Wednesday, September 20, 2023

"Body Count": the sexual revolution and the decay in meaningful relationships


I recently read an article in The Atlantic titled "Nobody Should Care About a Woman’s ‘Body Count’".  The original is paywalled, but a non-paywalled version may be found here.  I'm not going to excerpt it here, but I recommend reading it for yourself if the subject interests you.  Basically, the author is arguing that it doesn't matter how many sexual partners a woman has had, and it shouldn't affect her as far as desirability is concerned.

I'd argue that it does, indeed, matter:  and that it also matters as far as men are concerned.  Admittedly, my viewpoint is conditioned by my Christian faith and having many years' experience as a pastor in dealing with relationships, good and bad.  I will add that it wasn't always that way.  In my younger days, I had relationships that I now regret, that were more "what can I get out of it?" rather than "what can I put into it?".  I fear many of us can say the same.  I wish we could have greater wisdom when we were young . . . it would avoid a lot of the damage we do to ourselves, and others, in those "salad days, when we were green in judgment".  Unfortunately, life's not like that.

The huge damage inflicted on meaningful relationships by the "hookup culture" is that it's taken what is (or should be) the most important bonding experience a couple can share, and turned it into a cheap commodity, a voyeur's pornographic fulfilment, a search for new toys to give a more "profound" physical experience.  For centuries - indeed, millennia - the sexual relationship was considered the physical expression of an existing spiritual and societal bond or "contract".  Whether in a romantic relationship or an arranged one, the contract of marriage was supposed to precede the act of marriage (i.e. sex).  Admittedly, this was often honored more in the breach than in the observance, but the theory nevertheless held sway, and governed human society for a very, very long time, no matter what culture or nationality or religion was involved.  The sexual revolution stood that theory on its head.  Sex was no longer a means of expressing that pre-existing bond.  Instead, it became divorced from the bond, becoming no more than a casual encounter that might, or might not, lead to something more intimate in the mental and spiritual sense.

I think the general acceptance of that divorce, and the "commoditization" of sex, have caused immense damage to human relationships.  It's long been said that a woman can't give herself sexually to a man without inevitably committing a part of her personality, her very being, in the exchange.  I know modern psychologists and anthropologists decry this, but in my pastoral experience, I'd say there's a lot of truth in that old saw.  I think women do, inevitably, commit a lot more of themselves when things get physical than men do.  After all, the woman is letting someone else enter her.  She's involved in an act that, absent external chemical or other intervention, is supposed to open the way to new life growing within her.  In other words, the creative aspect of sex is something intrinsic to her reaction and response.  It can't be otherwise, because only she can bear a child.  Men can participate in the initial act, but they don't face the prospect of carrying another living human being inside them for nine months.  Inevitably, for them, sex is more physical, less mental and spiritual, less bound-up in creation and more in recreation.

I've been struck by the number of women who've expressed regret to me about having had too many casual sexual encounters in their younger days.  It's far from infrequent.  They speak of having "wasted intimacy on those who didn't deserve it", or "gone along to get along", or submitted to the "if it feels good, do it" zeitgeist.  Now, in later life, they wish they hadn't, and feel that the intimacy they've achieved with a long-term partner just isn't the same as if they'd been less experienced and more committed.  They've seldom linked that to the creative aspect of sex from a woman's perspective, but I think that relationship can be demonstrated - at least to my satisfaction.  Others may differ, of course.

Even men, if they're honest, will agree that there's a vast difference between "having sex" and "making love".  The former can be impartial, almost agnostic, a mere exchange of bodily fluids, sometimes a commercial transaction rather than a human interaction.  The latter is a giving of self combined with a receiving of the gift of self from another, an exchange, a sharing, a duality.  I had a conversation once with a woman who was far more sexually "liberated" than I was.  She challenged me to describe how making love to my wife was any different from making love to any woman.  I thought for a moment, then answered that I wouldn't be "making love" with someone I didn't actually love.  The physical act of sex, under those conditions, would not be "love-making" at all.  On the other hand, making love with the woman I love was like coming home.  I belonged there.  When she welcomed me into her body, she welcomed me into her soul as well, and renewed her presence in mine at the same time.  The other woman thought for a long, long moment in silence, and then said, with tears in her eyes, "I've never known anything like that... but now I wish I did."

