Why do so many otherwise reasonable people feel an odd compulsion to embrace the illogical and unsupportable notion of the nation's total moral collapse?
Despite irrefutable evidence of dramatically declining rates of crime, divorce, drug abuse, traffic accidents, smoking, abortion and even environmental pollution in the last twenty years, most Americans insist that the ethical state of the nation has never been worse. Doomsayers love to repeat the portentous line: "If God doesn't punish America sometime soon, He's going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah."
In fact, no chapter in my current bestseller THE 10 BIG LIES ABOUT AMERICA has inspired more controversy and indignation than the final one, in which I argue against the claim that "America is in the Midst of an Irreversible Moral Decline."
Despite the fact that prestige media outlets have generally supported this sensationalist and attention-getting lie, the New York Times recently filed an important report that helped place the situation in a more balanced perspective. On January 27, 2009, Tara Parker-Pope dismissed alarmist reports from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks that the nation faced a "teen sex crisis." Under the headline, "The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity," Ms. Parker-Pope reported: "While some young people are clearly engaging in risky sexual behavior, a vast majority are not. The reality is that, in many ways, today's teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations."
She cites a number of startling and unexpectedly reassuring statistics:
--The National Youth Risk Behavior Survey recently showed that the majority of all high school students, both male and female, remained virgins. In 2007, only 47.8% had ever had sex –a sharp drop from 54.1% in 1991.
-- Meanwhile, a 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services also showed that teenagers seemed more determined to postpone their first sexual encounters. Only 30% of 15-to-17 year old girls had experienced sex—dramatically down from 38% in 1995. In the same period (just seven years, remember), the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group declined from 43% to 31%.
- Younger teenagers also showed significant decreases in sexual experimentation. In 1995, an alarming 20% said they had had sex before age fifteen, but by 2002 the numbers decreased to just 13% of girls (and 15% of boys).