertising and entertainment often leads, in the real world of fragile hearts and STDs, to emotional and physical wreckage. But it doesn't seem realistic to expect most men and women to delay sex until marriage at 26 or 28. Such virtue is both admirable and possible--but it can hardly be a general social expectation. So religious institutions, for example, often avoid this thorny topic, content to live with silence, hypocrisy, and active singles groups.
Ah, spoken with the urgency of a father of blossoming adolescents--which, come to think of it, makes Gerson's refusal to indulge in denial or willful blindness on this issue all the more impressive.
Hey, during my Bible Belt youth, my friends' parents preferred to believe that all those hours their hormone-addled offspring spent praying with the church youth group would keep us shiny and clean until our wedding nights. It wasn't true 25 years ago, and it ain't true today. Indeed, parents would have an absolute seizure if they knew what actually goes on at church retreats. Fooling around just doesn't seem as sinful when it's with a godly boy, you know?
Ultimately, the column disappoints: Lacking a prescription for helping today's youth negotiate the changing relationship landscape, Gerson falls back on pleading with people to not become parents until they've actually tied the knot. This is a perfectly sensible position, but one that kinda ducks the original issue. (Loose translation: We know you kids are gonna destroy your health and sanity by behaving like slutty weasels, just don't drag another generation into it.) Still, he deserves kudos for stressing that this is not a cultural challenge that--with sufficient prayer, piety, and abstinence-only funding--can be solved as neatly as many of his conservative brethren contend.