Society taking a second look at monogamy?

A recent CDC study found that the number of 15 to 24 year olds who reported being virgins in 2008 had increased slightly since 2002. In his latest column, Ross Douthat sees in that trend a reason for optimism — not because he thinks we’ll ever really see an end to premarital sex, but because it might indicate a subtle but important shift in the way society thinks about premarital sex:

When social conservatives talk about restoring the link between sex, monogamy and marriage, they often have these kinds of realities in mind [i.e., a “significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression”]. The point isn’t that we should aspire to some Arcadia of perfect chastity. Rather, it’s that a high sexual ideal can shape how quickly and casually people pair off, even when they aren’t living up to its exacting demands. The ultimate goal is a sexual culture that makes it easier for young people to achieve romantic happiness — by encouraging them to wait a little longer, choose more carefully and judge their sex lives against a strong moral standard.

This is what’s at stake, for instance, in debates over abstinence-based sex education. Successful abstinence-based programs (yes, they do exist) don’t necessarily make their teenage participants more likely to save themselves for marriage. But they make them more likely to save themselves for somebody, which in turn increases the odds that their adult sexual lives will be a source of joy rather than sorrow.

As Douthat points out, no society has ever perfectly attained the ideal — but acknowledging that an ideal exists, and striving for it, apparently brings us a sight closer to real happiness than the alternative.

Read the whole thing here.

Margaret Cabaniss


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

  • Jeff2

    It’s quite obvious that people tend to slack off. Keeping the initial standards as high as possible allows those who slack off to at least begin at a higher starting point so that eventually a higher end point is reached. That’s why I think the Church has a rigid attitude to premarital sex and condom use. It provides the gold standard, the ideal to live up to, not the minimum. Ultimately many people fail but at least this ideal acts as a beacon to get up and try to be chaste again.

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