The common attitude of many young adults — and many of their parents — today is that individuals should have absolute autonomy or “freedom” over their relationships. We’ve forgotten that “freedom” is not to do what you want but to do what you ought, and this has made us indifferent to the broader social consequences of our actions.
Welcome to the halls of “Toxic U” — a term coined by author Mary Eberstadt in “Adam and Eve after the Pill” to describe the nocturnal realm of binge drinking and “hookup” culture on college campuses.
Many brush off the dominance of casual sex with, “it’s just part of growing up,” but in reality it leaves students disappointed, lonely and lacking in emotional connections. As a student, I have witnessed the emptiness this false reality has to offer.
This attitude taints our social and political views. Our campuses ring with selective compassion for issues regarding gross human rights violations from oppressive governments like China, genocide in Darfur, or wanton cruelty to animals; but as Eberstadt notes, we “forget just who that underdog is when the subject is the sexual revolution.” The victims are, in fact, the young adults of today and future generations.
In the name of free choice, many quickly ignore the social data and an honest analysis of the fallouts from family fragmentation, single parenthood and our “contracepting” culture. Juli Loesch Wiley, activist and ethicist, rightly asks:
“May we break apart, rearrange, a man and a woman? . . . Are we free (because we are able to do so) to split sex up into its various ‘animal’ and ‘angel’ components — fondness here, fertility there . . . affection, desire, covenant, and conception considered separately and experienced separately — rearranging the pieces to suit whatever project we have in mind?”
Accepting partial imitations instead of authentic, healthy relationships has had toxic effects.
Paying the price
Young people who don’t expect to “get serious” or marry until years later have no reason to invest emotionally, spiritually or economically in their romantic partners. The result is a lack of commitment and responsibility, which has led to more out-of-wedlock births and higher rates of divorce and infidelity — urgent social problems.
Research repeatedly brings to light how this negatively affects children and why an intact family structure is so beneficial for social well-being. A 2002 Child Trends report, which was recently affirmed by a study from Mark Regnerus published in Social Science Research, indicates that children flourish best when raised by both a father and a mother.
Similarly, contraceptives are seen as an opportunity to liberate women from the perceived “bondage” of fertility. But as law professor Helen Alvaré recently noted, making contraception readily available in the U.S. has actually increased the number of unintended pregnancies to 50 percent since the 1960s.
Studies across numerous cultures have indicated that broader access to contraception actually increases the number of abortions. Furthermore, a 2008 study by U.S. Health and Human Services found that non-marital childbearing has increased among every age and social class, now accounting for 41 percent of all births.
Responsibility to educate, act
Honoring God’s intended design and our human dignity benefits society. The 2010 study, “The Sustainable Demographic Dividend,” found that strong families play a key role in “sustaining long-term economic growth, the viability of the welfare state, the size and quality of the workforce, and the profitability of large sectors of the modern economy.”
Additionally, children raised by their married mother and father receive numerous benefits: an increased likelihood of fostering healthy relationships, decreased likelihood of divorce, reduced poverty and higher educational attainment.
We need to match how we act and think with what upholds our human design, not with what tries to change it. We can start by becoming more politically involved in the issues that affect the family — the “cell of society” as it is referred to in Catholic social teaching.
First, parents need to be engaged and take an active role in helping their kids understand the public side of their “private” faith. ENDOW, an educational program on the Catholic teaching of the “feminine genius,” allows mothers and daughters to take classes together to discover their God-given dignity and understand their role in humanizing and transforming society.
Second, students need to get involved in movements that work at resisting the combined heft of moral relativism, social apathy and promiscuity on campuses. These include FOCUS, pro-life and vocational groups. Encourage the young adults in your life to be thoughtful and courageous and to do what is right, even if it goes against the tides of culture.
Angela Deeney is a communications intern for the Minnesota Catholic Conference and will enter her junior year at the University of St. Thomas this fall.