A Generation Lost

 Warning: This expert from the book, Porn Generation, contains graphic contents and may be upsetting to some people

by Ben Shapiro 

“Virtue is harder to be got than knowledge of the world; and, if lost in a young man, is seldom recovered.” ~ JOHN LOCKE 

I am a member of a lost generation. We have lost our values. We have lost our faith. And we have lost ourselves.

As societal standards and traditional values have declined, and the crassest elements of sexual deviancy and pornography have taken over the public square, it is the youngest Americans who have paid the price. Never in our country’s history has a generation been so empowered, so wealthy, so privileged—and yet so empty.

This book is not written from the perspective of a parent, a sociologist, or a teacher—but of a peer. This is my generation: the porn generation. And for good or ill, we are America’s future.

Over the latter half of the twentieth century, the forces of moral relativism, radical feminism, and generational nihilism have gradually destroyed the foundation of our own greatness. Instead of adopting stronger moral standards, our society has embraced the lure of personal fulfillment.

In a world where all values are equal, where everything is simply a matter of choice, narcissism rules the day. Our culture has bred hollow young men, obsessed with self-gratification. Young women are told to act like sex objects—and enjoy it. The revisionist historians have effectively labeled obscenity as a right that the Founding Fathers sought to protect. Society told the porn generation that final moral authority rests inside each of us—and in our vanity, we listened.

The mainstream acceptance of pornography has become a social fact. Order a movie. Walk past your local news shop. Log on to the Internet. It’s everywhere—in your Blockbuster, your newspaper, your inbox. We’ve replaced faith and family with a warped image of sex and self-satisfaction that ridicules the concept of purity and mangles the most sacred ideals of matrimony.

Traditional authority figures—parents, community leaders, even God—have been discarded. The new authority figures of the porn generation are many, and nearly all are members of a coarsened pop culture—one fed by the destructive malaise of the relativist world. Sex ed instructors, university professors, advertisers, Hollywood actors, MTV artists and assorted celebrities (A-, B-, and C-list) act as the new elders of a church of corrupt, shallow, and materialistic humanism.

The porn generation now inhabits a world where “empowerment” means sex with no strings attached. The old faith and traditional morality was too bourgeois, archaic, sexist, and close-minded for this brave new world. Our new god is Tolerance of all behavior, our new credo “live and let live.”

The real Charlotte Simmons

As children, members of the porn generation are presented with morally subversive sexual education programs at increasingly younger ages. Nine-year-olds are lectured about condom use. Twelve-year-olds are pushed to make decisions about their sexual orientation. Fifteen-year-olds are expected to have said goodbye to virginity.

In college, drug use, alcohol use, and sexual experimentation are the norm. As one Harvard girl told me, “We’re jaded, and it’s fun.” Fun to this girl meant trips to Amsterdam to smoke different types of marijuana.  To others, fun means binge drinking or random sex.

According to a survey of college students conducted by Details magazine and Random House, 46 percent had had a one-night stand, 43 percent had cheated on a steady partner, 21 percent had tried to get someone drunk or high to get them in bed, and 32 percent had slept with someone knowing they would never call again. On average, respondents had had 6.4 sex partners in their lives; 14 percent had 6–9 sex partners, 7 percent had 10–14, 4 percent had 15–19, and 3 percent had 25 or more. Thirty-six percent of respondents had had sex with someone they didn’t like, and 28 percent had used pot during sex. 

The limitless sexual license of the porn generation is not without consequence. It leads to spiritual desensitization, emotional removal, and lack of commitment. The sad fact is that Tom Wolfe’s literary characterization of a young girl, Charlotte Simmons, carries enormous weight because it is so true.

Simmons starts her college experience as a leader, a fighter, a moralist at fictional Dupont University. Early on, she protests the “live and let live” morality that pervades the university:

At Dupont . . . everybody thinks you’re kind of—of—some kind of twisted . . . uptight . . . pathetic little goody-goody if you haven’t had sex. Girls will come right out and ask you—girls you hardly even know. They’ll come right out and ask you—in front of other girls—if you’re a V.C., a member of the Virgin’s Club, and if you’re stupid enough to say yes, it’s an admission, like you have some sort of terrible character defect. . . . There’s something perverted about that. 

