Jennifer Roback Morse will talk to anybody who will listen about the social impact of sexual promiscuity. And we can all be thankful for that. Morse, author of "Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-up World" (Spence, 2005), demonstrates that the most intimately personal is absolutely political.
Morse's book is the sex-ed class you probably never had, the birds-and-the-bees talk you'd love her to have with your children. Her basic point: Don't be so close-minded when it comes to sex because it's about more than you. Morse argues that, "Human sexuality is the great engine of sociability. Sexuality builds up the relationship between the couple, and this relationship becomes the basis of higher society."
Sex matters. Not just to the two (or more?!) actively participating, but it has ramifications. If you're married, one act may change the structure of a family for generations. If you're not, what if there's a pregnancy? If you're cheating on a spouse, take a look at family courts or classroom discipline problems or talk to your local police precinct for stories about some of the pathological ramifications. Sex is a civil act inasmuch as "there is much more at stake in our love lives than just personal happiness. It matters to other Americans whether we succeed -- because bad sex and bad family life usually produce damaged children." And society pays for bad sex choices. When you know, for instance, that only 6 percent of married families in the United States live below the poverty line -- a fact Kay Hymowitz points out in a recent piece in "City Journal," a national urban-policy magazine -- you better realize that "smart sex" decisions really have the potential to do a world of good.
Morse, a conservative economist, who taught at Harvard and dubs herself "Dr. J," has the rhetorical advantage of knowing too well of what she speaks. She "got to be an expert on what doesn't work." She writes, "I more or less did the whole sexual revolution" while a student. "I tried most of the hare-brained things I'm now writing about: adultery, fornication, cohabitation, group sex, same-sex sex. I had an abortion. I was married and divorced."
I didn't realize how important the fact that she is a conservative was until I recently read a book by a gal with an abortion-rights group in New York. In her (preposterously named) "How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex" (Basic Books, 2006), Cristina Page, who seems like she'd like to be the well-intentioned common-ground sort, paints a portrait of scary "religious right" pro-life types. They are hostile to sex, she says. Needless to say to be pro-life and be anti-sex ... well, obviously wouldn't quite work. But Page insists she knows her enemy: "Pro-lifers tend to believe, whether they say it out loud or not, that sex should be for the sole purpose of producing a baby. Pro-choicers accept sex as something that people do for intimacy and for pleasure."
I'd be happy to dismiss her outlook as but one writer with strong views who has unfortunately met the wrong pro-lifers, but her book represents more than that. Her attitude is at the heart of many a deadlocked debate. It's a ridiculous elitist attitude that makes contentious many debates over classroom teaching, program funding -- which is why we should all have a welcome mat out for "Smart Sex." Morse's book is an infusion of good sense and sensibility.
It is important that "Smart Sex" both works to fight back against "bad sex" -- the ME! ME! ME! attitude of the sexual revolution -- and combats the ridiculous assumptions that block good sense on a more explicitly political level. Morse writes "Many Americans think the only alternative to anything-goes sex is something between 'The Stepford Wives' and the Taliban. They imagine that if it weren't for free love, women would all be at home in dresses and high heels, in their spotless kitchens with cookies in the oven, robotically waiting for Beaver to come home from school." But the truth, as Dr. J explains, is something different -- and it's a many-splendored thing.