« In defense of addiction | Main | "...then query whether religion has any real influence on anybody at all": Divorce, faith, and new beginnings »

September 12, 2005



I very much understand the desire to not get married, as a college educating female. Why buy the pig when all you want is a little bit of sausage ;)?

Seriously, the statistics on reversion to gender roles, the less money in careers, the shorter lifespan, and then incidences of domestic violence is quite enough to convince me that marriage is at best superflorous and at worst downright dangerous.


I have a cousin a couple years younger on my dad's side. She got her MAT this Spring, and a few months later married a young man she'd known about eighteen months (if I'm remembering right). Unfortunately, I didn't get to go, and I haven't really talked to her or my cousins on that side in several years, but according to my dad and uncles, my cousin's become quite religious over the past few years, and apparently also quite conservative. This is in sharp contrast to the rest of my dad's side of the family, who range from atheist (me) to actively involved in church (my dad), but are all quite liberal. Oh, except for my uncle with the MBA, but we're pretty sure he voted for Bush just to annoy the rest of us ;)

Anyway, my mom and I enjoyed seeing pictures of the wedding (my parents are divorced, so she didn't go either), but we were both worried about how young the couple was, and how little they've known each other. In my experience, not only do conservative churches put a lot of pressure on their members to marry and start families, and not have sex until marriage, but they also talk about sex in remarkably ecstatic language (and that word choice is deliberate). It gets described as the ultimate expression of human emotion, compared to the divine being, and on and on -- and while sex CAN be a transcendent experience, it can also be perfectly mundane fun, or self-conscious, awkward, and distancing, especially the first time.

I wonder how many conservative Christians lay back next to their high school sweethearts on their wedding night thinking 'that was it'?

I know Amanda (she of the Panda which has left) believes waiting for sex until marriage is actually morally wrong; maybe she can explain her point of view to us?


Antigone, I'd be curious to see your data on that, not doubting you, but it seems as though I've seen quite different stories from other credible sources. At a minimum, I'm pretty sure you're wrong about shorter lifespans. There was a post somewhere (crooked timber? don't recall) a month or two ago giving a picture of marriage from what is called the "happiness literature;" ie, sociologists that study distribution of happiness and what (wealth? jobs? family/marital status?) tends to effect it.

The data is a nice rejoinder to the sillyness you hear about marriage as a way of trapping men--while both men and women are, on average happier (as privately self-reported in surveys) married than not, other demographic factors held constant, the happiness boost for women is quite modest, while it's much more sizable for men.


(I'm sure you're right about more money in careers, but of course married women are less subject to poverty statistically which is not insignificant)

Lynn Gazis-Sax

I of course have no way of knowing whether your cousin is old enough to know her mind on marriage, Noumena, but I wouldn't worry about marrying after knowing each other for only eighteen months. Plenty of successful marriages follow an acquaintance of less than eighteen months. It doesn't seem like an especially hasty interval at all (of course, I married someone I'd known for slightly more than a year).

Do our All Saints kids have a sound view? Perhaps. But given that divorce statistics in the liberal churches are no "worse" than those in conservative ones, my more traditional friends will have a hard time defending the notion that "waiting" is the best guarantor of lifelong marital bliss!

Is that a given, or have you just "given" it to yourself? I've heard the overall divorce statistics are roughly the same between nominal Christians and nominal non-Christians, but I've never heard it was the same across denominations, which would be more than a little odd since some think the Biblical proscription against divorce establishes a mortal sin, while others think it was one of God's little April Fool's jokes, and most others fall somewhere in between. If divorce stats really are evenly spread among these groups, then query whether religion has any real influence on anybody at all.


It's a little frightening to think back on how many people I knew at my small Christian college who got married out of the desire to validate sex, rather than be condemned for it. A friend of mine and her fiancee described their turning point toward engagement as, "I just got tired of sending him home at night." I doubt that was all of their reasons for marrying, but it worried me that that was their top reason for becoming man and wife.


I can't imagine why any reasonable man would get married in modern North American culture. A man who marries exposes himself to all sorts of woes:

--domestic violence against him;

--false accusations of domestic violence;

--false accusations of rape;

--a substantial risk that his wife will cheat on him;

--a substantial risk that his wife will commit paternity fraud against him;

--a substantial risk that his wife will divorce him and...

**extract alimony from him;

**rip his children out of his life, with the approval of the state; and

**extract 'child support' (aka a tax-free, post-divorce transfer of wealth) from him.

She'll do all of this with complete impunity and the blessing of the state. No thanks.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Divorce statistics aren't the same across all denominations, but they also aren't consistently lower for denominations which, in theory, condemn divorce worse. Specifically, Baptists and Christians who identify as born again are more likely to experience a divorce than are mainstream Protestants, while Catholics have a relatively low divorce rate. If divorce rates were consistent with how strongly denominations condemned divorce, mainstream Protestants ought to have the highest divorce rate.

