UPDATED: Doggedly Raising the Contraceptive Point
Frankly, the comments to my post on contraception were about what I expected. The Pill, condoms, and their less common company are secular sacraments, and people are very reluctant to place them on the table for skeptical scrutiny. (It might… or might not… go too far to imply an underlying sense of prickliness about their insinuation of naughty behavior.) One comment I’d like to highlight, though, comes from Dan:
I think not having three kids by the time I got out of school has worked out pretty favorably for me. A girl in my high school class did things the old fashioned way and is now a mother of three who works at a local Stop and Shop (along with significant government aid). I suppose for the 10% or so of young adults who can, voluntarily or involuntarily, plausibly commit to total abstinence until marriage it works out alright.
The first thing to say is that it’s a little peculiar for a libertarian principalist to argue such things from anecdote. If that’s the standard, I’ll see Dan’s “girl from high school” and raise him dozens of men and women with whom I’ve been acquainted, during my adult life, who’ve spent their lives childless and still wind up menially employed and in need of assistance. If readers wish to head in such a direction, we could take up the question of whether effective self-sterilization leads to perpetual adolescence among people who never face parental responsibility.
The larger point comes with the second thing I’d say in response to Dan. He’s reluctant to accept the notion that modern contraception bifurcated the “mating market” into distinct “sex” and “marriage” markets, but it doesn’t contradict the argument to ignore it. Indeed, his rejoinder is fully in keeping with the analysis that I cited by Timothy Reichert, who notes (for example) that two-income couples have decreased the value of labor and increased the cost of such essentials as homes. Reichert summarizes this aspect of his argument as follows:
By now, it should be clear to the reader that, in my view, contraception is, contrary to the rhetoric of the sexual revolution, deeply sexist in nature. Contraception has resulted in an enormous redistribution of welfare from women to men, as well as an intertemporal redistribution of welfare from a typical woman’s later, childrearing years to her earlier years.
In other words, the benefit that Dan has derived has arguably come at a cost to young families — with an emphasis on women and children. In my earlier post, I suggested that the loosening of young women’s inhibitions has overall been to the benefit of men. Dan’s reply, as a young professional male, is that he’s enjoyed that benefit quite a bit. Well, fine.
It’s interesting, in this context, to introduce a recent study of teens’ attitudes toward sex. I note, in passing, that contrary to Dan’s 10% number, a majority of the teens reported having not had sex. As the full report (PDF) makes clear, teen sex has actually been decreasing. Unfortunately, there’s a dark lining to the study:
It found that most teenagers do not frown on having children outside of marriage, however.
“The majority of teens — 64 percent of males and 71 percent of females — ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that ‘it is okay for an unmarried female to have a child’,” the report reads.
I offer the hypothesis that the bifurcation of the “mating market,” following the contraceptive revolution, was among the factors that placed our society on a path away from the “marriage market,” perhaps suggesting that the “sex market” will ultimately replace the “mating market.” With the commonplace declarations that pregnancy and childbirth are ultimately the woman’s choice and the market dynamics described by Reichert, men have been moving away from the sense of responsibility for their offspring, which is not an option for women, who have nonetheless had incentive to begin behaving, culturally and sexually, more like men.
As I began this post by implying, something strange happens when one raises this topic — or any topic having to do with the behavioral revolutions of the past half-century. It’s as if we all become teenagers defending our habitual misbehavior.
To clarify what I’d thought was clear: I’m not suggesting that we could or should put the contraceptive cat back in the bag. There are circumstances in which they’re necessary, and truth be told, I wouldn’t restrict their usage by adults were I able to conform the law entirely to my liking. (Although, I would still argue that the residents of individual states should have that authority, acting democratically.)
But the fact that something is — on the whole — good, neutral, or just not worth repealing does not mean that it is beyond reproach, just as the fact that something has harmful effects does not mean that we must attempt to rip it out of the law and culture in its entirety. Rather, by openly discussing problems, we can make the slow cultural adjustments that conservatives tend to prefer on such matters.