Teenage sexual activity and emotional health

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"Teenagers of both genders who are sexually active are substantially less likely to be happy and more likely to be depressed than are teenagers who are not sexually active. Teenagers of both genders who are sexually active are substantially more likely to attempt suicide than are teenagers who are not sexually active."

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Family/cda0304.cfm

Amazingly, it gets even worse for the standard liberal view. Apparently, there's a strong negative effect on women who have multiple sexual partners, and women are even best off if they're sexually active only within marriage.

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Family/abstinence_charts.cfm

That's really interesting. If there are problems with these studies, it would be worth knowing what they are, because this has serious implications even on the standard liberal view that sex is ok unless it's non-consensual or leads to harm.

This view is the main reason for removing taboos against homosexuality. I've been wondering how this general view is supposed to fit with the common idea that incest is unnatural and wrong (even if it's between two consenting adults), which even many people who favor gay rights legislation still believe. Many of my students have nicely demonstrated this inconsistency. I don't see how someone can admit some notion of unnaturalness (and therefore wrongness) for incest without seeing if it might also apply to homosexual sex. Some just say incest is fine, but most people don't want to say that. When Senator Rick Santorum pointed out this problem, people labeled him a gay-hater, but he was making a simple logical point.

These recent studies lead me to wonder whether there's now clear evidence (even aside from issues related to STDs, pregnancy, and abortion) that teenage sex and any old non-marital sex leads to harm. Even without the possible revisions to the liberal view (having to do with unnaturalness and incest), it seems the standard liberal view has reasons to oppose teenage sexual activity because of the significant chance of harm.

Many conservatives have basically given up on meeting liberals on their own terms in the so-called culture war over these issues, figuring that the current assumptions of the liberal mindset give no possibility of defending anything close to the conservative attitudes about sex, but that just seems to me to be wrong. See my class handout on sexual morality for some discussion and evaluation of different attempts at this line of reasoning, particularly the stuff about Vincent Punzo's existential integrity argument. These studies confirm the general direction of my earlier thoughts. None of this requires any religious or scriptural assumption.

7 Comments

Unnaturalness as wrongness is the given. But much of what was once natural here is gone. Humans inhabit a world of artifice and un-nature. The problem is harm and the assessment of harm. There would appear to be harm, in the sense of teratology, caused by incest. What's still taboo to mention is the 'line breeding' aspect, the genetic fact of incest also possibly, in some cases, cementing the dominance of desirable genes. With no proof whatsoever I submit that live-birth incest is much more common than most believe.
Reducing moral distinction to observable risks has a downside as well, though. The same that the original taboos were constructed to avoid. Unseen danger.
Trying to explain to people who thought the moon and the sun were the same size, that their chromosomes would probably though not certainly combine in such a way that their child would be deformed or stillborn, would not work.
There may be risks we aren't aware of, in homosexuality, in adultery, in the eating of

12-13-03 1:31 am

shellfish.
The problem is the institutions and and authorities who have assumed the charge of our moral guidance have shown themselves to be misguided at best, and morally bankrupt in the main.
The absurdity of mainstream religious leaders attempting to levy sexual morality on anyone would be amusing, if it wasn't so tragic.
The harsh moralists who pronounce same-sex coitus an abomination also deem the nursing breast an obscene sight.
They may be right. I'll risk my soul they're not.

12-13-03 1:32 am

Thanks for your insightful comments. You raise some interesting points. Let me take each in turn.

1. Unnaturalness as wrong: One problem with this issue is that unnaturalness is a very unclear notion. Most of the defintions people have tried to clarify turn out to show either that homosexuality isn't unnatural or that whatever kind of unnaturalness is involves has nothing to do with morality. I think this may be what you mean. For this reason, I don't think a philosophical argument has been found for both its unnaturalness and the moral wrongness of homosexual sex and/or homosexual relationships. I do think there's a notion that does ground both if it's true, and it is revealed in the Christian scriptures (with seeds of it in the Hebrew scriptures). See http://web.syr.edu/~jrpierce/ChristianityHomosexuality.doc

12-13-03 11:07 am

2. As for the harm from incest, I don't think that's going to convince most true liberals who think abortion is an absolute right and certainly have no problem with reducing the chances of pregnancy significantly through contraception. All the harm from incest through teratology requires a conception that doesn't result in an abortion. I myself think there are other even greater harms in incest, but most liberals on the issue of sex wouldn't likely agree with my reasons.

3. I agree with your point about reducing moral distinction to observable risks. I don't myself do that. I was discussing the reasoning liberal views tend to use, and the risks are the only things they often take as real reasons to say something is wrong.

12-13-03 11:09 am

4a. I would be a little more careful with your evaluation of religious leaders. For one thing, the cartoon characters we call televangelists are not the prime examples of the hard-working, loving, faithful, caring spiritual leradership that I've been fortunate to encounter.

4b. Hypocrisy is a tough subject. It's the last main sin for liberals who basically dismiss the notion of objective morality. It's a way to criticize someone who does maintain such views, and one little slip-up is enough to condemn them for life rather than focusing on track record, how often the slip-ups occur, and whether they repent and turn from that sort of behavior. Contrast this with the people who deny such morality altogether and just do whatever they feel like doing without regard to how it affects others, as the liberal view often leads people to do in the name of personal freedom (even if the view as I've been discussing it doesn't itself condone that).

12-13-03 11:10 am

4c. When Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell condemned American society after 9-11 and declared it to be a judgment of God on a wicked generation in this country, the problem with what they said was that they picked out their pet sins that they don't struggle with and then said that's the reason for God's judgment. Proper spiritual motivations would have led them to include the sins they struggle with, recognizing that if repentance is called for we all need to repent. Given all this, I don't see how the existence of these demagogues provides one shred of motivation not to consider what other, more reasonable, people have to say about the issue of sexual behavior or about religion.

12-13-03 11:11 am

5. I think the nursing breast is a beautiful sight. The naked human body is quite beautiful. That doesn't mean I want my wife going around displaying hers to the public, as she doesn’t want me doing so with mine. There are such things as modesty and privacy. Just because something is beautiful doesn't mean everyone should see it. Is the sex act beautiful? I wouldn’t want anyone seeing us engaging in something so private. Even public displays of affection might best be kept to a bare minimum, as good as such displays are. Iit's good if people can see that I love my wife and give her a quick kiss goodbye when people are around, but it just doesn't seem right to me to give her a long, passionate kiss when others are present.

12-13-03 11:13 am

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