Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Delayed Marriage Born of Porn?

I'm not often at a loss for words.

A couple of months ago, our friend at World magazine, J.C. Derrick, asked me if I had any thoughts about a topic they were exploring for possible publication.  The topic is whether the use of pornography by young men is contributing to the trend of delayed marriage among today's twentysomethings, and if so, to what extent?

And you know what, I'd never thought about it before.  I told him I'd have to get back with him.  Last week, he mentioned it again, so I've been mulling over the hypothesis in my mind, aware that it's entirely possible - and even probable - that pornography is indeed a factor in young men not rushing to the altar.  But how can you tell?  And who would be unashamed enough to admit it?

Actually, a while back, I'd discussed a similar question with another friend of mine who is a born-again psychiatrist, with not only his own private practice, but a well-respected ministry in both American theological circles as well as international missions.  He gave me some resources from other professional contacts of his, but none of them explicitly addressed the issue of pornography and delayed marriage.  They mostly had to do with the damage pornography can do within a marriage relationship.

Which is probably sufficient proof that, since pornography can damage the marriage covenant, it's not going to help the institution before a man and woman commit to each other before God, either.  But it still doesn't answer J.C.'s question.

Part of the reason this is a tricky subject involves all the many subjective levels inherent in this discussion.  We know that fewer Americans today are married than at any time in the past fifty years, but how do we define "delayed" marriage?  And how do we know that young people are delaying marriage for the wrong reasons?  After all, although some studies indicate people who marry later in life divorce sooner than those who don't, do people who marry while they're "too young" or "immature" have healthy marriages?  What's wrong with waiting until you've found a decent job or built up some savings?  Today's job market is terrible, and many young people are graduating college with heavy tuition debts.  How many Christian fathers desire for their daughters to marry men who will bring into matrimony a lot of pre-existing financial burdens?

If young men are delaying marriage for a less logical reason than money, to what degree may it stem from the fact that they're emotionally immature?  After all, pop culture does nothing to edify and strengthen a person.  Video games are already suspected as being a major culprit in America's distinct lack of robust initiative for young men to deploy traditionally-expected behaviors like productivity, responsibility, and decision-making after they graduate high school.  Movies, non-pornographic Internet trivialities, and ESPN may also play significant roles in the perpetual adolescence young men increasingly model.

Is pornography the reason men think they can delay whatever sexual gratification they might otherwise hope to find in marriage?  Or is pornography the result of young men not being able to find the type of sexy women our society may have predisposed them to desire?  Is porn a delaying tactic, or a perverted coping mechanism, or some sort of combination?  Let's face it:  porn isn't the only thing helping to create unrealistic desires and expectations among immature men - and women.

And, speaking of immaturity, is porn a result of a lack of marriage commitment, or a cause of it, or something in between?  Most young men don't discover porn after college, or after graduating high school.  It's not even porn exclusively that helps create the mindset that views women as sexual objects.  And it's not just men who view women as sexual objects.  By the way they themselves dress, many women enjoy flaunting assets that enhance their physical desirability.  Porn may be part of the sexual promiscuity package, but when men can readily find women in bars, fraternity parties, and sporting events who want sex without marriage, why bother with theory when participation is just as accessible?

We should also consider the socioeconomic factors, such as America's increasing population size, but the concurrent decline in our conventional, white, middle-class population.  Poorer people are marrying less than wealthier ones, and America's welfare system provides benefits in ways that discourage marriage and promote single-mother families.  It's widely known that black men are murdered and incarcerated at higher rates than white men, which may be removing them from the marriage pool in greater percentages.  Hispanics are defying expectations by actually having fewer kids, but is that because marriage rates are declining in their overwhelmingly family-centric culture, or because more women have to work outside the home to make ends meet?

Most Asians are not what we'd consider poor, but they live in urban areas, where their family sizes are historically small, and higher education is particularly prized and strenuously pursued.  Some Asian cultures arrange marriages for their young people, but the more educated they are, or the more education they want, the longer even betrothed couples may be waiting.

And then, after you've factored in all of these variables, how do you run a scientific study looking at porn as a significant inhibitor to marriage?  How does one even define porn?  After all, the way some women dress for church on Sundays is borderline pornographic.  Many advertisements on most websites feature depictions of women in various stages of undress.  Used to be, you needed to purchase a magazine to access porn.  Then there were videos.  Then there were the websites that required a fee to access their images.  But today, nobody needs to pay for porn.  In fact, free Internet porn is wreaking havoc on the business model of the smut industry.  Some websites, such as Gothamist.com, will even feature full-frontal nudity in some of its articles.  Is that pornographic?

My working definition of pornography is "any representation of sexuality that intentionally invites its audience to prioritize an unBiblical thought, action, or emotion above God's pure designs for sex and the sexes."  Isn't that a fairly comprehensive assessment of mankind's perversion of one of our Lord's most exquisite gifts to humanity?  After all, not every depiction of the human body is sexual, or sensual, or perverse.

Nevertheless, the undeniable ubiquity of borderline and definitive porn has created an unhealthy environment in North America for marriage and the sexual relationship that was designed to exist solely within matrimony.  Perhaps the young men who struggle with it the most won't win either way - by delaying marriage, or getting married when society thinks they should.  Porn is going to affect their marriage to a certain degree, whether it's consumed before or after their vows are consummated.

Why?  Because the overarching reality regarding pornography is that it is a problem!  Pornography is a sin by denying God's holy purposes for sex, objectifying women, and depersonalizing them.  It also creates false expectations and ties them to psychosomatic dysfunctions which can cripple the marriage relationship.  Pornography is for the lazy, immature, impatient, idolatrous, lustful, impudent, and imprudent.  Not the type of characteristics any father would welcome in somebody asking for his daughter's hand in marriage.

Personally, I would guess that young men who are delaying marriage are not doing so primarily because pornography is so readily available on the Internet.  I have never had sex, but I'm told it's an experience that is far more spectacular with another person than vicariously.  And while pornography is free and accessible, I'm told that plenty of non-virtuous women are, too.  I would guess that if young men are delaying marriage for non-economic reasons, it is because our society at large is so wholly sold-out to extra-marital sex in all of its sinful forms, of which pornography plays a part.

Small comfort, perhaps.  But then, any adultery ends up being small comfort, too.

Talk about being at a loss!
_____

PS - On a lighter note... a cousin of mine asked me what I'm doing writing about porn, when I should be concentrating on delayed marriage - after all, that's more my area of expertise!

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