Nobody quite knew what to make of last week's report from the Centers for Disease Control showing an upswing in celibacy amongst young people aged 15-to-24? Were the numbers wrong? Was virginity suddenly cool? Without an obvious explanation, commentators are ascribing their own meaning to the data and coming up with some interesting readings. Among the more strongly argued interpretations:
Sex finally has value with young people
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat was delighted with the results of the study, which marks the emergence of a "sexual culture that makes it easier for young people to achieve romantic happiness." Douthat notes not all premarital sex is created equal. "There’s sex that’s actually pre-marital, in the sense that it involves monogamous couples on a path that might lead to matrimony one day." That's good pre-marital sex. "Then there’s sex that’s casual and promiscuous, or just premature and ill considered." That's bad pre-marital sex, and the kind of coupling Douthat believes young people have grown increasingly wise to.
The kids are setting themselves up to be unhappy
The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan suggested the young people eschewing romance today would be in trouble down the road. "Experience in relationships, and sex, and the tangled mashups of both, is surely salient for getting the marital choice right," argues Sullivan. "There is nothing lonelier than a bad marriage made for good reasons; and nothing but experience that can help you figure out if you are making a huge mistake."
The 'hook-up' culture never existed
At Slate, Libby Copeland cited the findings as definitive proof that 'hook-up culture' was a media-created myth. She faults the natural human tendency to "believe our guts over statistics" for fostering "a sense that everyone between the ages of 15 and 24 is having sex all the time," a suggestion the media was only too eager to go along with, despite not having any hard data to support an uptick in teen sexuality. "More sex seems to be happening on television than in teenage bedrooms," added Time magazine's Tara Kelly. The data is a surprise coming from "a generation inundated with illicit texts, provocative Facebook photos and celebrity sex tapes."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.