I believe Catholics do more in the way of premarital counseling than Baptists do; perhaps actually counseling couples about their impending marriage is a better way for churches to reduce the likelihood of divorce than is simply saying that divorce is bad.

All these divorce stats are from a survey conducted by the Barna Research Group in Ventura, California.

I'm not aware of any survey which has tracked the effect of premarital sex on the likelihood of divorce, and such indirect evidence as I know of is inconsistent. Sexual liberals point to the high divorce rate in the Bible belt as a sign that condemning premarital sex leads people to marry in haste, while sexual conservatives point to research showing a higher divorce rate among couples that have cohabitated before getting married.

If divorce rates were consistent with how strongly denominations condemned divorce, mainstream Protestants ought to have the highest divorce rate.

How do you figure? Catholics condemn divorce as strongly as anybody. I'd be interested in knowing how that survey defined Baptist; IIRC the term is used by roughly 200 sects that have nothing to do with each other. One of them is Fred Phelp's infamous "God Hates Fags" church, Westboro Baptist, which I'll not link here. Another, Landover Baptist, is a parody.


I never did understand why anyone advocated the "no sex before marriage will allow you to trick/coerce some poor guy into marrying you" as a good thing. I don't want to be married to anyone who only married me because it was the only way he could get laid. What a very depressing way of looking at relationships.
I'm not surprised that religious folks get divorced at the same rate as everyone else, nor that the stats break down the way Lynn outlines. In fact, I'd surprised if churches that encourage early marriage didn't end up with high divorce rates unless divorce was illegal.
I share Amanda's view that waiting until marriage to have sex is, if not actually morally wrong, at least unwise. What if you wait and end up married to someone with whom you are not sexually compatible? Think of all the misery that could cause. What if you build up the idea of sex on your wedding night into this magical, mystical thing, and then find that it's fumbling and awkward like most first-time sex is? What will that do to the way you see your spouse? What if someone is kidding themselves that they're straight and, never having had sex, are able to continue denying their true orientation right up till the time that actually try to have sex with an opposite-sex partner and realise that yep, they really are gay? I've actually known a few people who've tried hard to convince themselves that they're not really gay, right up till they tried to have hetero sex and found the experience quite horrifying...if the person experienced that particular revelation on their wedding night, imagine the fallout both for them and for their spouse...
So, I think that not having sex before marriage is unwise to say the least. There are too many scenarios in which doing so could lead to problems later. You could built a decent case for why it is in fact more ethical to have sex first to spare both yourself and your partner some of the problems that might arise from having "waited" until marriage.


MRAboy, nothing in your list is particular to married men: half the items are 'risks' married women are taking, too, and single men are just as capable of inadvertently fathering a child as married men.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

How do you figure? Catholics condemn divorce as strongly as anybody.

I figure because a large chunk of Baptists are Southern Baptists, and Southern Baptists, in theory, condemn divorce more than mainstream Protestants. Now, the fact that Catholics, who do indeed condemn divorce as strongly as anybody, have a relatively low divorce rate shows, IMHO, that religion can have an influence, but it needs to not just set out what's bad, but rather provide practical support for reaching its ideals (e.g. the pre-Cana stuff that the Catholic Church encourages). I'll go further out on a limb and say that, even though I disagree with some of the Catholic Church's advice on marriage (the part about never using birth control), and even though its counsel is likely to be offered by never married priests, just having serious conversation about marriage with someone who isn't merely cheerleading the wedding is probably a good thing. But this part is just my opinion; the survey doesn't say anything about what sort of premarital counseling the various denominations provide.

I'd be interested in knowing how that survey defined Baptist; IIRC the term is used by roughly 200 sects that have nothing to do with each other.

I believe it includes everyone who self-identifies as Baptist, and does indeed include sects that have nothing to do with each other. Here's the site of the group that did the survey: http://www.barna.org/. They do a lot of surveys of the relationship between religious belief and various things. Here's their page on denominations: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=16.

The Barna Group, which appears to be coming from an evangelical Protestant perspective, also classified Christians as "born again" or "notional" based on answers to two questions: "have you ever made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today?" and, if the answer was yes, "when I die, I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior." "Born again" Christianity had no effect on whether you were likely to get divorced (of course, the "born again" language is language Catholics aren't likely to use, and so "notional Christians" could include devout Catholics).

