I recently watched Mark Ragnerus present at the ERLC Summit on “Sex in America.” I am going to summarize some of the things I found interesting in his piece, but I highly recommend you watch it yourself (Ragnerus is the third video from the top and starts at about 22 minutes in).
The “Marriage Ability” of Men
Ragnerus, who is a researcher at the University of Texas, frequently mentioned interesting info on what he calls, “the mating market.” Think of this as a dating pool, but things are quantified with sex rather than awkward first dates. He mentioned that the pool now has two poles, and a center. On one side lies people interested in sex, and only sex. On the opposite corner lies those who value commitment but not marriage (think of sitcoms like “Mike and Molly” or long term couples living together). In the middle are those interested in marriage.
When pointing out some of the realities of this mating market, he mentioned something that really stood out to me. Increasingly, women have shifted from marriage as a need to marriage as a want. “Women want marriage, but they don’t need it,” Ragnerus says. With this reality comes the ability for women to be pickier in their selection of partners. Later on, he mentions that the marriage rate is steadily declining in America. This is because women, who are becoming pickier (I’m not using this in a negative sense), are noticing that less and less men are possessing traits which raise their “marriage ability.” Men are less equipped for marriage.
The interesting portion of this is what Ragnerus attributed it to. He speculated two hypothesis. The first is that men are having more success in the “sex only” side of the mating pool, and therefore don’t see marriage as necessary to fulfill their sexual needs. The second is the rise of pornography. Men are able to find reasonable amounts of satisfaction through porn which may contribute to a lack of relational motivation.
Obviously the redemptive indicatives are many here. What is going to save marriage is not simply the idea of “wait till marriage.” But a gospel which frames marriage as attractive because of what it means in terms of our redemption (Christ and the church, Eph 5:25). Women don’t need men who restrain from sex and porn, they need men who are enamored with the beauty of Christ and respond accordingly.
One that really stood out to me is only about 75% of women between the ages of 20-25 consider themselves exclusively heterosexual. As someone who works with college aged women, this breaks my heart. Most likely this is due to an over-sexualization and unhealthy stereotypes (in porn, television and movies) of lesbians. A fight for a gospel-centered view of gender roles is not a “theological debate” reserved for seminaries and classrooms. It is practical, redemptive and needed.
Ragnerus also has a chart titled: “When did you begin having sex in your last romantic relationship?” This question was asked to people who are now married. This cart was easily the most fascinating. Of all age ranges surveyed, the age of 18-23 was the highest for having sex on the first day they met their would-be spouse, at about 8%. The next two spikes for this 18-23 age range were also intriguing. Just about 20% of this age range began having sex when they first considered themselves to be in a relationship (this was about 2x higher than the other age ranges). Ragnerus pointed out that this younger demographic considers sex as a consummation of relationship more so than any other age range. But even more interesting (considering the first stat) is that nearly 27% of 18-23 year olds waited until they were married before they began to have sex. While this is not as high as we would like, it is higher than any other age range surveyed.
The most promiscuous age ranges prior to marriage: 33-60. Moral of the story: Churches should not be so concerned with younger relationships at the neglect of the older dating couples in the church.
Stats on Monogamy
Ragnerus cited another survey which asked the question: “Have you or your partner had any other sexual partners since the relationship began?” The highest percentages both came from same-sex couples. Nearly 50% of dating same-sex couples had sex with someone else during their relationship, and 37% of co-habitating same-sex couples did the same.
If you think that moving-in with your boyfriend or girlfriend makes you exclusive, you are partly right, and partly wrong. Moving-in drops the percentage 7 points, but 28% of co-habitating, opposite-sex, respondents admitted to having sex outside of the relationship. Opposite-sex marriage has the lowest percentage of sexual promiscuity, but unfortunately 20% of surveyed respondents admitted to doing just that. Moral of the story, kill your false perceptions of co-habitation, get married, stay married, and stay loyal.
An Added Bonus:
Justin Taylor pulled up this great quote from Dallas Willard on casual sex:
We are sexual beings: “male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27). This crucial passage ties sexuality to our creation in the image of God. It is a part of our power with which to serve him. In sexuality the intermingling of person, the knowing and being known that is characteristic of God’s basic nature, is provided in a special form for embodied personality. In the full sexual union, the person is known in his or her whole body and knows the other by means of his or her whole body. The depth of involvement is so deep that there can be no such thing as “casual sex.” It is a contradiction of terms—something very well understood by the apostle Paul, who, accordingly, taught that fornication is a sin against one’s own body (1 Cor. 6:18).
—Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives(New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 171.