…Because Getting Off Is Fun
The esteemed Kyle Cupp was written a beautifully thoughtful essay in which he puzzles over the Catholic Church’s insistence that certain kinds of sex are necessarily injurious.
First he writes:
I’ve asked Catholics who write knowledgeably about human sexuality to explain to me the specific, concrete ways in which contraceptive and same-sex acts injure solidarity and otherwise wound the person, but I’ve yet to get a specific, concrete wound and causal relationship from it to the sinful sex act. The theory is repeated to me as if it were self-evidently true. Or I’m told that negative consequence are not always apparent or may take time to develop.
And then he writes:
The Church is losing ground on these issues to the wider culture, in part because the theory doesn’t hold water for a lot of people. It doesn’t correspond to their real lived experience.
This is all true and all the more poignant coming from somebody who is still a Catholic (Kyle’s still a practicing Catholic, right?). But with all due respect, there’s another good reason that the Catholic Church’s moral teachings aren’t going anywhere: getting off is fun. Like, really, really fun. And not just really, really fun, but also much, much more fun that sitting there aroused and not doing anything about it.
This is a marketing problem. On the one hand, you’ve got a 2000 year old text and some of that text’s most bureaucratic adherents and on the other you’ve got…well, you know the other things that a hand can do. Or, as the esteemed scholar Lebowski once wondered, “How are you gonna keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen Karl Hungus?”
I do understand why Cupp was writing what he did. His subtle argument – that the Catholic Church’s refusal to deliver hard evidence of its claims was undermining its position – is precisely the sort of thing that fosters an environment in which a thorough explanation of an issue can occur. He’s asking a tough question of conservative Catholics who (allegedly) toe the organization line, not of us generally. Still, I read it feeling the overwhelming urge to scream out the simplest possible explanation. Not because the ensuing conversation wouldn’t be interesting, but because it seems unproductive to me to discount the possibility that getting off is more popular than not getting off.
Which brings me to this article about the global decline in female fertility. In it, Martin Lewis boggles at the fact that we are not paying more attention to the fact that women almost everywhere are having fewer babies, a trend that the author shows started at the same time some population experts we beginning to seriously freak out about population growth. I won’t quibble with any of that because I doubt I’d describe population growth as even a passing interest of mine; it is just a thing that is happening all around me. What I will quibble with, at least briefly, is one of the author’s apparent conclusions: that broadcast television is driving the fertility rate lower.
If it is true that soap operas have played a critical role in Brazil’s spectacular fertility decline — its TFR dropped from 6.25 in 1960 to 1.81 in 2011 — the policy implications are momentous. But it will take a fundamental change in the way we talk about technology, population, and environment for this point to come across.
I’ve read through this article three times now. I’ve searched it repeatedly. I’ve tried in vain to any reference – any reference at all – to something else that might have started becoming more widely available during the 1960’s, something else that might also explain a declining fertility rate…
Hint: it’s the huge increase in the popularity and availability of contraception that both does and that does not require a man’s participation. As it turns out, many women (Michelle Duggar excluded) apparently don’t enjoy being constantly pregnant, something that’s true of both women in the United States and women almost everywhere else too. It’s really the damndest thing. Except that it isn’t the damndest thing, because pregnancy – miracle of life though it may be – is also a colossal inconvenience, whether the impact is personal, emotional, professional, or medical. And so I find myself here, as I did at the end of Cupp’s essay, wanting to shout about the more obvious explanation that doesn’t require a Rube Goldbergian series of logical leaps to arrive at.
There are reasons I don’t. In Cupp’s case, he is somebody I (barely) know, and firebombing the comments would serve no real purpose. In the television-as-reason-for-declining-fertility-author’s, I sit here baffled, wondering what it is exactly that I’ve missed. Because it isn’t just Lewis; the Washington Post’s write-up of Lewis’s article essentially says, “Hey, how about this wacky possibility?” also without ever considering the effect that contraceptive use might have.
There has to be more. It just isn’t possible that somebody examining the primary drivers of decreasing fertility would ignore contraception, right? Even a casual search of the places where television is alleged to have had the biggest influences (India and Brazil) reveals things like this, a Wikipedia entry that shows that contraceptive use in India has tripled since 1965 and this, a story about Brazil’s efforts to make contraception (even) more widely available for everyone. I have to assume that contraceptive use was accounted for, but for it go entirely unmentioned? I must be missing something.
And I should acknowledge that the actual answers in both cases might be more complicated than I’m making them out to be. For all I know, if the Catholic Church could produce actual evidence of sex’s injurious nature, people really would change their sexual behaviors, and if the televisions in across the world were turned off, the fertility rate would skyrocket. I just struggle to accept such conclusions (implied or otherwise) when such easier explanations are available.