[Paleopsych] NYT: Brooks: Public Hedonism and Private Restraint

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Public Hedonism and Private Restraint
Opinion column by David Brooks, The New York Times, 5.4.17


    You see the febrile young teens in their skintight spaghetti strap
    tank tops with their acres of exposed pelvic skin. You hear 50 Cent's
    ode to oral sex, "Candy Shop," throbbing from their iPods. You open
    the college newspapers and see the bawdy sex columns; at William and
    Mary last week I read a playful discussion of how to fondle testicles
    and find G spots.

    You could get the impression that America's young people are leading
    lives of Caligulan hedonism. You could give credence to all those
    parental scare stories about oral sex parties at bar mitzvahs and
    junior high school dances. You could worry about hookups, friends with
    benefits, and the rampant spread of casual, transactional sexuality.

    But it turns out you'd be wrong.

    The fact is, sex is more explicit everywhere - on "Desperate
    Housewives," on booty-quaking music videos, on the Internet - except
    in real life. As the entertainment media have become more
    sex-saturated, American teenagers have become more sexually

    Teenage pregnancy rates have declined by about a third over the past
    15 years. Teenage birth and abortion rates have dropped just as much.

    Young people are waiting longer to have sex. The percentage of
    15-year-olds who have had sex has dropped significantly. Among
    13-year-olds, the percentage has dropped even more.

    They are also having fewer partners. The number of high schoolers who
    even report having four or more sexual partners during their lives has
    declined by about a quarter. Half of all high school boys now say they
    are virgins, up from 39 percent in 1990.

    Reports of an epidemic of teenage oral sex are also greatly
    exaggerated. There's very little evidence to suggest it is really
    happening. Meanwhile, teenagers' own attitudes about sex are turning
    more conservative. There's been a distinct rise in the number of
    teenagers who think casual sex is wrong. There's been an increase in
    the share of kids who think teenagers should wait until adulthood
    before getting skin to skin.

    When you actually look at the intimate life of America's youth, you
    find this heterodoxical pattern: people can seem raunchy on the
    surface but are wholesome within. There are Ivy League sex columnists
    who don't want anybody to think they are loose. There are foul-mouthed
    Maxim readers terrified they will someday divorce, like their parents.
    Eminem hardly seems like a paragon of traditional morality, but what
    he's really angry about is that he comes from a broken home, and what
    he longs for is enough suburban bliss to raise his daughter.

    In other words, American pop culture may look trashy, but America's
    social fabric is in the middle of an amazing moment of improvement and

    The first lesson in all this is we shouldn't overestimate the
    importance of the media. People like 50 Cent may produce hit after
    pornographic hit, but that doesn't mean his fans want to lead the
    lives he raps about. It's make-believe.

    What matters is reality. The reality is that we have a generation of
    kids who have seen the ravages of divorce, who are more likely to
    respect and listen to their parents and their ministers, who are
    worried about sexually transmitted diseases and who don't want to mess
    up their careers.

    Second, it's becoming clear that we are seeing the denouement of one
    of the longest and increasingly boring plays on Broadway, the culture

    Since the 1830's, we've witnessed the same struggle. One camp poses as
    the party of responsibility, lamenting the decadence of culture and
    the loss of traditional morality. The other side poses as the army of
    liberation, lamenting Puritanism, repression and the menace of the
    religious right.

    No doubt some people will continue these stale kabuki battles on into
    their graves: the 50's against the 60's, the same trumped-up outrage,
    the same self-congratulatory righteousness, the same
    fund-raising-friendly arguments again and again.

    But today's young people appear not to have taken a side in this war;
    they've just left it behind. For them, the personal is not political.
    Sex isn't a battleground in a clash of moralities.

    They seem happy with the frankness of the left and the wholesomeness
    of the right. You may not like the growing influence of religion in
    public life, but the lives of young people have improved. You may not
    like the growing acceptance of homosexuality, but as it has happened
    heterosexual families have grown healthier.

    Just lie back and enjoy the optimism.

    E-mail: [2]dabrooks at nytimes.com


    1. http://www.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/columnists/davidbrooks/index.html?inline=nyt-per
    2. mailto:dabrooks at nytimes.com

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