It’s Valentine’s Day, a time to celebrate that special someone, as well as the central role that love and romance plays in all of our lives.
Some may question whether such a day is necessary. After all, just about everyone already knows that one of life’s greatest joys is finding true, lasting love. Many movies and television shows — from the classic When Harry When Sally to modern fairytales like The Prince and Me — drive that message home, but today they must compete with a coarse culture that too often devalues love and marriage while glorifying promiscuous sex.
It’s old news that much of popular culture preaches that casual sex is a necessary part of being a liberated modern woman. The characters on “Friends” are consoled for a sexual “dryspell” of even a few months, the ladies on “Sex and the City” see sex more as sport than an act of intimacy, while reality shows — like “The Bachelorette” or “The Bachelor” (1, 2 and 3) — depict “love” blooming through contrived contests pitting suitors against each other, with one eliminated each week.
The real surprise is that this message is echoed in some college classrooms. The texts used in entry level women’s studies courses often seem focused on subverting expectations about love and relationships and warning women of the dangers of marriage.
Shelia Ruth’s Issues in Feminism: An Introduction to Women’s Studies, for example, dedicates a section to marriage that includes subheadings such as “The Case Against Traditional Marriage” and “The Feminine Role in Traditional Marriage: A Setup.” Ruth warns of the “marriage myth” of achieving a “happily-ever-after-forever romance” and declares this myth “utterly false.”
If young women truly believe that marriage guarantees a life of effortless bliss, then certainly they should be advised that all relationships require compromises and entail difficult times. Yet to say that happy marriage is “utterly false” reveals a willful blindness toward the fulfilling lives led by many married women.
Indeed, contented marriages are extremely common. Research shows that married women are better off than their single counterparts in terms of happiness, health and financial security — a statistic conspicuously absent from most women’s studies texts.
These texts also often suggest that sexual liberation is synonymous with women’s liberation. In Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, essayist Rebecca Walker (named by Time magazine as one of the 50 future leaders of America) calls on society to become more accepting of sexual exploration, even among very young teenagers. After detailing her own sexual exploration at age eleven, she writes: “Shocking, right? Not really. Sex begins much earlier than most people think, and it is far more extensive.”
But is it? Research shows that teenagers overestimate sexual activity among their peers. Spreading the myth that “everyone is doing it” only encourages teenagers to experiment with sex before they’re ready. Indeed, “six in 10” teens surveyed by Seventeen Magazine admitted that the fact that “many of their friends had already done it” influenced their decisions to have sex. And many of these teens experience regret. A National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy survey found that nearly eight in 10 sexually experienced teen girls and “six in 10” boys wished they had waited.
College doesn’t erase such feelings. A study of college women who engaged in casual sex revealed that afterwards, confusion and regret were common.
Of course, women have more at stake than just hurt feelings when it comes to casual sex. Women are more susceptible than men to sexual transmitted diseases. The free condoms distributed on campuses can help prevent some infections and unwanted pregnancy, but they’re certainly no panacea. The Center for Disease Control has noted, for example, that condoms have only limited utility in preventing the spread of genital ulcer diseases, such as herpes. Other research suggests condoms do nothing to stop the human papillomavirus, which is linked to cervical cancer. Such realities rarely penetrate college campuses where students are urged to practice “safe” sex — i.e. sex with a condom — as if that eliminates all risk.
Feminist academia celebrates the sexual revolution for having broken the societal silence that once surrounded sex. But today, the pendulum has swung towards a new ethic of silence surrounding the drawbacks of causal sex and the benefits of faithful, monogamous relationships — especially marriage.
Students deserve to hear the full story about the joys of committed love. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to start telling it.