Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Conservatives and Promiscuity

This weekend there was some discussion on NRO's CrunchyCon blog of whether conservatives are willing to oppose sexual promiscuity. I believe that, while it is undeniable that what little discouragement of promiscuity there is comes from conservatives, the people who say conservatives don't do much in this regard are right. Nobody does much in this regard anymore. Go back a few decades and everyone thought society was served by people controlling their sexual passions; nowadays only social conservatives ever say such a thing, for the most part they don't say it often, and when they do everyone knows they're talking into the wind. I'm generalizing, yes, but then this is generally true.

I think the reluctance of conservatives to oppose sexual promiscuity goes back to the reader email Jeremy Beers posted 2/24. It said that there were three main methods of promoting Good, namely

"1) Personal suasion, religious teaching, conversion, appeals
to beauty and justice;
2) Social pressure, the threat of ostracism,
moralistic disapproval;
3) Governmental diktat."

and that Americans have little tolerance for the second one. There's some truth in that. How many of us, when a coworker announces her unmarried twenty-year old child is about to become a parent, are willing to ask, "When is the wedding?" How many of us, when we've just watched a movie with friends and are discussing it, are willing to say anything against the movie having depicted it as completely natural that its unmarried hero and heroine were having it off a few hours after they met? How many of us are willing to so much as frown slightly when someone we know announces he or she is about to start cohabiting?

Anybody? I doubt it. We don't want to seem intolerant or judgemental or, worst of all, prudish. Besides, we're hip, we're not old-fashioned, easily-shocked people; if we say anything against promiscuity people will think we're not only judgemental and un-hip, but too uptight to be any good in the sack. Can't have that.

I disagree slightly with the author of that email I quoted in that I don't think this sort of thing is a product of the American frontier mentality (although there may be a little of that contrariness in it.) I think it's a product of more recently developed attitudes. Americans used to be more willing to say that promiscuity and having children out of wedlock was wrong. For example, when I was a child in the '70s the pejorative term "shacking up" was used to refer to cohabiting outside of marriage; the way adults used the term left no doubt that they considered the practice at worst highly immoral or at the very best a trifle declasse. Even on frothy '70s television, it wasn't considered outrageous that Mr. Roper would refuse to rent an apartment to a (straight) man and two girls; can you imagine that situation on a sitcom today? Mr. Roper would be hauled into court on a discrimination charge faster than you can say "intolerance", and Jack Tripper and the girls, if not actually involved with each other, would be giving us quite a lot of details of their very active sex lives--or else complaining humorously and in detail about how the only sex life they have is with themself.

Nowadays nobody even bothers to be discreet about their promiscuity, much less be chaste. I live in the Bible Belt where we're supposedly more conservative socially, and yet it's nothing any more to hear young coworkers talking about their "booty calls" or hear your cashier casually telling the cashier next to her about how she was having a shower with her boyfriend in their apartment before work, yada yada yada. One of the few things you can bet on not hearing is terms like "shacking up" or "illegitimate"--nobody wants to be so negative as to use terms like that.

And I'm as guilty of it as anybody. Just writing this makes me afraid I sound like a prude and makes me want to add that, "I'm not offended by any of this myself, oh no, it's just that I don't think rampant promiscuity is good for society." I think we could use more people willing to cluck their tongues disapprovingly when promiscuous behavior is mentioned, but I'm not eager to be the one of the first to revive that practice and I'm willing to bet not many conservatives are. It's one thing to say "promiscuity is socially destructive" in an online opinion piece or a church group discussion, but how many are willing to say it to a neighbor or coworker?


I wrote the above Sunday night, but have been hesitant to post it. Like many, I don't want to be mistaken for a prude or a puritanical killjoy. Possibly like some others who've only come to realize that promiscuity is a disintegrative force in society relatively late in life and whose pasts were more checkered or even hedonistic than we now know to be good for people, I have a niggling fear of laying myself open to charges of hypocrisy. Like most, I don't want to be viewed as nosy. Like many, I don't want to be seen as advocating social disapproval.

But I am advocating social disapproval. I don't see how conservatives can get around the fact that if we want to decrease the incidence of family-destabilising behaviors, we have to disapprove of those behaviors. Not just in the things we say in internet discussion groups but in the things we say in real life, to our family, friends, and acquaintances. "I love you, but I can't approve of what you're doing." "You're my friend and you're welcome in my house, but I can't allow you to do X in front of my children." "I like him, but I wish he wouldn't behave like that." Things like that can be really uncomfortable to say, but if we never say them, what is the message we send?

I hope it goes without saying that our words then have to be supported by our actions.


Writer78 said...

I echo you 100% on your sentiments. I find it easy to hate the sin, but I find it very difficult to speak up. It's so hard to figure out how to reach people, win hearts, rather than just push people away.

Thanks for having the courage to post this. I'm with you on this one.

Llynya said...

ditto! I agree 100% and this is coming from a former co-habitant =) I am now happily married to my former co-habitor and can say with all honesty that I remember only one time that anyone said anything to me about it. My views have changed greatly over the years and appreciate and agree with your post.

btw.. nice to meet you!

Suzanne said...

Thank you both for the positive comments, and I'm sorry I haven't responded sooner. Speaking up on this issue really is a tough thing to do. I can point to so many times when I left unsaid something I probably should have said; that thing about being responsible both for "what we've done and what we've failed to do" can be worrisome.

Ilnya, suffice it to say my views have changed greatly over the years too! Close to a 180 degree turn.