University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus offers some challenging data about dating, sex, and marriage in an op ed in the Washington Post. The post is based on research in his 2017 Oxford Press book, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy. I’ve highlighted some important points below.
Christians are less hopeful about marriage.
“…[M]any Christians’ expectations about marriage have dimmed. Whereas only 37 percent of the least religious never-married adults in the 2014 Relationships in America survey said they would prefer instead to be married, 56 percent of the most religious never-married adults said the same. But 56 is a far cry from 80 or 90 percent. Something’s going on.”
Christian paradigms for dating and relationship are culturally-conditioned.
“These Christians’ narratives are seldom radically different from nonreligious Americans. They want love, like nearly everyone else. They couple. Sex often follows, though sometimes after a longer period of time — a pattern that confuses them more than most, because premarital sex remains actively discouraged, but impossible to effectively prevent, in the church.”
Current patterns of dating make things harder on the church.
“All this puts pressure on American pastors, operating as they are in a free religious market. How? Because it signals that they can’t count on the predictable return to organized religious life of late 20-somethings after they marry and begin having children. The return is slowed by delayed marriage. It may not occur at all, if demographer Steven Ruggles’s projection that 1 in 3 20-somethings will never marry proves true.”
Cheap sex desacralizes life
“Cheap sex, it seems, has a way of deadening religious impulses. It’s able to poke holes in the “sacred canopy” over the erotic instinct, to borrow the late Peter Berger’s term. Perhaps the increasing lack of religious affiliation among young adults is partly a consequence of widening trends in nonmarital sexual behavior among young Americans, in the wake of the expansion of pornography and other tech-enhanced sexual behaviors.”
Having served as a parish pastor for several years Regnerus’s views ring true. Institutional Christianity, a phrase Regnerus employs, is really facing a crisis of discipleship–Christian formation that includes instruction on the content of the Christian faith. Among other reasons, this reality is why I’m so glad to be a part of the publishing industry and producing books that will help the church be the church.