It also strikes me that there are a fair number of people who hold religiously conservative beliefs without really being well linked into any particular church. People did not have to actually attend the church they identified with particularly frequently to be classed in that denomination. The Barna Group does also survey church attendance (45% of the adult population on any given weekend, about equal about Protestants and Catholics, higher among women, blacks, older adults, and in the Bible Belt).

Mr. Bad

Well, finally a topic that piques my interest.

First off, way to go Antigone - nice job setting a respectful, civil tone for the discussion.

Hugo wrote: "It also ignores what I think is the real reason for falling marriage rates: not sex, but economics. As more and more middle-class women become financially independent, more and more of us of both sexes can choose to be "picky" about whom we marry. We can make it on our own in a way that earlier generations could not; that means that marriages are more likely to be reflect our romantic and spiritual choices than our need and our dependence. On the whole, I tend to think that's a good thing for both men and women."

Hugo, I think you're correct here re. economics playing a key role in being selective about not only whom we marry, but as MRAboy correctly points out, the prospect of marriage for men in general. And while Noumena points out that some of the things MRAboy lists are possible risks that women take when marrying, the sad reality is that for those risks that women share with men (i.e., DV, false accusations of DV, divorce, alimony/child support, and loss of children) the numbers clearly show that the odds are decidedly against men and in favor of women should the legal "justice" system get involved. Throw in the fact that it's ridiculously easy to get the legal system involved (i.e., no-fault divorce) and the scenario gets really ugly. Therefore men see the "marriage contract" as little more than an unenforcable sham for men, enforceable only for women who enjoy the full aid and support of the state, and thus from the perspective of many men, not worth the paper that it's written on.

Insulting remarks about "cow/milk" or "pig/sausage" aside, the sentiment that Antigone expresses is one commonly found in men, however, the numbers show that on balance the prospects for our female friends ending up on the losing end are far less than for men, so to me men's case is stronger. Thus, what it ultimately boils down to for many men is a simple, rational aversion to being screwed. It's based on a simple risk analysis, and for men the risks of getting screwed by Cupcake and the legal/social system that backs her far outweigh the benefits of marriage. Many guys see it as much safer, cheaper, and thus making more sense to skip the kids and hire hookers and maids rather than get married. And frankly, in this PC environment I can't blame them.

This also plays into another common myth, the old "men are afraid of commitment" canard. I have two things to say on that topic: First, that given the above, can you really blame men for being extra cautious about signing on to the unenforceable "marriage contract?" And two, what's so irresponsible about being cautious and not diving willy-nilly into such a serious commitment? Given that women initiate the solid majority of divorces, and mostly not for reasons of adultery, DV, etc., but rather for weak reasons like "he doesn't appreciate me," "I want a new life," etc. (see "'These boots are made for walking': why most divorce filers are women," MF Brinig, DW Allen - American Law and Economics Association, 2000), it seems to me that a case could be made that it is men who take their marriage commitments more seriously than women do.

Ok, flame away.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

I share Amanda's view that waiting until marriage to have sex is, if not actually morally wrong, at least unwise. What if you wait and end up married to someone with whom you are not sexually compatible?

I question the "be sure you have sex before you get married so you know whether you're compatible" argument, actually.

a) Something bothers me, personally, about "sex as an audition." It sounds cold, as if I were to run a credit check on a guy before I went on a date with him.

b) You don't know that you will be sexually compatible for life, just because you had sex before marriage. Many, many people are well matched in their sex drives during the first flush of infatuation, but very ill matched in their sex drives later on. That's because lots of people only have a really high sex drive in the early stage of a relationship. Also, after marriage you encounter illness, aging, small kids, etc. There's a really good chance that you have to work at sexual compatibility, whether you had sex before marriage or not.

c) In real life, most people who waited till marriage before having intercourse were at least passionately kissing each other and doing some level of making out beforehand. So, they probably do know whether they turn each other on.

What if you build up the idea of sex on your wedding night into this magical, mystical thing, and then find that it's fumbling and awkward like most first-time sex is?

That, in fact, is what worries me about some of the "wait till marriage" preaching. Not that waiting till marriage is bad, but that building up how much more wonderful your wedding night will be if you're a virgin is the wrong way to encourage people to wait till marriage; it sets unreasonable expectations.


Let me be clear, Lynn, that this post is NOT about encouraging "auditions" or "test drives." That's a very simplistic understanding of sex, for the reasons you give. Compatibility does fluctuate wildly over the course of a long relationship, after all. Rather, I'm making the reverse argument: Don't get married just because you'll finally get to have licit sex, and don't assume that those who are having pre-marital sex are somehow ruining their chances for happy and fulfilling and lasting marriages.


