In my last post I made a comparison between speeding and promiscuous sex. Such a connection, however, leads to an obvious objection: Are not speeding laws—and by analogy moral proscriptions against promiscuity—fundamentally arbitrary? Well, no actually. Apart from a few draconian or libertine exceptions, most traffic laws are based on immutable physical principles which cannot be ignored without harm. You can try to take a hairpin turn at 100 miles per hour if you wish, but you are almost certain to crash. You can try to haul a trailer with an economy car, but you are liable to ruin both. You can try to cram 20 people into a pickup—you might even reach your destination safely—but if you do crash, a lot of people are going to die. The fact is, vehicles are built to serve specific purposes and can only safely operate within certain tolerances; to ignore this because “it’s my car and I can do what I want,” is to invite disaster, not just for ourselves but for many others as well.
The same is true of us as sexual beings. Just as certain uses of a car respect its design while others do not, certain uses of sex are appropriate to its design while others are inherently dangerous (and this is true whether the “design” in question derives from God or “the blind watchmaker,” or both). The figures given in the last post make clear that sex can go very wrong, and it is not hard to see when and why this happens. For even leaving aside the question of God’s intention for sexuality (though, if we are created beings, this question is vital), it is pretty obvious that the primary purposes of sex are procreation and pair-bonding. Though we all want to add another—pleasure—this is clearly a secondary purpose of sex that cannot legitimately be separated from the other two. Speaking evolutionarily, the pleasure of sex is meant to make us want to do it, precisely so that we will reproduce and pair-bond, for it is these two functions which ensure the survival of the species.
To seek to separate the pleasure of sex from these purposes is dangerous because it is not actually possible. Like trying to separate the thrill of speeding from the danger of car accidents and fuel costs, it is an unattainable goal which is used to excuse the risks involved. For try as we might to reduce the “risk,” pregnancy is virtually always a possibility when having sex, so to try and have it when you are not willing to accept that possibility is fundamentally irresponsible and often directly justifies abortion or abandonment. Similarly, to properly raise a child is a highly labor-intensive affair, which is trouble enough even for a loving couple, much less for one person to do alone. Nor is abortion a solution to this, for even leaving aside the moral question and (debatable) claims of psychological harm, abortion carries its own physical risks, including sterility or death. Finally, to have sex with multiple partners, even if not concurrently, opens one to the significant risk of getting and spreading STDs, which can themselves be not only painful but, at times, can lead to sterility or death.
In contrast, it is clear that permanent monogamy between two people who truly love each other and willingly embrace at least the possibility of children provides the best fit with the proper functions of sex. Monogamy almost completely eliminates the risk of STDs and ensures the most stable living situation for both the couple and any children they might have. It also teaches commitment, self-sacrifice and unconditional love, to name just a few examples. Thus, to separate sex from this context is risky at best, and at worst an invitation for disaster. Granted, not all abuses are as dangerous as others. Though “serial monogamy” is in various ways less stable and more risky than marriage, it at least maintains the connection between sex and committed relationship. Hooking up and prostitution, on the other hand, deny both primary functions of sex. If serial monogamy is like driving without a seat belt, those latter choices are comparable to driving drunk: You may get lucky and make it home in one piece, but many do not, and the life you take may not be your own.
And in point of fact, there’s no excuse for these behaviors. There are plenty of safer ways to get your thrills, and it’s simply a myth that we have some unalterable “need” for sex. I assure you, it is entirely possible to wait until marriage; I and millions of others have done so. Some people even go there who lives without sex and are not harmed by it, so there is no reason a person cannot go a few years. Don’t get me wrong, permanent abstinence is not nor should be the ideal for most people—just as cars are not made to be left in the garage—but to dismiss the risks and social consequences of casual sex because we are too impatient or want a thrill is no different than dismissing the risks of reckless driving because one’s commute is too long or the adrenaline rush too tempting.
So the next time someone suggests it’s “unreasonable” to expect people to be monogamous, why not try some safer alternative, like snow boarding, jet skiing or even sky-diving? They’ll give as much of a thrill as sex, and probably last longer as well.