How Traditional Sexual Morality can Eliminate Poverty and Crime: The Couch

by ROBERT WEISSBERG February 13, 2013

Since the mid-1960s the Federal government has spent untold billions attempting to eliminate poverty. Occasional successes aside, most programs have come up short. Nowhere is this failure more apparent than in many of today's cities where thousands of young men are unemployed, even unemployable and live lives of mayhem and violence. Their cost to society is huge, everything making entire neighborhoods unlivable to fathering scores of illegitimate children.

The usual repertoire of solutions-better schooling, government funded vocational training, more aggressive policing, anti-drug campaigns to mention just a few-have proven ineffective. It is not a question of money; policy-makers have just run out of ideas. So, can anything be done to transform these feral, often predatory young men into upstanding, hard-working citizens?

Let me suggest one difficult to apply but guaranteed solution: the couch. No, this is not a misprint or a joke. We are serious but to understand the couch solution let's take a few steps backwards into young male psychology and this applies universally, not just to problem plagued inner-city youth.

George Gilder in his almost forgotten Sexual Suicide explains it all and I suspect that every male knows Gilder's message. Here's how things work.

As young males enter puberty nearly all discover sex, and dealing with these urges can be a nightmare. And woe to a society filled with hoards of young sexually frustrated men. After all, this pent up energy must go somewhere (I suspect that much of the current Middle East chaos is rooted in this frustration). But, the youngster eventually sees a light that has shown since humans existed: the best, most efficient way of satisfying sexual urges is through marriage. Why spend thousands of hours competing against rivals for sex when getting married solves the problem? It is also medically far safer.

With that Eureka moment understood, our young male begins a series of calculations that has also existed since Adam and Eve. Specifically, the odds of finding a good looking, pleasant marriage partner rest on making oneself "a good catch" in the competition for females. These required traits are well-known: solid economic prospects, decent appearances and being respectable i.e., no criminal record, no drug, gambling al alcohol addictions, controlling one's impulses, caring for others and similar "Boy Scout" virtues.

Reduced to its essentials, if young males behave and improve themselves, they are more attractive to women, and this means regular sex with a nice-looking partner. It is the biological urge-raging hormones--that drives good behavior, not entreatments from social workers, government bureaucrats and all the others trying to mold these usually rambunctious men into solid citizens.

What about young women? Their biological urges are just as powerful though quite different from the need for sex (though sexual urges may play a role but is usually of secondary importance). For young women, a good marriage requires a man who reliably brings home the bacon, will be a good, protective father and avoid the snares that corrode the marital bond-infidelity, violent abuse, squandering money and anything that will leave mother and children vulnerable.  This is a tacit bargain in which the dutiful husband gets sex and the good wife achieves family security. This is the bargain that makes civilization possible.

Now back to the couch. The young bride knows that a successful marriage requires keeping hubby on the straight and narrow and rest assured, she is the best person to execute this task. She knows when hubby is skipping work or secretly out drinking. And, unlike social service bureaucrats, she is powerfully motivated to get him to behave since the family's survival depends on him toeing the line.

So, what can wifey do when the man of the house fails to honor his responsibilities? Nagging and pleading, perhaps, but the nuclear option is no sex-go sleep on the couch and you will stay there until you man-up. For a young man afflicted with raging testosterone, this is a powerful, immediate incentive. No doubt, after a few nights of enforced celibacy, amends will be made and hubby will be reformed. And he now knows the painful cost of irresponsibility.

Now for the Great Insight. All this works only where women are chaste or at least reasonable discriminating. If men can get unlimited sex, at anytime, no incentive exists to marry so as to regularly satisfy one's urges. Similarly, the threat of couch exile is meaningless if hubby can just walk out the door and find an agreeable floozy. Put a little differently, women can civilize men only if sex is a scarce commodity. Without this threat of celibacy, why should men try to attract marriage partners and without this effort, there is no incentive to behave. Society can hardly exist if men can fight, loll about, commit crimes and all the rest and still effortlessly convince women to have sex      

This analysis links morality-the virtues of sexual restraint-to both economic productivity and reduced government spending. Young men with access to unencumbered sex regardless of their irresponsibility will almost always burden society with crime, violence and fatherless children.

Needless say, it is not easy to convince young women to withhold their favors so as to encourage men to behave themselves (recall Aristophanes' Lysistrata). This is especially true when women outnumber men and promiscuity may be necessary to attract men. Still, it is important to grasp this relationship between morality and civic life; sexual restraint is more than just an old-fashioned virtue though it is certainly that. It is part of a powerful, biologically driven incentive structure that helps keep society civil. Contributing Editor Robert Weissberg is emeritus professor of political science, University of Illinois-Urbana. He has written many books, the most recent being: The Limits of Civic Activism, Pernicious Tolerance: How teaching to "accept differences" undermines civil society and  Bad Students, Not Bad Schools. Besides writing for professional journals, he has also written for magazines like the Weekly Standard and currently contributes to various blogs. 


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