I wonder if young American adults can fill in the other part of the saying from which I’ve drawn the title of this post: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Such is the age-old wisdom imparted to young women to advise against promiscuity.
Over the last half-century or so, the importance of such advice has been obscured by technology and cultural changes. Reliable and readily available birth control made long-term commitments seem less necessary, and the fermentation of feminism promoted the notion that women don’t really need men (particularly husbands). We lost some of the clarity about where people should wind up, relationshipwise, as well as the incentive to get there quickly.
Of course, another old saying tells us that it takes two to tango — in this case, tango instead of waltz. By biological and spiritual imperative, men and women are (for the most part) drawn toward each other. Reducing women’s incentive to hold out for committed arrangements, brought men along, as well. As Mark Regnerus writes in a recent Wall Street Journal essay:
For American men, sex has become rather cheap. As compared to the past, many women today expect little in return for sex, in terms of time, attention, commitment or fidelity. Men, in turn, do not feel compelled to supply these goods as they once did. It is the new sexual norm for Americans, men and women alike, of every age.
Conspicuously, “empowering women” has had the effect of freeing men. Regnerus opens with this charming insight from a pseudonymous twentysomething, Kevin:
“Girls are easier to mislead than guys just by lying or just not really caring. If you know what girls want, then you know you should not give that to them until the proper time. If you do that strategically, then you can really have anything you want…whether it’s a relationship, sex, or whatever. You have the control.”
Now, without knowing Kevin, we would err in believing that he’s as successful as he makes it sound, but his sense of control is telling. Broadly speaking, the formation of intimate relationships used to be a sort of negotiation. Increasingly, it appears to be an exchange of used trinkets, and if trinkets are what a guy like Kevin wants, he’ll feel he got the better of the deal.
Birth control may have made this state of affairs more plausible, but the illness is ultimately cultural.