This morning I learned from a friend of mine about the great cover-up involving the National Survey of Adolescents and Their Parents: Attitudes and Opinions about Sex and Abstinence, a report prepared in 2009 for a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. So with my curiosity then aroused, I read it. One thing that really stood out to me was one view consistently expressed by both the surveyed adolescents and their parents, across religious service attendance, income levels, race/ethnic groups, and both genders: Of the reasons chosen for when it was okay to have un-wed sexual relations, “Having sex okay if plan to marry” came out strong.
This came as no surprise to me. That’s been a popular view in America since the Puritans landed. From ancient times to today, the line between “not married” and “married” has been blurred by different ideas about what the courtship or betrothal period involves. But unlike the Puritan girls, an American girl today can forget about using the strong arm of the law to force the father of her child into marriage. And while pregnancy naturally led to weddings during our grandparents’ generation, the current one seems to feel less socially obligated to do so. It’s not that the past didn’t have the tragic ending of the deflowered girl abandoned for someone prettier or wealthier. It’s that everyone would’ve agreed that her boyfriend was a cad.
But times have changed. A young woman, convinced that she’s going to marry a particular young man, or perhaps promised marriage, still agrees to sleep with him. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she still expects him to marry her. That’s just how things are done. However, today, the ending often isn’t marriage; it’s abandonment. And no one sympathizes with her. Instead she’s criticized for giving up her virginity before obtaining a legally-binding marriage. Forget the fact that she gave it up under the most socially-accepted terms. Forget the fact that human society has flourished for thousands of years with shot-gun (sling-shot?) weddings. She and the baby go at life alone, until the next boyfriend appears.
The problem is a lot like the one popularized by the relationship self-help book He’s Just Not That Into You: Girls need to stop and realize that they’re not the exception. Children don’t guarantee commitment. Drastic measures are needed, like the one the name of the fast-growing movement No Wedding No Womb clearly suggests. While I remain optimistic about the situation, I do recognize that the “baby daddy” mentality won’t disappear overnight. We just need to find successful ways of attacking it. Really, where’s the Spanish Inquisition, enforcing flippant promises of marriage, when we need it?