June 10, 2000
''Sex Without Strings, Relationships Without
Why has the marriage rate dropped
by one-third since 1970?
''The mating culture for today's
20-somethings is not oriented toward marriage, as it has been in times past,
nor is it dedicated to romantic love. Instead it is best described as a
low-commitment culture of sex without strings, relationships without
rings,'' according to a new report of the National Marriage Project, ''The
State of Our Unions 2000,'' based on interviews with ''focus groups'' of
unmarried, non-college graduates (73% of those aged 25-29) living in five
metro areas: Northern New Jersey, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.
''Although the study participants
expect their future marriages to last a lifetime and to fulfill their
deepest emotional and spiritual needs, they are involved in a mating culture
that may make it more difficult to achieve this lofty goal,'' says Dr.
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-author of the study with Dr. David Popenoe.
These men and women rarely
volunteer the word ''love'' or ''falling in love,'' but rather talk about
''sex'' and ''relationships.'' Mimicking TV sitcoms, such as ''Sex in the
City,'' they believe ''Sex is for fun, a taken-for-granted freedom and
pleasure of being young and single. Both men and women regard casual sex as
an expected part of the dating scene. Only a few take a moralistic stand
against it. Both men and women also agree that casual sex is
no-strings-attached sex....These men and women see lying, cheating and
dumping as unremarkable behavior.''
Relationships require ''greater
investments of time and effort'' and ''higher ethical standards than casual
sex. Trust, honesty and sexual fidelity are expected.'' One popular form of
relationship is cohabitation, which is ''replacing marriage as the first
living together union for today's young adults.'' Slightly less than half of
these young people are cohabiting or have done so. Almost all men say ''You
should not marry a woman until you have lived with her first.''
Why? First, they argue the only way
to ''find out about the habits, character and fidelity'' of a partner is the
24/7 plan, living with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Second, they want
to ''test compatibility, possibly for future marriage.'' Third, these young
men and women say ''they live together as a way of avoiding the risks of
divorce or being trapped in an unhappy marriage.''
Sadly, these young people are
mistaken. The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University published a
report last year confirming earlier studies that those who cohabit before
marriage are 50 percent more likely to divorce than those who do not live
These ''trial marriages'' should be
called ''trial divorces,'' because the vast majority will either learn the
pain of ''pre-marital divorce,'' breaking up before there is a wedding, or
will divorce afterwards. This sex-drenched culture has resulted in a
doubling of never-married Americans, soaring from 21 million in 1970 to 46.6
million in 1998, according to Census.
As I read this compelling report, I
thought, ''The church is partly to blame for this disaster. When was the
last time you heard a sermon on cohabitation, chastity or even marriage?
Surely, Scripture is clear: ''Flee
fornication,'' Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He elaborated in I
Thessalonians 4:3-8, which says, in part, ''Each of you should learn to
control his body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust
like the heathen who do not know God.''
Interestingly, secular studies
prove the wisdom of Scripture. A University of Maryland study found that
those who marry as virgins have much lower divorce rates than the sexually
active. Only 14 percent of those who married as virgins from 1980-1983 were
divorced by 1988, but 24 percent of the non-virgins had divorced. That is
two-thirds higher than the chaste!
Churches are also failing to offer
practical alternatives to young people. Rev. Dick Dunn, who created one of
the largest singles programs in America at Roswell (GA)United Methodist
Church, says, ''I doubt that one percent of Methodist Churches have a
A second practical alternative is
to train couples in solid, long-term marriages to offer seriously dating
couples the opportunity to take a premarital inventory, such as PREPARE or
FOCCUS, to help the couple test their strengths and areas for growth -
In our church, my wife and I have
trained Mentor Couples who have worked with 292 couples considering marriage
or preparing for it since 1992. Of that number about 50 broke apart before
the wedding but of the 230 who have married, there have been only six
divorces in eight years. This is the ''marriage insurance'' young couples
are looking for.
To see the need for such
interventions, download the Rutgers report on the web:
Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.