‘Cheap Sex’ Is Not Why People Aren’t Marrying

While there are fewer marriages now than in decades prior, a new book's crass oversimplification neglects faith-based commitment

In a new book, author and sociologist Mark Regnerus attempts to answer the question “Why aren’t people marrying anymore?”

It’s an issue of strong interest to faith communities and to those who understand and value commitment before God.

The book is entitled “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy,” and in it, the author discusses the “normalcy” of “cheap sex” in modern life — straining to make the case that sex is pretty much the only reason men get married. And since men today can get sex virtually anywhere, the argument goes — including some gratification from porn — there’s no reason for them to get married and commit themselves to women in long-term relationships.

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Let’s ponder this for a moment. While Regnerus links declining marriage rates to the abundance of on-demand cheap sex, he also makes pointed and even sexist assumptions about his own gender. He assumes all men are interested only in sex — playing into the stereotype of the shallow male with absolutely no self-control or conscience.

Men are not just sexual beings, of course, and they’re not any more sexual than women. While men are typically more drawn to the physical and women to the emotional, to say that either one is controlled only by these impulses is to ignore the truth and the fact that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God and not the image and likeness of animals.

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Each person’s impulses and temptations vary greatly; a man, for example, may have a greater difficulty with emotional temptations, while a woman may have greater sexual temptations. But human beings also have the gift of self-control. Since we’re not just physical but emotional and spiritual beings, too, we will always seek to have that part of ourselves fulfilled as well. And the spiritual craves the deeper connection with another human being that is given and reciprocated only within marriage.

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Regnerus assumes marriage is good only for sex. It’s far more than physical attraction and gratification, however.

Marriage is a gift from God, a uniting of one man and one woman in faithful and mutual love. It is an equal partnership — exclusive and faithful.

Regardless of one’s religious or spiritual standing, it’s difficult to imagine marriage as anything but a vow of exclusivity, faithfulness and unity. This unity is manifested in conjugal love, in which physical intimacy plays a part. Unlike cheap sex — and the sex that Regnerus believes all men only want — marital relations represent more than the physical connection. Emotional intimacy is the sharing of one’s experiences and the giving of oneself, while spiritual intimacy is the openness to life and the procreative role in God’s creation.

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The Regnerus book ignores the way spouses today view marriage. It ignores what spouses view as important within marriage. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that the majority of married adults believe having shared interests is more important than sex. Fifty-six percent of married adults also believe that sharing household chores is key to having a successful marriage.

Having a satisfying sexual relationship came in second in terms of ranking factors for a good marriage. Yet today’s married couples view emotional and intellectual intimacy over physical intimacy — completely debunking Regnerus’ assumptions about marriage and sex.

According to Regnerus and others, since men are only interested in sex and cheap sex is so abundant, women must be to blame — because women can just say “no.” As columnist Amanda Prestigiacomo even put it in a piece about the book in The Daily Wire, women are the “gatekeepers of sex.”

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Women are no more to blame for the rise of cheap sex and promiscuity than are men. To say that women are the “gatekeepers of sex” is to assume, again, that men have no self-control over their sexuality and must be controlled by women.

If Regnerus’ assumptions about marriage and men were correct, there would be no point in men getting married at all, since it would seem the “gatekeepers of sex” aren’t keeping their gates so protected. There are still quite a few men and women getting married — and remaining faithfully married to eachother for life. Perhaps the decline in marriage rates has less to do with sex — and more to do with the lack of young people’s ability to truly sacrifice for another person and love unconditionally.

Marriage is still alive and well. It’s an institution dearly held by many people as the foundation of a healthy society.

Steffani Jacobs is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities area. She has written about everything from military history and weaponry to theology and church doctrine. 

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