Simmons realizes that without the safety net of family morality, she is in serious moral danger:

Right here was the point where she either cried out or she didn’t cry out. Momma, only you can help me! Who else do I have! Listen to me! Let me tell you the truth! Beverly doesn’t just return in the dead of the night and ‘go to bed really late’! She brings boys into bed—and they rut-rut-rut do it—barely four feet from my bed! She leads a wanton sex life! The whole place does! Girls sexile each other! Rich girls with 1500 SATs cry out “I need some ass!” “I’m gonna go out and get laid!”. . . Momma—what am I to do ...  

But Charlotte doesn’t cry out to her family for help, and she doesn’t extract herself from the moral mire that surrounds her. By the end of the book, she has capitulated to peer pressure, lost her virginity, and given in to the values of her surrounding environment. She has undergone deep depression, and she has emerged a shallower person for her experiences.

There are thousands of Charlotte Simmonses in the porn generation. When you’re surrounded by encouragement leading you toward subjective morality, sexuality and hedonism, when you can’t retreat to a safe haven, it’s simply easier to capitulate than to fight.

The lure of sexual privacy is so strong that it tends to overwhelm even the most moral among us. Most of us carry the belief that no one else should be privy to knowledge about our sexual practices—a belief primarily based on the most basic principles of monogamy. Something inside us resonates to the words of Justice William O. Douglas in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court case first creating the nonexistent Constitutional “right to privacy”: “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? . . . We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system.” 

It is no accident that the social liberals chose sexuality as the starting point in their crusade against traditional morality. Purveyors of the new morality have been hard at work, “defining deviancy down,” as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan explained in 1993. He posited that “the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can ‘afford to recognize’ and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.” This has meant encouraging all forms of sexual expression, among other things.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer pointed out that alongside the movement to “define deviancy down,” there is a concurrent movement to “define deviancy up”: “As part of the vast social project of moral leveling, it is not enough for the deviant to be normalized,” Krauthammer wrote. “The normal must be found to be deviant.” 

Defining deviancy up has meant stigmatizing those who obey the dictates of traditional sexual morality as fools, ascetics, or latent homosexuals. It has also meant stigmatizing moralists as fascists and hypocrites—fascists, because we wish to impose our morality on others; hypocrites, because inevitably, some of us have not been completely pure.

We are not fascists—in fact, fascism’s Nietzschean ideals are antithetical to traditional morality. We are Republicans and Democrats. We have the right to vote for general societal morality as expressed by our duly elected lawmakers. Social liberals seek to impose their amorality, albeit far less democratically; they push their viewpoint through pop culture, the education system, the judiciary, and the media. As for hypocrisy, that too is a weak argument—it is always better to do the wrong thing but say the right thing than to both say and do the wrong thing.

Yet it is impossible for all but the most extreme liberals in our society to ignore the truth: that tolerance of every social behavior is now the norm. In the absence of community-promoted traditional standards, subjectivism reigns. Nothing is expected of anyone; everyone may make his own rules about what is best.

The “live and let live” societal model is a recipe for societal disaster. The myopic question posed by advocates of the new, “Tolerant,” morality is: “How does my immoral behavior hurt you?” But the overwhelming truth is that these are not individual acts, but inherently social acts with social consequences. And when society sanctions and encourages your immoral behavior, that does have an impact—it doesn’t just hurt me, but it hurts my future children as well.

Truth and consequences

If millions of people accept the deviant as normal, that reshapes society in vastly destructive ways. Moral self-destruction may seem to have no consequences for an individual, but the destruction of societal standards always has consequences.

When the stigma left single motherhood, society felt the sting in rising rates of single motherhood and juvenile crime. When the stigma left sexual licentiousness, society felt the sting in rising rates of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, emotional emptiness, and nihilism. Your immoral personal behavior may not affect me, but exempting your immoral behavior from societal scrutiny certainly does. A society without standards is an unhappy, unhealthy society—a society with no future. And all of us have to live in that society. 

