Imagine that you’re the commissioner of the NFL and a certain Dallas-based football team has been bringing shame upon the league with a litany of domestic abuse and DUI arrests. One day, an underling bursts into your office.
“Good news, Commissioner. Everybody on the Cowboys roster has stopped breaking the law!”
“That’s great,” you reply. “Did this happen because our ‘Stop Being a Terrible Person’ campaign finally worked?”
“Oh, uh, no,” the underling says. “It happened because the team’s plane just exploded.”
As this imaginary commissioner, how would you feel in this moment? Probably the same way I felt after learning that about the sex rates of unmarried millennials.
Millennials’ Sex Lives Are In Trouble
The average millennial has fewer sexual partners than both Gen Xers and the Boomers. In 1991, 54.1 percent of US high school students had had sexual intercourse. By 2015, that number dropped to 41.2. However, during approximately that same time frame, the rate of regular church attendance by Americans dropped by nearly ten points, while moral acceptance of extramarital sex increased. So a return to Biblical beliefs concerning sexuality is certainly not the cause of millennials’ increased avoidance of promiscuity.
What’s causing millennials to be less sexually active, then? As with any trend, there are numerous explanations. But the two biggest factors seem to be the copious amounts of pornography that millennials, in particular millennial men, have grown up consuming, and the widespread use of socially isolating social networking. Just take a look at this profile of a millennial man, courtesy of Tara Bahrampour:
Noah Patterson, 18, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously: a work project, a YouTube clip, a video game. To shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste. “For an average date, you’re going to spend at least two hours, and in that two hours I won’t be doing something I enjoy,” he said.
It’s not that he doesn’t like women. “I enjoy their companionship, but it’s not a significant part of life,” said Patterson, a Web designer in Bellingham, Wash.
He has never had sex, although he likes porn. “I’d rather be watching YouTube videos and making money.” Sex, he said, is “not going to be something people ask you for on your résumé.”
Will This Trend Persist, Or Will Millennials Change?
For those who believe that sex is something that ought to take place only within the confines of marriage, it’s initially encouraging to hear that millennials are having less sex outside of marriage. It becomes profoundly discouraging, however, to learn that the cause is not a rediscovery of Christian morality, but having their plane shot down by the bazooka blast of smut and antisocial behavior.
This raises an important question: Is this a curious fad or a troubling trend? Will the millennial lack of interest in sex eventually correct itself, once we adjust to life in the internet age? Or will they be unable to pull themselves out of the screen-filled, porn-infested tar pit and rediscover the value of human companionship and physical love?
I worry that many won’t. That tar pit isn’t merely delaying millennials’ pursuit of procreation and human companionship—it’s grinding to a halt one of the most important cogs that moves that machine, a cog known as “developing an appreciation for feminine virtues.”
Marriage Creates Space For Real Love And Virtue
Generally speaking, when a man pursues a woman, he begins by pursuing sex. To be clear, when I say this, I don’t mean that all men are Lotharios whose intent in approaching a woman is always to seduce her by the end of the evening. Rather, I mean that the biological desire to procreate is what first compels a man to pursue a woman, regardless of when he believes that procreative act should take place.
For example, the reason a Christian man asks out a cute young woman in his college Bible study group is because he’s pursuing sex, even if his intention is to not to have sex until they would be married. He sees an attractive woman. He experiences the desire to do what his body was designed for—to unite sexually with hers and to create life. And so he approaches her as the first step to fulfilling this biological need.
As men pursue women, however, they come to develop a more robust appreciation of what women have to offer them beyond physical beauty and sexual gratification. They become more exposed to the various feminine virtues—things like kindness, compassion, selflessness, loyalty, tenderness. And the more decent men encounter “the imperishable beauty of a quiet and gentle spirit,” as St Peter calls it, the more they come to value this inner beauty over raw sexuality.
Likewise, the more that decent women see men valuing their feminine virtues, the more they cultivate them and the more they seek the corresponding masculine virtues, such as bravery and self-sacrifice. We begin the mating dance by following our animalistic urges. But, during the tango, we become human as we discover what it means to love and serve and belong to each other.
Pornography Destroys The Dance And Ritual Of Marriage
So how do pornography and social media destroy the dance?
It’s important to remember that, for the average man, pursuing a woman is both awkward and terrifying. It’s awkward because, when a man asks a woman, “Can I buy you a drink?” he’s ultimately saying, “I want to mate with you, but I can’t just tell you that, so this is the stupid way I’m beginning the process of getting you to have my babies.” And it’s terrifying because, if a woman says, “no, thanks,” she’ll ultimately be saying, “I reject your offer of procreation and therefore declare that you have no value to me as a man.”
But despite these things, a man’s desire for sex still compels him to risk the humiliation and rejection, which sets him on the path to discovering the feminine virtues. Pornography, however, derails this process by becoming the sexual version of eating cereal for dinner instead of dining out on filet mignon—yes, of course, it’s an inferior substitute in every way, but the Cheerios are already in your pantry and you don’t have to do all the hard work that obtaining haute cuisine requires. Quite simply, porn gives men enough sexual satisfaction to conclude that it’s not worth the awkwardness and the terror of beginning the pursuit, nor is it worth the time or money to continue the pursuit. And when men don’t pursue actual, real women for sex, they don’t end up encountering the feminine virtues and therefore don’t develop a high value for them.
The Internet Prevents Us From Developing Relationships
Social media only compounds this problem. The more that social media pulls us away from actual people, the less we’re capable of seeing how much more valuable and rewarding true human interaction is. The more our eyes are locked onto notification-filled screens, the more we become unable to see the superiority of locking eyes with an actual human being, of feeling real emotions with that person, of sharing our hearts and our bodies with them. The more we eschew real human interactions, the more we convince ourselves that digital interactions are real.
For young men, porn convinces them that real women aren’t worth pursuing, while social media convinces them that not pursuing real women is perfectly normal. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when many of the millennial men raised on this toxic combination aren’t interested in waking up from the digital coma—just as it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an increasing number of them can’t wake up from it even when they’re lying in bed with a real person.
Likewise, for women, social media shuts down the human interaction highway, which is the best avenue they have to display the gems of feminine kindness and compassion. Porn tells them, “the only thing you have that’s truly valuable is your body—and, oh by the way, we expect it to look as flawless as the ones belonging to the women in these videos.” So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when many young ladies choose to opt out of a sexual economy that devalues their greatest assets by inflating the worth of fantasy women and their digitized bodies.
It’s Not Too Late To Turn Off The Computer
I’m sure Roger Goodell would love to have a scandal-free Dallas Cowboys roster. But he wouldn’t want it if it came at the cost of 53 men’s lives. In the same way, as a pastor who teaches and believes that sex is a gift God has given to take place only within the confines of marriage, I would rejoice if America’s youth were becoming less sexually active because they’re finding God. There is, however, nothing to celebrate when they’re becoming less sexually active because they’re losing their humanity.
But for those millennials stuck in the porn and social media tar pit, in particular millennial men, it’s not too late to rediscover what’s been lost. Shut your laptop. Turn off your phone. Go outside. Meet a girl. Ask her on a date. Pray for strength to avoid the seedy corners of the internet as you learn what it means to cherish the gems of her heart, gems that will continue shining even after the luster of her youth has faded. Ask her to marry you. Make your vows before God. Be fruitful and multiply, and be at peace.
The first and greatest romantic love song was performed by Adam in the garden of Eden. “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” he sung about Eve.
It’s not too late for this to be your love song too.