The tragedy is that the more we devalue sex, the more we make it merely another physical transaction instead of something soul-deep, the less it can be a pathway to that level of intimacy.  I've worked with couples where one or both partners had previously had literally hundreds of sexual encounters with others before they married.  Almost universally, I found that their own physical relationship lacked any aspect or feeling of union, of becoming one spiritually and mentally as well as physically.  It was effectively no more than mutual masturbation, because they had reduced sex to that level before they met each other.  They no longer were able to give themselves in the act of marriage, because it was no longer the act of marriage at all.  It was just another thing, something to do to pass the time or feel good before tackling other, more important things.  Other couples who'd had dozens, rather than hundreds, of prior sexual relationships experienced something of the same difficulty, although to a lesser extent than those who'd "burned out" their sexuality by going to extremes.  As a rule of thumb, I found that couples who'd had few romantic and (particularly) physical relationships before marriage found their marital bond (including the physical) much more meaningful and fulfilling than others who'd been more "experienced" ("jaded" or "burned-out" might be better terms).

Notice that I haven't brought God or religion into this at all.  These appear to be human actions and reactions regardless of faith.  When a couple has religious beliefs as well, the latter appear to reinforce and strengthen and elevate their bond to a whole new level, and I'm profoundly grateful to have been able to help some of them achieve that.  However, even in the absence of faith, the basic make-up of the human psyche appears to be consistent.  Abuse intimacy, and one can no longer experience it to its fullest extent.  At its worst, one may no longer be able to experience it at all.  The number of sexual partners one has had - whether one is male or female - is therefore, in my experience, a significant indicator of the likelihood - or otherwise - of potential or actual problems in a subsequent permanent relationship.

I know my views will be controversial, particularly to those with a more liberated perspective.  Therefore, I invite readers to contribute their thoughts in Comments.  I think we might all benefit from a wider discussion of this issue.



Rev. Paul said...

You have expressed my thoughts on the subject, and more eloquently than I have done. Well said, sir. One additional thought: those who have cheated on their spouse have inevitably found that the experience degraded their subsequent marital sexual union, and left both disappointment and regret in its wake.

Anonymous said...

The author writing an article on how body count doesn't matter is merely trying to excuse her own poor choices. She is trying to undo an adulthood full of poor choices by trying to convince men that past poor behavior is no indicator of present or future poor behavior.
Life partners deserve better.

Steve Sky said...

I read a very good article and it's been good enough I've kept it and referred back to it many times.

There was one paragraph that I felt applied to high-N women:
There is another factor which is that these women have essentially conditioned their minds to see their sexuality as something they barter with. Sex and sexuality is something they use to “trade” for something else. I don’t think they can turn that attitude off when it comes to a relationship.

and as a result, you'll never be able to bond with one.

Anonymous said...

This is quite the hot topic in the manosphere area of the interwebs.The general consensus is that high body count women damage their ability to bond with a single man. This is claimed to be a cause of the very out of balance ratio of women filing for divorce, eighty percent over all. It is said that women tend to confuse this willingness of the top ten percent of men to have sex with them compared to their willingness to commit. This leads to such women's unrealistic sense of value in the sexual market place leading a lonely life.It's almost as if the later wave feminists set out to make women as unhappy as possibkle

Anonymous said...

Night watch at a post that only required I stay awake. Picked up a cheap action-adventure book that was there and started reading it. At one point the main character muses that there is nothing more life affirming for a man than being able to look into the eyes of a good woman moved by honest passion. The hook-up culture is ruining that option.

Anonymous said...

Marital relations are like sticky tape; if you sticky too much it loses it's stickiness. This goes for men as well. Christianity does not permit men to be sluts either; stay a virgin until marriage then married forever is for men and women as the goal.

Dad29 said...

