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Moral Optimism and free choice


Active member
Dec 28, 2004
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The Constitution State - Connecticut
This was an OP-ED piece written by David Brookes one of two conservative editorial writers at the NY Times - I think it represents a reasonable "balanced" perspective of the real world... do you agree?

Public Hedonism and Private Restraint
April 17th - New York Times

You see the febrile young teens in their skintight spaghetti strap tank tops with their acres of exposed pelvic skin. You hear 50 Cent's ode to oral sex, "Candy Shop," throbbing from their iPods. You open the college newspapers and see the bawdy sex columns; at William and Mary last week I read a playful discussion of how to fondle testicles and find G spots.

You could get the impression that America's young people are leading lives of Caligulan hedonism. You could give credence to all those parental scare stories about oral sex parties at bar mitzvahs and junior high school dances. You could worry about hookups, friends with benefits, and the rampant spread of casual, transactional sexuality.

But it turns out you'd be wrong.

The fact is, sex is more explicit everywhere - on "Desperate Housewives," on booty-quaking music videos, on the Internet - except in real life. As the entertainment media have become more sex-saturated, American teenagers have become more sexually abstemious.

Teenage pregnancy rates have declined by about a third over the past 15 years. Teenage birth and abortion rates have dropped just as much.

Young people are waiting longer to have sex. The percentage of 15-year-olds who have had sex has dropped significantly. Among 13-year-olds, the percentage has dropped even more.

They are also having fewer partners. The number of high schoolers who even report having four or more sexual partners during their lives has declined by about a quarter. Half of all high school boys now say they are virgins, up from 39 percent in 1990.

Reports of an epidemic of teenage oral sex are also greatly exaggerated. There's very little evidence to suggest it is really happening. Meanwhile, teenagers' own attitudes about sex are turning more conservative. There's been a distinct rise in the number of teenagers who think casual sex is wrong. There's been an increase in the share of kids who think teenagers should wait until adulthood before getting skin to skin.

When you actually look at the intimate life of America's youth, you find this heterodoxical pattern: people can seem raunchy on the surface but are wholesome within. There are Ivy League sex columnists who don't want anybody to think they are loose. There are foul-mouthed Maxim readers terrified they will someday divorce, like their parents. Eminem hardly seems like a paragon of traditional morality, but what he's really angry about is that he comes from a broken home, and what he longs for is enough suburban bliss to raise his daughter.

In other words, American pop culture may look trashy, but America's social fabric is in the middle of an amazing moment of improvement and repair.

The first lesson in all this is we shouldn't overestimate the importance of the media. People like 50 Cent may produce hit after pornographic hit, but that doesn't mean his fans want to lead the lives he raps about. It's make-believe.

What matters is reality. The reality is that we have a generation of kids who have seen the ravages of divorce, who are more likely to respect and listen to their parents and their ministers, who are worried about sexually transmitted diseases and who don't want to mess up their careers.

Second, it's becoming clear that we are seeing the denouement of one of the longest and increasingly boring plays on Broadway, the culture war.

Since the 1830's, we've witnessed the same struggle. One camp poses as the party of responsibility, lamenting the decadence of culture and the loss of traditional morality. The other side poses as the army of liberation, lamenting Puritanism, repression and the menace of the religious right.

No doubt some people will continue these stale kabuki battles on into their graves: the 50's against the 60's, the same trumped-up outrage, the same self-congratulatory righteousness, the same fund-raising-friendly arguments again and again.

But today's young people appear not to have taken a side in this war; they've just left it behind. For them, the personal is not political. Sex isn't a battleground in a clash of moralities.

They seem happy with the frankness of the left and the wholesomeness of the right. You may not like the growing influence of religion in public life, but the lives of young people have improved. You may not like the growing acceptance of homosexuality, but as it has happened heterosexual families have grown healthier.

Just lie back and enjoy the optimism.
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