The secret to happiness: fall in love, get married, have babies – once undisputedly known to be the key to the majority of people’s happiness, is now presented as an oppressive societal expectation that has little to no relation to personal fulfillment.
Marriage is No Longer a Worthy Goal
Career success, increased disposable income, home ownership, multiple sexual partners, weight loss, fame, and self-love are often presented as more worthwhile goals than marriage and kids. And yet, we know that money won’t make us happy but altruism will.
We also know that, along with experiencing increased stress, parents experience higher levels of daily joy compared to their childless counterparts. And yet we focus on the fact that aggregate happiness is the same among parents and childless people.
The message we as a society seem to be sending young people is: why bother stressing yourself out just to experience a bigger high when at the end of the day everyone has the same amount of overall happiness? Why not choose a comfortable plateau and spare yourself the stressful ups-and-downs of family life? We are telling young people to turn down adventure in favour of predictable, safe, lifestyles.
But our bishops are well placed to counter that. In spite of this growing societal trend, the Church has stood firm on sex, and the negative effects a distorted view of it can have on the more vulnerable, younger generation. The Church teaches us that sex holds unitive and procreative meaning.
Mainstream media may have chosen to focus on instances where Pope Francis has suggested Catholics aren’t called to ‘breed like rabbits’, but the Holy Father has also clearly stated that ‘no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning’. Perhaps unlike his predecessors, the Pope has chosen not to focus on the evils of contraception, but rather on the profound intensity of conjugal love. The message is the same: we are called to fall in love, to seek to go beyond ourselves, in marriage and in raising children.
The Saddest Generation
Millenials are the saddest generation, reporting the highest levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. We’ve been told that the issue is economic –but we’re killing ourselves three times as much as young adults who lived through rationing. The internet and the economy tend to share equal blame for this, while the collapse of sexual morality continues to be hailed as the greatest step towards progress that previous generations have generously gifted young people today. And yet the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod for Young People clearly states that ‘early sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, digital pornography, exhibiting bodies online and sexual tourism risk disfiguring the beauty and depth of an effective and sex life.’
Millenials were the first generation to grow up with access to free porn on demand, and they were the first generation to reap the ‘benefits’ of an increasingly permissive society. Our generation has been told from a young age that masturbation is harmless, and yet we are a generation of ‘sex and love addicts’. The collapse of structures that for centuries have helped humans navigate the intensely delicate sphere of romantic and sexual relationships is making us unhappy.
The Collapse of Morals
There are over a hundred studies that claim masturbation is not harmless. 50 of these studies link porn use to poorer mental-emotional health. Millenials are not only the saddest generation but also the least sexually active. We are far less ashamed than other generations to pick masturbation over sex in the flesh or to supplement relationships – even marriages–with porn use. This is worse still among the youngest generation, where 64% of young people aged 13–24 actively seek out pornography weekly or more often. Teenage girls and young women are particularly more likely to do this than women older than 25.
The rise in porn use is often depicted as progress towards breaking free of the shackles of irrational shame that gets in the way of harmless self-gratification. Contrary to popular belief, shame is not institutionalised religion’stool to oppress the Victorian masses into complacent malleable zombies. It is the brain’s way of letting you know you probably shouldn’t be doing something if you want the evolutionary advantage. Delayed gratification is necessary for humans to thrive.
Not only is masturbation presented as harmless, we have also been told that free and easy access to contraception is the best thing for our physical and mental wellbeing. According to this narrative, abstinence is an unnecessary imposition best left to religious fundamentalists, and an ineffective way of avoiding unwanted pregnancies and STIs. Why deny yourself pleasure when you can access it with no repercussions? Because there are repercussions. STIs are at an all-time high, and individuals aged 15-to-24 are the most affected age group.
The two groups that are least likely to masturbate are, unsurprisingly, religious people and married couples. As institutions like marriage and religion continue to lose power over the youngest generations, we are getting divorced and having children out of wedlock in increasing numbers. But that’s okay because divorce is fine and marriage is just a piece of paper, right? Wrong. Divorce harms children’s life chances, marriage improves them.
However, the truth is human beings are wired, not for immorality but for marriage:
The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.’ The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. (CCC 1603)
People will find joy, not by rebelling against their ingrained nature but by embracing it. Christians believe they have been created with a purpose and are set free to be happy when we cooperate with our calling which comes straight from the Heart of God.