Friday, March 11, 2011

Do American Men Need to "Man Up"?

In the last few weeks, sociologists who study Americans in their 20s and 30s were all abuzz about two competing trends that seem to be affecting 20s/30s somethings (and particularly men in that demographic).

The first relates to a new study just released by the National Center for Health Statistics (an arm of the government's Centers for Disease Control). You can read an article about the study here.  In a nutshell, the study seems to indicate that Americans age 15-44 are having LESS intercourse (and other forms of sexual contact) than they used to.  The most interesting number from the survey: among Americans 15-24, 28% have had no physical contact with a romantic partner - ever.  That number is about 5% higher than the last time this study was done a few years ago.

What factors might explain this decrease in sexual contact?  Is it a shrinking American libido, brought on by the stress of high school and college?  Or brought on by the stress of the current state of the economy?

Is it that young people are finding a sexual outlet for themselves that doesn't involve actual physical contact with partners?  (I'm thinking here of sexual encounters that take place online in chat rooms and the like.  You might also want to check out this CBS News report on virtual sex in the online word of Second Life. By the way: All of this is separate from the equally troubling issues surrounding online porn addiction.)

Or is it that we are living in a moment when our lifecycles are being stretched out....we're living longer....the onset of true adulthood is being delayed (more on this below)...and so maybe our young people are just "blooming" later than they used to.


Even as the debate goes on about this seeming trend toward less sex, a separate conversation has been going on in the last few weeks, in response to an essay that appeared in the Wall Street Journal by Kay Hymowitz.  There, Hymowitz argues that American men in their 20s and 30s have officially become a 'slacker' generation - even as their female peers go on to graduate school or begin building successful careers.  (Think of the dynamic between the Seth Rogen (slacker) and Katherine Heigl (successful career woman) characters in the movie "Knocked Up.")

According to Hymowitz, American guys have no real incentive to "man up" (and pursue a real education/career/etc.) because their female peers continue to hook up with them, and even sometimes pursue real relationships with them.  She argues that if men won't "man up" on their own, than women should rise up and withhold sex from their male peers - so that there is a real incentive for the demographic to change!  (Did anyone else have to read Aristophanes' "Lysistrata" in school?)


Now I turn to you - to find out what you think about all of this.  Do you agree with the assessment of the CDC - that we find ourselves in a moment in which our society is less engaged when it comes to acts of physical intimacy?  And if so: why is that?  Is the trend good for our society?  Or maybe not so good?

Or perhaps you are skeptical of the CDC study...and the Wall Street Journal article speaks more to your worldview...that American guys in their 20s and 30s are having plenty of sex...and that women maybe have some role in getting those guys to "man up" for the sake of the future health of our society?

I can't close without mentioning that our Jewish tradition calls us on to make good and healthy choices when it comes to how we conduct our (romantic) relationships.  If you want to get up to speed on Jewish Sex Ethics, click here and invest the time to listen to the audio recording of a class I taught on this subject last year.

As always, I'd love to hear what you think.

Be safe, and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Brown

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