Nihilism, narcissism, and hedonism are natural results of the chaotic existential subjectivism popularized by the Left. If the hallmark of the baby boomers was rebellion, the hallmark of my generation is jadedness. Nothing really matters—we’re cosmically alone. As Dr. Eddie Jessup puts it in Paddy Chayefsky’s Altered States, “Ever since we dispensed with God, we’ve got nothing but ourselves to explain this meaningless horror of life.” Life is truly a horror when the only moral authority is ourselves, because escapism—hedonism—is the logical result.

No generation has ever had the benefits of convenience that my generation does, but instead of using our extra time to live, we seek to kill it. People eight to eighteen years old now spend an average of six hours and twenty-one minutes each day watching television, listening to the radio or to CDs, using the computer for non-school purposes, and playing video games. That’s as opposed to just over two hours per day spent hanging out with parents, only an hour and a half doing physical activity, and under an hour doing homework. 

Drug use is another form of escapism. Forty percent of twelfth graders have tried illegal drugs. While only 18 percent of parents believe that their children have tried marijuana, 39 percent actually have; 60 percent of teens say their friends have tried it. Smoking pot is so commonplace that Democratic presidential candidates are now expected to discuss their experiences with weed on MTV. When I told one of my classmates that I wouldn’t date girls who had tried drugs, he stated quite seriously, “Dude, that’s just unrealistic.”

Finally, there’s sex. Existentialism and subjectivism are lonely because narcissism is lonely. If you build the world to your own specifications, and everyone else does as well, social contact becomes nearly impossible. Love—the attempt to reach out to another person, to bring that person into your world—requires a faith to which the jaded can never aspire. It is becoming rarer and rarer to find true romantics. In an age of jadedness, the only human contact becomes solely physical, an outward expression of the nihilism that consumes the soul. As society accepts solely physical relationships as an inevitable outgrowth of the destruction of traditional morality, solely physical sex becomes more common.

After they helped toss out traditional sexual mores in the name of “Tolerance,” some in the media have recognized the disturbing social trends, and have given front-page coverage to the “shocking” rise of teen oral sex and promiscuity. And so we have Katie Couric stating that “Whether it’s the cover of your favorite magazine, the music videos your kids are watching, or primetime TV, sex is everywhere,” and noting that “No matter your child’s age, S-E-X either has or will come up at some point. I recently spent a weekend with twenty teens from all across the country between the ages of thirteen and seventeen for a revealing and sometimes shocking conversation.” But why should the mainstream media be shocked? After all, they’ve been promoting the breakdown of traditional morality for years. The social liberals in Hollywood, television, and the media are learning a difficult lesson: You can’t chop away at the foundations of sexual morality for decades and still expect the structure to stand.

Today, one in five adolescents says that they had sex before age fifteen. Two-thirds of suburban and urban twelfth-graders have had sex; 43 percent of suburban and 39 percent of urban twelfth-graders have had sex outside of a “romantic relationship.” Each day, eight thousand teenagers in the United States contract a sexually transmitted disease. 

Believe it or not, the number of young people who call themselves virgins is actually on the rise—but “virgin” often means that young people are having oral sex, rather than vaginal intercourse. One study, by Peter Bearman of Columbia University and Hanna Brockner of Yale, found that 88 percent of teens who took virginity-until-marriage pledges broke them. 

Meanwhile, the founders of the new society are desperately attempting to tell us that we are happy. We are supposed to measure happiness in terms of sexual experience. In return for the abandonment of traditional morality, we have been given unrestrained sexual license. The world is our harem. And so, from television to movies to music to pornography, from public schools to college campuses, from the mainstream media to the Internet to the ad industry, American society pushes sex. This is what the culture has been selling. And this is what we’ve bought and paid for.

The social Left touts sex without consequences as the reward for our abdication of societal morality. But sex—just like our abdication of societal morality—does have consequences.

These are not victimless acts. The high percentage of sexually active young people is wreaking enormous damage to the emotional stability of my generation. Both girls and boys who are sexually active before marriage are more likely to be depressed and attempt suicide. A full 25.3 percent of sexually active girls say they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time; only 7.7 percent of non-active girls feel that way. A shocking 14.3 percent of girls who are sexually active have attempted suicide; 5.1 percent of non–sexually active girls have. While 60.2 percent of sexually inactive girls report that they are “rarely or never” depressed, only 36.8 percent of sexually active girls feel that way. Meanwhile, 8.3 percent of sexually active boys are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time, as opposed to 3.4 percent of teenage boys who are sexually inactive. And while only 0.7 percent of boys who are sexually inactive report attempting suicide, 6.0 percent of sexually active boys report having done so. 

