A couple days ago I had breakfast with a dearly loved liberal friend. She is a biologist and doing valuable work to protect our earth’s natural resources around the globe. Despite our differing perspectives, we found common ground regarding our values- specifically in anti-trafficking efforts, feeding the hungry, and fighting poverty. Because we have both spent a significant amount of time in developing countries we talked about the American
mentality of entitlement and the seeking of instant gratification as demonstrated in wastefulness of resources, the obesity epidemic, the debt crisis, a disregard for the needs of others, etc. We agreed that many Americans resist the notion that we should show self-restraint of any of our appetites.
When we were talking about poverty in this country and I mentioned that in my neighborhood specifically we have 63% rate of single-mother-headed households and a high rate of government dependence. I talked about how nationally three out of every five children born to women in their twenties are not born within a married relationship and how one of the greatest factors that contribute to the likelihood of a child living in poverty is if the child is born to unmarried parents. “Marriage is the best defense against poverty,” I said.
At first she balked, “What can you do? Just give people birth control!” But why shouldn’t we teach self-control in the area of sex just like we ought to teach self-restraint when it comes to food? and consumerism? and the use of natural resources? Why when the stakes are so high and the long-term consequences so great are we still unwilling to tell kids that sexual restraint is beneficial to them and their future children? When it comes to poverty, the statistics are telling:
- The Brookings Institution says that if we had the marriage rate today that we had in 1970, there would be a 25 percent drop in poverty.
- The Heritage Foundation says that marriage drops the probability of a child living in poverty by 82 percent.
Obviously, there are numerous reasons why children are living in single-parent-headed households. But much of the reason can be tied to the fact that sexual exploration and “freedom” has been promoted and marketed as progress. We are entitled to sexual pleasure when and how we want it. This from Planned Parenthood “…sexual rights for youth must be guaranteed, so that “all young people around the world [will] be able to explore, experience and express their sexualities in healthy, positive, pleasurable and safe ways.” In many venues, sexual pleasure is trumpeted as god, casual sex the expectation, and sexual allure the greatest attribute of womanhood.
At the same time our culture has slowly and successfully disconnected the act of sex from its procreative properties. Jennifer Fulwiler puts it this way: “As a society, we’d come to take it for granted that we’re entitled to the pleasurable and bonding aspects of sex — even when we’re in a state of being vehemently opposed to any new life it might produce.” The “hook-up” culture pervasive on college campuses testifies to this reality. High abortion rates and children born without the benefits of both parents is the other side of that coin.
Some of you are objecting, “Then why don’t you support gay marriage if it makes such a big difference?” Let me be clear, gay marriage meets the needs of the adults in the family. They get the legal recognition and benefits that they are seeking. If gay marriage was just about the adults involved, I would care much less about that civil distinction. But the same-gender-headed-household will always begin with loss for a child. Either willfully or unintentionally the child will be deprived of a relationship with one of the adults who made her. She will lose the life-long balance and input of one of the two most basic elements in this human life- male and female. Redefining marriage means redefining parenthood. (For more on this see: Chapter Next)
Religious or not, why aren’t we encouraging our children to abstain from sex until they have made a life-time commitment to their spouse? Is it because we think that it is impossible? Or because if we tell our children to abstain, we might also have to tell ourselves “no” to what we want? Or because the pressure to indulge is just too strong?
Why not rather embolden our children to develop self-control in all areas that will benefit their future- physical health, fiscal discipline, academic rigor, self-denial of unnecessary material possessions, and sexual restraint to name a few. The benefits of delayed gratification touch every area of life, but the hedonism of our day makes self-denial the cardinal sin. We have to teach and model for our children that all things may be “permissible,” but not all things are beneficial. And when it comes to our appetites, we should not be mastered by any of them.
For practical and research-based tips on self-control see Top 10 Self Control Strategies .