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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Human Sexuality, Part 2

As I suggested in my earlier post on the topic of human sexuality, any meaningful conversation about Christian sexual practices must turn at some point to the topic of contraception.  One of my most fascinating and paradigm shifting reads over the last several years was Red Families v. Blue Families by family law scholars Naomi Cahn and June Carbone.  No matter their views on abortion, no matter their opinions about homosexuality, no matter what they think about pre-marital sexual activity, many in my world are on the blue family side of this divide.  If Cahn and Carbone are right, the line in the sand in terms of sexual ethics in American society today is defined by college education and contraception.

To generalize a well nuanced and researched book, the authors outline two general paths to marriage and family life today.  One is familiar to many of us.  Young people graduate from high school and attend college (perhaps after a year or two of service or travel).  They may or may not be sexually active, but their primary goal in life is not having a family, but getting an education and perhaps establishing a career.  If they are sexually active, they will use contraception.  Rarely, women who choose this path will have an abortion.  Men and women both choose mates with care, and wait for marriage until they have already accomplished some initial goals in life (such as education, perhaps graduate school, travel, getting started in a career).  Once couples in this group do get married, the men and women are more mature, better established financially, and less likely to get divorced than the population at large.  Finally, if couples in this group choose to have children, they wait longer, and limit the number of children they do have, giving their children many advantages not enjoyed by children of  "red family" parents.  The "blue family" path to marriage and family has enormous economic advantages which show up dramatically in statistics.

The "red family" path to marriage and family is marked by the decision (or inability) not to go to college or use contraception.  Those who do not go to college have less motivation to delay family life, are less likely to use contraception, more likely to give birth out of wedlock, more likely to marry sooner, more likely to get divorced, more likely to have more than the average number of children, and more likely to parent with multiple partners.  Needless to say, this is not a path to economic prosperity.  Whereas in the blue model, planning, including family planning, is a high value, the red model embraces different values.

As a parent of school aged children, the red/blue contrast has been on display during these years of going to school events.  The older parents wait to get married, wait to have children, have fewer children, live in better houses, drive better cars, read books to their children, expect their children to go to college, have better family and social support when times to get difficult, and have children in a far better position to be successful in life.

This contrast coalesces in some ways around two different sexual ethics, and is profoundly shaping our culture.  How might we as a church engage this reality?  What bearing to explicitly Christian ethics have on this situation?