How much of the lower rate of divorce among Catholics is accounted for by divorced and remarried people leaving a church that will not acknowledge them or give them Communion? If raised-Catholic "failures" (divorced) are counted as practicing non-denominationals or Presbyterians or whatever at the time of survey?


Sex as an "audition" might be useful for the virgins who haven't much heterosexual sex drive, possibly because those virgins are gay but don't want to confront it.


Nancy, that certainly includes me; if I were surveyed today, I'd identify as an Episcopalian AND a "born-again." What I probably wouldn't say is that my first marriage was in a Catholic Church, and I left Holy Mother Church after that divorce over, among other things, the issue of remarriage. I think you're spot on.

Mr. Bad

Lynn, you make some great points - good show!

Hugo, I'm glad that you're not advocating the "audition" approach to sex before marriage. To me, Amanda's approach is at best shallow, cynical and irresponsible, and for reasons that Lynn points out, probably futile anyway.

Nancy P., I hadn't thought of the sex as audition for homosexuals, but why would GLBTQ status make any difference in this context? Certainly "questioning" (the "Q" in GLBTQ) people aren't all that different from others, are they? And yeah, I know a number of divorced Catholocs who for all practical purposes ceased to exist as far as the Church is concerned once the legal paperwork went through, so I doubt that they'd be counted in official statistics. Convenient use of investigator bias to skew the data, don't you think?


Bravo, Hugo! Another thoughtful and cogent post on a thorny topic -- no less than I would expect to find here, naturally, but a pleasure nonetheless.

Your point that Americans haven't always punished premarital sex is an excellent one, and puts me in mind of my friend Hanne's forthcoming book, a history of virginity. I wonder whether it might prove useful to you in your teaching? It's forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2006; let me know if you want me to dig up info on it.


I've yet to see any of the "marriage is such a bad deal for men" crew do either of the following two things: a) demonstrate that their view that men are increasingly avoiding marriage is an actual social trend, and not just something a few disgruntled associates of theirs go on about; b) come up with an explanation that married men recieve a much greater "happiness boost" than married women do.


I'd be very interested, Rachel!

Mr. Bad

djw said: "I've yet to see any of the "marriage is such a bad deal for men" crew do either of the following two things: a) demonstrate that their view that men are increasingly avoiding marriage is an actual social trend, and not just something a few disgruntled associates of theirs go on about; b) come up with an explanation that married men recieve a much greater "happiness boost" than married women do."

The British and Australian press have written on the declining rates of men marrying, so I recommend that you look to those sources for proof of that very real social trend. As for the disparity in the "happiness boost" between men and women vis-a-vis marriage, IMO it's likely due to differences in what it takes to make men and women happy. For example, for a guy to be happy all it might take is a six-pack and a TV, while for women, a yacht, mansion and hundreds of pairs of shoes might not even be enough. IMO from personal experience the stereotype that women are "high maintenance" relative to men is likely based in fact.

A wise man once noted "Women don't know what they want, they just know that they want."


I'd like to see that, too, djw. For the purposes of addressing Mr. Bad's arguments, I'll assume here that men are, in fact, avoiding marriage; but I don't believe that for a minute.

Mr. Bad, my point wasn't that some of the things on the original list weren't limited to men; rather, they're risks to EVERYONE in a (straight) relationship, male or female, married or not. The sudden manifestation of an abusive personality in one's partner, or an accidental pregnancy, can happen to anyone. It's not like only husbands are abusive, or only husbands have to worry about an unexpected child. The list only works to explain differences in behavior, in terms of risk aversion, if it adequately presents risks which threaten men more.

Now, it's true that, after a divorce, a man will most likely have to make child support payments, and no longer be the legal guardian of their children, while women are in the opposite boat. But this isn't due to some gender bias in the custody laws; rather, the motivation is that the primary caregiver before the divorce remain the primary caregiver after divorce. Some states do make the sexist assumption that the primary caregiver is automatically the mother, and I think MRAs are right to oppose this. But that doesn't mean the underlying principle itself is misandrist. Legally avoiding child support payments and alimony is actually quite straightforward, under this principle: be a stay-at-home dad.

Perhaps your argument really isn't meant to compare the genders directly. Maybe you want to say that men might want to avoid marriage because the cost, financially and emotionally, is so high, should it end in divorce: they would have made so much money every year if they'd stayed single, but now they have to make child support payments and pay alimony and whatnot. But, if this is what you're saying, then women have a still better case for avoiding marriage, and children in particular, like the plague: they bear the brunt of financial and opportunity costs of having children, even today, as has been well-documented. (See, for instance, Ann Crittenden's Price of Motherhood.)

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004