Sexual Disenchantment

It figures: Our bodies, especially our sexuality, tell God’s story + we live in a dis-enchanted world = sexual disenchantment. But this equation is promising.

A month ago, The Spectator published an article titled, “The sexual counterrevolution is coming.” The subtitle is revealing: “America’s young elites are turning against free love.” This includes Ivy-educated women and men who are networked and wealthy.

Like Charlotte, a 23-year-old Harvard graduate. Described as beautiful, Charlotte grew up in “a super-liberal environment.” But about six months ago, she embraced “modest dress,” nothing that exposes her collarbones, shoulders, or reveals her legs above the knee.

Narayan is seven years older than Charlotte and also Ivy-educated. He too is pushing back against a culture of sexual freedom. Narayan sees it as toxic not just to individual wellbeing, but even to the long-term health of American society.

Both are part of a movement that Aaron Sibarium describes as “sexual disenchantment.” They’re the forefront of “the sexual counterrevolution,” where decades of “free love” have resulted in widespread male sexual dysfunction (mostly due to porn), increasingly ungratifying sex for women, and even instances of violence toward women.

This is happening alongside America’s sex recession. Between 1991 and 2017, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 percent to 40 percent. Today, people in their early 20s are twice as likely to be sexually abstinent as Gen Xers were at the same age. Many see “free love” as rather costly.

This bleeds into families and making babies. According to the Institute of Family Studies, 26 percent of millennials aged 30-34 have not yet formed a family. This failure rate is double the rate of boomers at the same age. CDC data show that the American birth rate has been consistently below replacement since 2007—a fact that even the most liberal commentators acknowledge will have profound long-term economic and political consequences.

So why might this be a promising development? I see a few reasons.

First, the church has been here before. Read Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity. The church was birthed in the Roman world where many men had lost interest in sex (except with young boys), the birth rate was below replacement level, marriage was generally held in low esteem, and women were often treated like chattel. The church was a sexual counterrevolution, esteeming women, monogamous marriage, and chastity.

This led to Christians having high birthrates. They highly valued women, childbearing, and prohibited abortion. So Christian women were less likely to have damaged reproductive organs. The church was also against infanticide, resulting in more babies, and more females with a capacity to bear children. Biological growth is why Stark concludes that “Christianity could easily have reached half the population by the middle of the fourth century without miracles or conversions en masse.”[1] Babies might have outnumbered those “born again.”

Many of these babies was born into well-educated, networked, wealthy families. Wayne Meeks writes about this in The First Urban Christians. The early church was urban, aristocratic, elite—like the Ivy-Leaguers leading the sexual disenchantment movement.

Look at the early church’s impact. In AD 33, after the First Easter, there were only 120 Christians in the world. By AD 300, it is estimated there were about six million (ten percent of the population of the Roman Empire). Then growth took off. By the mid-300’s, Christians comprised 50 percent of the Roman Empire. The church literally changed the world.

Which is why I see promise in the sexual disenchantment movement. Dense, overlapping networks of elites—and the institutions they run—are central to changing the world in significant ways.[2] The early church had ‘em. It seems the sexual disenchantment movement has them as well.

There’s even reports of Christians being active in this network. That’s promising. I’d encourage them to read Christopher West’s Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering God’s Plan for Love, Sex, and Gender. It’ll help them add to the current equation.

 

[1] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religion in the Western World (HarperSanFrancisco Edition, 1997), 14-15.

[2] Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies, (Harvard University Press, 1998)

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