, in yesterday's New York Times
, writes an insightful column examining the character of various attitudes regarding pre-marital teen sex. He rightly notes that social conservatives--on this and on other issues--are often taken for cynics resigned to be forever condemning the downward spiral of a sickly culture. But, in the face of good news regarding a trend among young people to delay sexual experience, Douthat wonders whether the true cynics are not those who advocate a more "realistic" and gritty understanding of teen sexuality; the type who exhibit concern, only, for the "safety" of the sex and forget that no one yet has invented a condom that can do the job of protecting the soul.
Douthat takes to task the straw man argument springing from the left (an argument, I'm sorry to say, that some
social conservatives are only too happy to prop up in direct reach of the left's flame throwers) that holds conservatives to be unrealistic and silly because monogamy as an ideal ignores the impulse and drive of human sexuality by suggesting that a world where every person waits until marriage to have sex is an achievable goal. Instead of accepting the smirking head-pat that the left wants to offer social conservatives on this score, Douthat rightly turns their argument on its head. In other words, only a naive and unsophisticated sort of person incapable of understanding subtlety and accepting the occasional and tragic moral imperfection would imagine that conservatives actually believe a "wait till marriage" ethic would translate into 100% (or even 60%) of brides having the strictly technical legitimate grounds for wearing white on their wedding day.
Pre-marital sex would still exist . . . but its character (however sinful according to religious standards) would still be a lot better when considered by societal standards. Douthat (quite rightly) makes a distinction between sex that is "casual and promiscuous, or just premature and ill considered" and sex that is more accurately described as "pre-marital" because there is likely to be some additional sex that is post-marital. The second kind--though not without its own set of difficulties and heartaches--is, obviously, a world apart from the first. This is particularly true when it is taken as a societal phenomenon rather than as a personal one.
The ability to see this distinction and to recognize the desirability and possibility of restoring this ethic is what sets social conservatives apart from their counterparts on the left as the true but realistic optimists in this debate. Their concern for the whole person and the whole society--even as they understand the pitfalls and the probability of some failure--do not keep them from insisting upon the standard. The left instead notes the difficulty of the standard and then brings it down . . . to safety.
When one notes, as Douthat does, the real difference between male and female emotional well-being in this current state of affairs, it always amazes me that feminists have chosen to cozy up to the left in this debate. Such women appear very clearly to be the sell-outs and the dupes of a cynical philosophy designed for wicked men who would use and discard them as suits their impulses. Where is the female empowerment in that?