The family is the foundation of society and the first school of virtue. The sexual revolution has been an unrelenting assault on that foundation. Can we achieve the stable families you say we need without people who make an enduring, sacrificial commitment to each other and the children they bring into the world? Research findings suggest otherwise, with negative effects on children – as you note.
Third, it’s surely possible to make a case for greater sexual restraint—even for saving sex for the relationship in which two people are committed to parenting the child who may be born—in a reasoned, thought-provoking way that doesn’t alienate. In a way that doesn’t seem like “a public obsession with sex” or a “communications disaster.” In the calm and thoughtful way that you write about hot-button issues.
When our Center addresses educating for character in the sexual domain (not our main focus but an important part of our work), we often begin with things that are likely to create common ground. For example, nearly all people feel that more should be taught to our young about the emotional dangers of premature sexual involvement—something that gets short shrift in most sex education.
Most people, liberals and conservatives alike, are also concerned about the sexualization of children. Stories that illustrate the sexual corruption of children by our hypersexualized culture move them to take stock of our sexual culture and the unanticipated fallout of the sexual revolution.
More than 10 years ago when I was writing my book, Character Matters, there were already stories in the media about young teenagers experimenting with oral sex. The New York Times ran an article titled “The Face of Teenage Sex Grows Younger,” and quoting psychotherapists counselling children, usually girls, who were emotional basket cases because of early sexual involvement. Kids can’t entirely be blamed for such behaviour. But the rest of us can be. We have created the world they have to grow up in. (See my paper, 10 Emotional Dangers of Premature Sexual Involvement.)
In a book on sex education published in 2014, a chapter I wrote with Stan Weed was the only one arguing for an
abstinence education approach. We were grateful to be invited to contribute, giving us a chance to make the case that the media and the educational establishment have got it wrong regarding what really works. Stan Weed, the first author, is the world’s leading researcher on abstinence education, having evaluated more than a hundred federally funded abstinence education programs.
I think these experiences tell you something about why, not just conservatives but all reasonable people need to fight a (civil) culture war on behalf of the truth about sex, love and the family.
By the way, I am a Catholic, but I don’t consider myself a “conservative”. My wife and I have been active in both the pro-life movement and opposition to the Vietnam and Iraq wars. We’re still registered Democrats but usually end up voting Republican because of the primacy we give to abortion. I support the Church’s teaching on the death penalty and applaud Pope Francis’ emphasis on social justice, the cry of the poor, and the vulnerability of the planet (though one can disagree on the particulars). I think the Gospel values are radical, not liberal or conservative.
Thanks for considering these thoughts, David—and for your moral voice on the critical issues of our time.
Dr. Thomas Lickona is a developmental psychologist and professor of education at the State University of New York at Cortland, where he directs the Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs (Respect and Responsibility). This article was first published at MercatorNet.