10.28.2008

Red Sex, Blue Sex

Different parts of the country have different attitudes about sex... and many other things for that matter. (no kidding) How those attitudes translate into actions is the rather interesting story. One highlighted by the The New Yorker in their recent story Red Sex, Blue Sex. Below are excerpts, but here is my take.

As is the case with so many other things, Evangelicals generally need to shut up until they can put up. But that's in general.

What about the reality of growing up in a hyper sexual world? If like me, you find the mantra of "though shall not" incredibly ineffective, what should replace it? How do we as Christians learn to speak comfortably and effectively about one of God's greatest gifts? I don't have any answers off the top of my head as I write this. But I think it's a matter worth discussing if we are going to save marriage, not from homosexuals, but from ourseleves. (guess which states have the highest divorce rates?)

One thing in the story stood out above all else for me: Religious belief apparently does make a potent difference in behavior for one group of evangelical teen-agers: those who score highest on measures of religiosity—such as how often they go to church, or how often they pray at home. But many Americans who identify themselves as evangelicals, and who hold socially conservative beliefs, aren’t deeply observant.

Who knew - prayer works. ; ) (That one is for you parents.)

Excerpts
During the campaign, the media has largely respected calls to treat Bristol Palin’s pregnancy as a private matter. But the reactions to it have exposed a cultural rift that mirrors America’s dominant political divide. Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion.

Religion is a good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior, and that this gap is especially wide among teen-agers who identify themselves as evangelical.

Religious belief apparently does make a potent difference in behavior for one group of evangelical teen-agers: those who score highest on measures of religiosity—such as how often they go to church, or how often they pray at home. But many Americans who identify themselves as evangelicals, and who hold socially conservative beliefs, aren’t deeply observant.

Like other American teens, young evangelicals live in a world of Internet porn, celebrity sex scandals, and raunchy reality TV, and they have the same hormonal urges that their peers have. Yet they come from families and communities in which sexual life is supposed to be forestalled until the first night of a transcendent honeymoon. Regnerus writes, “In such an atmosphere, attitudes about sex may formally remain unchanged (and restrictive) while sexual activity becomes increasingly common. This clash of cultures and norms is felt most poignantly in the so-called Bible Belt.” Symbolic commitment to the institution of marriage remains strong there, and politically motivating—hence the drive to outlaw gay marriage—but the actual practice of it is scattershot.

In 2004, the states with the highest divorce rates were Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and West Virginia (all red states in the 2004 election); those with the lowest were Illinois, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. The highest teen-pregnancy rates were in Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas (all red); the lowest were in North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Maine (blue except for North Dakota).

Evangelicals could start, perhaps, by trying to untangle the contradictory portrayals of sex that they offer to teen-agers. In the Shelby Knox documentary, a youth pastor, addressing an assembly of teens, defines intercourse as “what two dogs do out on the street corner—they just bump and grind awhile, boom boom boom.” Yet a typical evangelical text aimed at young people, “Every Young Woman’s Battle,” by Shannon Ethridge and Stephen Arterburn, portrays sex between two virgins as an ethereal communion of innocent souls: “physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pleasure beyond description.” Neither is the most realistic or helpful view for a young person to take into marriage, as a few advocates of abstinence acknowledge.

As the Reverend Rick Marks, a Southern Baptist minister, recently pointed out in a Florida newspaper, “Evangelicals are fighting gay marriage, saying it will break down traditional marriage, when divorce has already broken it down.” Conservatives may need to start talking as much about saving marriages as they do about, say, saving oneself for marriage.

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