I think the general acceptance of that divorce, and the "commoditization" of sex, have caused immense damage to human relationships.

All good--except you forgot artificial birth control.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent article. Thank you for saying things that matter!

I have been pondering how we move our culture back to an understanding of vitally important ideas like this. It seems that people reject a lot out-of-hand, often with something like "Don't preach to me!", never thinking that, as you point out in the next-to-last paragraph, "...these appear to be human actions and reactions regardless of faith." All I have come up with is to be willing to speak up every time the subjects come up. You might get yelled or sneered at now and again, but that really doesn't hurt that much.
-Don Ryan

Howard Brewi said...

One factor that has propelled this trend among some women is the easy availability of abortions and birth control products many of which cause early abortion. When women risked pregnancy or a very risky herbal abortion from the village wise woman there was more reason to think twice. Also traditional marriage was more than sexual and included an economic partnership that benefited both parties and any children. These days dress codes that people lived by have gone by the wayside. Also modern ideas that women needed their own career rather than being the primary home maker, gardener, animal caretaker and mother. Meanwhile prostitution is often called the oldest profession in the world! Many things furl this trend but the attitude over all Leeds to women having issues concerning their value as a woman and a person in exchange for being a commodity for fun and income!

Dan said...

The higher the "body count" the more difficult it becomes to form an actual bond with a potential/future spouse. And the higher the odds of divorce. Hook up culture has cost society a great deal. And the costs continue to rise

Anonymous said...

Well said, Peter. I'm certain that I couldn't have sex with a woman I didn't love; luckily for me, I'm with the one I plan to spend the rest of my life with. I'm a blessed man.
--Tennessee Budd

h said...

'Having sex' is taking, 'making love' is giving. In case you're not sure what you're engaged in.

E. C. said...

My brother and his wife are the dorm parents at a sorority (no other housing available in the vicinity of the school he's attending, and especially not if they want to live within their means). They came to our house after eating dinner with the girls today deeply disgusted because the conversation at the table had been exceedingly focused on body counts; one of the girls had been out all night, with the usual results, and everything spiraled from there.
My brother loves his wife deeply, and they keep their marriage vows quite carefully, and neither of them have ever imagined such depravity being a general attitude. And probably it's not, they're just living in a particular cesspool. As devout Christians living amongst the irreligious, I'm pretty sure the sorority girls are also trying to get a rise out of them, but still, those girls are looking for love in all the wrong places - never satisfied, never safe, never finding love because they're so trapped in lust. And frankly, my brother and sister-in-law are just sad for them all at this point, because they see the regret that these girls will have to live with. I'm paraphrasing, but that's basically what we talked about.

Aesop said...

What Dan said.

Hookups destroy the ability to form a lasting pair-bond with anyone, which pours jet fuel on divorce stats, which in turn is the driving force behind every socio-pathology in modern society.

As if Eve sharing apples wasn't bad enough, modern-day strumpets legs-splayed are literally washing away the entire culture before everyone's eyes.

"Slowly at first, then all at once."

JG said...

I met my wife at college and married her after and have been married for 44 years. Our sons are in their 30s and both went to Trade Schools, earn well over 6 figures, own houses, cars, and good bank accounts.

My oldest son is divorced but looks to be slowly getting in another deep relationship that will cause him to marry a widow with children. My youngest told me he will not marry as he meets women that are college ed and making much less than he does and they think he is below them, or he finds women that have children and he wants no reason to be a stepfather. My youngest says there is no reason to make him marry as he can meet women and leave them as he wants as he said most women are not looking at men right.

Anonymous said...

Did I know better? Yes, intellectually.

Did I care? No, not at the time. I was enjoying the excitement, and the physical sensations.

Do I regret it now? Absolutely.


tweell said...

"This doth happen whenever thou dost open thy body to one who loves thee not, and whom thou dost not love. That breaks the wholeness of thy secret self, for we are made in such a wise that our inner selves and bodies are joined as one, and when the one doth open, the other should.

So if thou dost open thy body while keeping thy secret self enclosed, thou dost break the wholeness of thy self."

