I’m trying to settle into the new paradigm as a prophetic minority. Less seeking of political power and more evangelizing, warning, and announcing the kingdom. Okay, got it. Now the question is, what things ought we to warn about, I’m wondering. Then two articles cross my Facebook feed and they seem unrelated unless you start with a Christian worldview, in which case they are quite possibly symptoms of the same phenomena. First there is this article about college students and the hook up culture:
At 11 on a weeknight earlier this year, her work finished, a slim, pretty junior at the University of Pennsylvania did what she often does when she has a little free time. She texted her regular hookup — the guy she is sleeping with but not dating. . . They watched a little TV, had sex and went to sleep.Their relationship, she noted, is not about the meeting of two souls.“We don’t really like each other in person, sober” . . . Ask her why she hasn’t had a relationship at Penn, and she won’t complain about the death of courtship or men who won’t commit. Instead, she’ll talk about “cost-benefit” analyses and the “low risk and low investment costs” of hooking up.
I know, I know, Miles is on again about sex and the hook up culture. But it bears repeating. In our the culture angst against Christianity, sex and the things that revolve around sex (pregnancy, abortion, condoms, etc.) are 1) the issues the secular culture associates with the Christian community and 2) these issues are the ones they are the most upset with us about. So we should take time to look at this clash of cultures.
So there I was doing the judgmental head shake when I came across this article from the Guardian entitled “Why Have Young People in Japan Stopped Having Sex”:
Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either. “I often get asked out by married men in the office who want an affair. They assume I’m desperate because I’m single.” She grimaces, then shrugs. “Mendokusai.”Mendokusai translates loosely as “Too troublesome” or “I can’t be bothered”. It’s the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. . . Kishino, who works at a fashion accessories company as a designer and manager . . . “I find some of my female friends attractive but I’ve learned to live without sex.
What???? At the same time co-eds at Princeton are having sex without relationships, folks in Japan are doing neither. As Buffalo Springfield would say, “Something’s happen’ here. What it is isn’t quite clear.” Now the two articles do attempt to answer the “why question” and they attribute it to factors like the desire of Princeton grads to avoid letting a relationship sabotage a career and the traditions in Japan where, in order to marry, one has to provide for a family. A difficult prospect in Japan’s economy. Feminism gets some of the blame or praise depending on your view. As one co-ed put it:
“I definitely wouldn’t say I’ve regretted any of my one-night stands,” she said.“I’m a true feminist,” she added. “I’m a strong woman. I know what I want.”
Apparently however getting what you want isn’t very pleasant. How can I, the Christian sexual killjoy, make this claim?
Women said universally that hookups could not exist without alcohol, because they were for the most part too uncomfortable to pair off with men they did not know well without being drunk.
I once heard the same thing from women who were stripping to pay for college. They couldn’t do it sober. So you have thousands of college students in America getting drunk with the intention of gratifying their sexual appetite with no strings attached. Nothing could go wrong with this right?
The close relationship between hooking up and drinking leads to confusion and disagreement about the line between a “bad hookup” and assault. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, 10 to 16 forcible sex offenses were reported annually to campus security as taking place on Penn’s campus or in the immediate neighborhood.
Is this surprising? No. What is surprising is that the college students keep hooking up in spite of it. As if sex was like hunger and hey if all you’ve got is olive loaf might as well mask the taste with something really strong like Vodka. Meanwhile in Japan, they’ve bypassed this and opted for sex without people.
The sexes, especially in Japan’s giant cities, are “spiralling away from each other”. Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms “Pot Noodle love” – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality “girlfriends”, anime cartoons. Or else they’re opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes. Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers.
You read that right, Japanese men prefer virtual girlfriends to real ones. (Sorry for the Power Ranger image really.)
If you take all of this seriously, then what can you say in response:
1) These are unconnected (even though Europe is experiencing the same problem). This is not bad at all however. This is just people adjusting their lives to the new economy and responding to incentives the way human being do.
I suspect that my secular readers will agree with some version of this. If that is your response then I guess I really don’t have anything to say in rebuttal. It does make sense. If sex is primarily about pleasure and only incidentally about intimacy, then why wouldn’t people consider hook ups, low-investment, low cost alternative to the messiness of marriage. And it also makes sense that given the costs of hooking up, porn and “virtual hook-ups” with a set computer generated–always pleasing–never upset partner is the ultimate in low cost dividends. If you don’t think a society with no community cohesion and no sense of face to face connection or intimacy is scary than I will demure.
But I think that’s worse than any Halloween horror movie. So Ill be the crazy guy drawing lines between unrelated stories:
I’ll make a sort of transcendental argument. As Wikipedia explains: “Transcendental arguments begin with an apparently indubitable and universally accepted statement about people’s experiences of the world, and use this to make substantive knowledge-claims about the world, e.g., that it is causally and spatiotemporally related.” It really is all connected. I think once you separate sex from marriage–when we go from Ms Right to Ms Right Now–we lose not only the intimacy we are subjugating but the sexual gratification we elevated in the first place.. C.S. Lewis called this the law of first and second things:
. . . Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.
The puzzle of how we go from oversexed to “I can’t be bothered” is found right there. If we are a prophetic minority, we must wave our hands at the coeds at Princeton and the Anime-lovers in Japan and say, “You don’t have to do things this way.” We are not trying to stifle your desire (after all, Christians seem mess up just as much as everyone else statistically) but the battle to tame ones desires and channel them towards a spiritual life is not a fetish. We don’t seek chastity because we are moralists, we are moralists because its safe and fulfilling. One co-ed at Princeton, seems to have come to this conclusion even without a Christian context:
Mercedes said, and she thought she might want to wait to have sex until marriage. “It’s not like I’m doing it because of my reputation,” she said. “It’s not because a religion tells me to wait. I think of it more as, this is the way I want to emotionally connect to someone, and I think that only a person who deserves me to be emotionally attached to them should have that opportunity to see me in that way.”
Notice how her self-worth is invoked as the catalyst for her abstinence. Crazy right? No. Crazy wise. What do you think, dear reader, are these two stories connected and do they show some underlying natural consequence of flaunting Christian sexual ethics? One last word from a Princeton co-ed who has rebelled against her culture and stopped hooking up:
“People kind of discount” how “difficult it is to find someone that you even remotely like, let alone really fall for,” she said. “And losing that can be just as impractical and harmful to yourself, if not more so, than missing out on a job or something like that. What else do you really have at the end of your life?”
What more indeed. Seems I remember some Jewish carpenter saying something about gaining the whole world and losing your own soul.
It frustrates me that the biblical wisdom around the dynamics of human sexuality and emotional intimacy get construed into legalism and shame-games by Christian religiosity. This is a really good example of practical application of biblical wisdom without rules and shame as the basis of discussion. Thank you, Jonathan Miles.
Nice piece. I have a couple of thoughts: First, a college junior is a child. I know that technically they are, but speaking as someone who teaches people that age, they are children. Drinking and hooking up is a childish thing to do and, like you say, can very well lead to rape charges. Secondly, anyone, male or female, thinks that “hooking up” is a sign of being a true feminist, they don’t understand feminism. Hooking up has nothing to do with intellectual and social equality and respect between the genders.