Sex and the Polis: Perspectives on Marriage, Family, and Sexual Ethics

America has a problem with sex. And no, it’s not that we aren’t having enough, and we’re rarely afraid to bring up the subject in polite society.

In fact, it’s the opposite. We live in a highly oversexualized society, and the results are not pleasing. A quick glance at our culture demonstrates as much: climbing instances of sexual assault on college campuses, sky-high illegitimacy rates (highest ever, up from 5.3% in 1960 to 40.8% in 2010), botched (and illegal) late-term abortions, and countless other statistics all converge to form the perfect storm of sexual decadence, irresponsibility, immorality, and violence. And amidst all of that, our birth is barely keeping up with our death rate. It’s hard to separate this disquieting evidence from America’s obsession with sex.

Our culture’s understanding of sexual ethics is largely defined by a seismic shift in the modern conception of marriage and family. This includes a rising tendency to delay marriage and children until later in life (or not have children at all, as evidenced by our lowest-ever birthrates); an acceptance and even expectation of pornography as an appropriate means of sexual gratification outside and inside of marriage; an equal expectation that all “normal” young adults will engage in pre-marital sex; openness to homosexuality and gay marriage; and a secular, non-sacramental definition of marriage and reproduction. All of these trends are byproducts of the modern preoccupation with personal liberation, the freedom and power of the individual will, and the Epicurean pursuit of personal gratification over duty and responsibility.

Yet most teachers, school administrators, students, health “experts,” pundits, and even parents fail to see what effect sexual standards have on our culture and behavior, or the vast array of costly social problems caused by this breakdown. The collapse of order in our personal lives, in turn, creates pathologies that the government rushes in to remedy—from offering daycare and pre-K for children born out of wedlock, to mandating vaccination against sexually transmitted diseases for girls as young as nine. Smart libertarians ought to pay attention to the many ways that libertinism encourages the breakneck growth of the state.

Our mission in this IntercollegiateReview.com symposium is to better understand what effect these cultural trends in sexual ethics have on relationships, families, and the pursuit of the common good. Our contributors will include Ryan T. Anderson, co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Mary Eberstadt, author of Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, pro-life filmmaker Jason Jones, J. Budziszewski, author of On the Meaning of Sex, Christopher Damian, a graduate student at the University of St. Thomas and contributor to the online magazine, SpiritualFriendship.org, John Zmirak, author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism, and Michael Bradley, student at Notre Dame University, editor-in-chief for the Irish Rover, and managing editor of Ethika Politika.

Read new contributions each Monday.

Ryan T. AndersonThe Social Costs of Abandoning the Meaning of Marriage

John Zmirak, Legalize Christian Marriage, Too

J. Budziszewski, Why Hooking Up Is Letting You Down

Michael Bradley, Can Pornography Teach Us About Love?

Jason Jones, I Lost My Daughter to the Culture of Death

Chris Damian, Defining Marriage Isn’t Defending Marriage

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