Young men in Western societies are having less sex than previous generations. But as Christians, should this be a cause for celebration or concern? It depends on the reasons, says Graham Nicholls.
According to a report in The Daily Telegraph last week, the percentage of men aged 18-30 who have had no sexual partners has tripled in the last decade.
A Christian might consider this a cause for rejoicing, as if a new morality is emerging. However, this trend has nothing to do with a desire to honour God’s plans for sex within marriage.The present generation of young people are less likely to get drunk, which means they are more likely to make sober judgments; they are also probably better informed and possibly more respectful of the opposite sex, all of which are good things. But it seems that the main reason for this new sexual restraint is likely to be a rise in both fear and fantasy.
Fear of sex
It seems from the report that young men are increasingly afraid of sex. Caught between two conflicting cultural movements, they have apparently been left paralysed by fear. On the one hand, they are exposed to a culture that stimulates desire and encourages sexual freedom more than ever before, leading many young men to fear failure in their sexual performance when compared to unrealistic online fantasies.
On the other, growing up alongside the #MeToo movement, they are paradoxically more aware of the issues surrounding sexual violence towards women than men of any other generation. This has rightly shone a light on the unacceptability of sexually abusive behaviour towards women, and as such, has rightly increased the possibility of such behaviour being reported and exposed.
In all of this, many young men have little guidance on how to behave within a loving, real-life relationship, or what sex is actually all about. In this vacuum, interactions can end up being much more influenced by fear than respect.
The widespread prevalence of pornography in the private lives of young men with unlimited 24/7 access to the internet is well known. This provides the opportunity to replace real sexual encounters with virtual ones, in which none of the above risks seem to exist. But this is leading to other consequences. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of young men seeking out sexual performance-enhancing drugs like Viagra. What seems to have happened is that the endless pornographic fantasy to which they have become accustomed has created a disconnect from the real world of sexual intimacy. Thus, even in their years of peak virility, many are now unable to be properly aroused by such relationships.
Many young men have little guidance on how to behave within a loving, real-life relationship
As Christians, we do not mourn a reduction in promiscuity but we do want to call both men and women away from a fear about sexual performance, or the fantasy of imaginary sexual connections, towards the safe and delightful environment of sex within Christian marriage.
There is no evidence from last week’s report, or a multitude of others, that the sexual revolution has produced anything positive. In contrast, it currently appears to be creating obsessive, fearful groups of young men who are becoming increasingly isolated from human realities.
Christians should continue to be confident that God’s ways are always best. But we must also be aware of the world in which the younger generation is growing up and we must be confident enough to tell them a better narrative – one which speaks of God’s plan for sex within marriage, free from fear and fantasy, rooted in the secure love of a spouse, which is itself a picture of God’s faithful love for his people.