The New York Times often promotes socially destructive policies and reckless personal behaviors in opinion columns. The latest example sees self-identified “sex and culture” writer Magdalene J. Taylor promoting promiscuity as a socially desirable cure for loneliness that will benefit society by forging greater levels of “social solidarity.”
In, “Have More Sex, Please!” Taylor laments that Americans aren’t copulating enough. She writes, “Sex is good. Sex is healthy. Sex is an essential part of our social fabric. And you—specifically—should probably be having more of it.”
Taylor offers no preferred social context in which to increase your rate of coitus. She doesn’t recommend more spice as a means of improving romance in marriage. Nor is her focus on intimacy as bonding relationships. Indeed, she makes no mention of the importance of commitment to healthy sexual relations. She simply asserts, “Those of us in a position to be having more sex ought to be doing so. Here is the rare opportunity to do something for the betterment of the world around you that involves nothing more than indulging in one of humanity’s most essential pleasures.”
Talk about diminishing the importance, power, and meaning of sex! Taylor misses the potency of loving the person with whom one shares a bed. She makes scant mention of the importance of sex as a form of self-giving, devotion, family formation, and having children. And she ignores the crucial role of fidelity and trust in intimate partnering.
No, getting it on as often as possible is a “political statement” that will lead—she doesn’t say how—to “the betterment of the world.” Thus, she writes, “Any capable people should have sex—as much as they can, as pleasurably as they can, as often as they can.” She doesn’t even distinguish between what is proper conduct for adults versus that of teenagers.
What claptrap. Promiscuity—because that is what Taylor advocates without using the word—is reckless. Having indiscriminate sex is often harmful—both to those who indulge in the vice and to greater society. But the only warning Taylor offers about the emotional risks of casual intimacy is the potential for “regret,” and that “sex can bring people together, but that only works if it’s good sex.”
The issue is far more portentous than that. Let’s start with the pregnancy factor. Even if one uses birth control, promiscuity increases the chance of an unintended pregnancy. That, in turn, can lead not only to increased abortion—which, to say the least, is morally consequential and potentially causing its own mental health problems—but also to parenthood outside of a bonded familial relationship.
This is a real and growing problem. In 1980, a little over 18 percent of babies were born to unmarried mothers in the United States. In 2020, that figure had exploded to a socially devastating 40.5 percent of all births. That surge didn’t arise in a vacuum but in the context of an increasingly hypersexualized culture. To be sure, children can thrive in this circumstance and single parents are often splendid mothers and fathers. But let’s be candid. Out-of-wedlock births generally lead to greater incidences of poverty and increased potential for family dysfunction.
And let’s talk sexually transmitted disease. Having “as much sex as you can as often as you can” outside of a mutually monogamous relationship increases the chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV, chlamydia, and herpes. Having more sex partners can also increase the chance of developing prostate, oral, and cervical cancers. It can even lead to heart disease.
Not enough sex? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that the United States is experiencing an “STD epidemic.” Despite the COVID lockdowns, in 2020 diagnosed gonorrhea increased by 10 percent over 2019 levels and syphilis went up by 7 percent. In 2020 there were about 2.4 million reported cases of STDs—and that’s probably undercounted because many people didn’t go to doctors during the pandemic or didn’t take lab tests. Not only that, but syphilis among newborns increased 235 percent between 2016 and 2020. Especially worrying: A strain of “super gonorrhea” is spreading that’s resistant to most antibiotics.
Promiscuity can also be a significant contributor to depression, anxiety, increased substance abuse, and other mental health disorders. While certainly not everyone who engages in casual sex has adverse mental health consequences, many do. Indeed, particularly among adolescents, having as much sex as you want as often as you can is a potential driver of suicidal ideation.
Look, I know most Americans have a more relaxed attitude toward intimacy than was once the case. We are a secularizing culture in which traditional religious moral precepts about the proper time and place for intercourse exert little sway. Indeed, according to a 2022 Gallup Poll, 76 percent of respondents believe that sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable and 70 percent think having a baby outside of marriage is just fine. Still, only 9 percent think adultery is acceptable—which would seem to be at least part of Taylor’s call for New York Times readers to indulge in all of the sex they can obtain.
But having a more relaxed view of sex isn’t the same thing as endorsing Taylor’s irresponsible call for cavorting whenever and with whomever one can take to bed. Indeed, considering the significant problem of unintended pregnancies, the raging STD epidemic, and the worsening mental health crisis this country faces, what we really need isn’t increased licentiousness but greater probity in the conduct of our intimate lives.