"A thousand times have I so done," she sneered, "yet I am whole within!"

"Nay, thou art not. Each time, a tiny piece of thee hast gone, though thou didst strive to know it not."

John C said...

Excellent article and right on point. I can attest to many of the things said by Peter and other commenters.

When I married the first time, I was a virgin. She had been one of the high school sluts. For a few years we were fine, but she missed that life of having lots of different guys and finally let that desire overtake her. Near the end she was completely open and flagrant about it and I finally could not take it any more and we divorced. 22 years in that marriage. The affairs created a spirit of distrust and often outright hostility. If there is any thing I wish I had done differently it would have been to end it sooner so my daughters did not have to see so much of the garbage day in and out.

Before I married the second time, my wife of now 8 years and I talked a lot about that horrible situation I put up with for so long. She had dealt with much of the same things in her 20 year prior marriage. Her ex-husband flagrantly cheated on her, verbally abused her and constantly dared her to do something about it. She finally did and divorced him. We both decided that if we were going to be a couple that there would be no cheating, no mental and verbal abuse and we would never ever put ourselves in a situation where it was a possibility. We also agreed that the children from our previous marriages would be our children, as if we were the only parents they had. (This is not saying we have not allowed the kids to have a relationship with their other parents. We never once said they couldn't.) I know for a fact that the only two women I have allowed to have me sexually is the one I was married to previously and the one I am married to now. My wife is the same. No marriage, no sex. It has been the greatest joy to know that we don't have any need or reason to even think that either of us are cheating.

The point of telling this story is this: While we endured the horrible ramifications of previous cheating spouses, we have been successful in making our marriage and lovemaking special between us. I think that is because in spite of those previous rotten spouses, we refused to lower our standards and 'get even'. There were plenty of times I could have been with other women, some of which practically threw themselves at me and I turned them down. My wife and I are committed to God, each other, and our families, in that order and we have been blessed immensely because of that unyielding stance.

Our exes, on the other hand, have kept to their old habits and ways and continue to hop from partner to one-night stand to any other sexual desire they put their minds to. They are just not happy or pleasant people and I believe their poor moral choices contribute to their unhappiness. I find it very interesting that our children don't really care to associate with their other parents much, even when we have encouraged them to do so. My wife and I have lovingly 'adopted' each other's children as if they were our own. The kids see how our relationship is and they prefer it to the instability and craziness they see from their other wayward parents.

Please understand that I am not boasting or hold myself higher than anyone else, but I offer this as a testament to what Peter and others have said. True and real bonding intimacy between a couple doesn't really exist when all it's about is just sex.

Anonymous said...

It’s entirely possible for sex to be an expression of your athleticism and flexibility. And that’s certainly fun, and can be enjoyed by married and unmarried folks as well. But it’s also possible for sex to be an expression of a deep, intimate emotional and spiritual connection. You only have to do that once, and you realize that’s what sex is supposed to be.
Doesn’t always happen, even within a marriage relationship. But I think it very difficult for it to happen outside of one.

The Wraith said...

For the first 40 years of my life, I was an atheist hedonist and would have laughed at this post...

...but I couldn't have disputed the logic. This is absolutely 100% spot-on, and I thank God for opening my eyes that I can see that.

Anonymous said...

Free love. Ain't it grand? God I hate boomers. Vox is 100% right on that subject.
PS: I was born into the "boomer" generation. I don't identify with them, and I regret not doing more to stop them. Now I just do my best to make amends, and await the day the last of my "peers" has sold the family farm (in the family for 250 years, of course) and "bought the RV". (Leaving the kids with absolutely nothing but debt, of course. I knew a dozen pieces of filth who did something similar. I hope they're enjoying the fires of hell)

The boomers destroyed America. Destroyed the idea of chastity and traditionalism. Bathed in debauchery. Then tut-tutted the kids whose inheritance they're happily spending for not being the worthless walking genitalia they were.
Look up tradwives.
Christian Nationalism.
It's Gen-x, millennials, and Gen-Z trying to rebuild the society and social mores my "peers" destroyed.