Young girls are the primary victims of the new society. For girls, sex is unquestionably more precious than it is for boys; according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 77 percent of sexually experienced teenage girls wish they had waited to have sex. Girls are now mutilating their own bodies, either through worries about their weight leading to anorexia and bulimia, or through actual self-mutilation, which entails using “knives, razor blades, or even safety pins to deliberately harm one’s own body.” 

But both boys and girls are damaged most by the desensitization they suffer as a result of an oversexed society. As 2001 Princeton University grad Laura Vanderkam stated in USA Today, “Hookups do satisfy biology, but the emotional detachment doesn’t satisfy the soul. And that’s the real problem—not the promiscuity, but the lack of meaning.” Dr. Marsha Levy-Warren sees the same problem with children buying into the sex culture: “Developmentally, they just aren’t ready,” she told the New York Times. “They’re trying to figure out who they are, and unlike adults who obsess first and then act, kids do the opposite—they act and then obsess. They jump into this, and are left with intense feelings they’re unable to sort out.” Levy-Warren notes the rise of what she calls “body-part sex”: “The kids don’t even look at each other. It’s mechanical, dehumanizing. The fallout is that later in life they have trouble forming relationships. They’re jaded.” 

Sexual licentiousness was the aphrodisiac that blinded us to the dangers of discarding traditional morality; now it is supposed to be our reward for discarding traditional morality. And yet we, as a society, are not happier. The liberal’s favorite value—tolerance—excuses our cultural immorality and is our societal undoing. As columnist James Hitchcock writes:

Tolerance fails as a virtue, first of all, because it is in some ways demeaning to people. It is much better to speak of “respect” or “empathy.” But that is precisely the problem—common sense tells us that there are people who cannot and ought not to command our respect or empathy. We regard what they stand for as stupid, crazy, evil, or all three. To be respectful of them would be to abandon all moral sense, so that a completely tolerant person would be totally passive, without a moral center. Thus we fall back on “tolerance,” which merely means conceding to people the right to be who they are, while withholding our respect. But the determined advocates of tolerance are not content with that and keep slipping back into making tolerance imply the necessity of respect . . . Thus the obligation of tolerance leads inexorably to intolerance, turning the claim to be tolerant into a tautology, a statement that merely repeats itself—“I am tolerant except about those things of which I am intolerant.” 

This book is meant to force us to reexamine the true consequences of tolerating immorality and the oversexed society in which we live. If we see clearly the moral pit which we have dug for ourselves, maybe we can stop digging—and maybe, just maybe, restore the standards that have served American society well in the past.

It is also an attempt to reach out to my peers. Yes, sex is fun, and good, and in the right context, healthy. But let’s keep it in the right context. Let’s think about our prospective children. Do we want our kids growing up in the over-sexualized world that we do? Let’s learn from history. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of our parents’ generation.

The baby boomers and liberals who make up the current leadership in this country need to take a good, hard look at what they’ve done to American society. If they don’t feel that the children giving blowjobs at age twelve are the products of a broken nation, they aren’t looking hard enough. It is the baby boomers and the grown-up flower children who began the trend of oversexed culture. They produced the television shows, made the movies, bought the albums, corrupted the school system, and ushered in a new era of “tolerance.” They tore down the traditional moral system in the name of youthful rebellion.

It is not right that children be dunked headfirst into the vat of garbage we call popular culture. Ten-year-old girls should not have anorexia, and ten-year-old boys should not have to question their sexuality. It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children about sex, not the schools’. It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children values.

In the end, if prior generations aren’t willing to condemn the consequences of their misguided passions, my generation must do it for them. If parents continue to ignore the truth or won’t take the responsibility to act, we are required take this responsibility on ourselves. The baby boomers told their parents to take a hike back in the 1960s and 1970s—my generation can and must do the same. We must start the long journey back to an America that honors virtue and the foundational moral principles that make this country great.

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