are writing a book on the subject, and they argue that "red families" and "blue families" are "living different lives, with different moral imperatives." (They emphasize that the Republican‑Democrat divide is less important than the higher concentration of "moral‑values voters" in red states.) In 2004, the states with the highest divorce rates were Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and West Virginia (all red states in the 2004 election); those with the lowest were Illinois, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. The highest teen‑pregnancy rates were in Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas (all red); the lowest were in North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Maine (blue except for North Dakota). "The 'blue states' of the Northeast and MidAtlantic have lower teen birthrates, higher use of abortion, and lower percentages of teen births within marriage,' Cahn and Carbone observe. They also note that people start families earlier in red states‑in part because they are more inclined to deal with an unplanned pregnancy by marrying rather than by seeking an abortion.
Of all variables, the age at marriage may be the pivotal difference between red and blue families. The five states with the lowest median age at marriage are Utah, Oklahoma, Idaho, Arkansas, and Kentucky, all red states, while those with the highest are all blue: Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and NewJersey. The red‑state model puts couples at greater risk for divorce; women who many before their mid‑twenties are significantly more likely to divorce than those who marry later. And younger couples are more likely to be contending with two of the biggest stressors on a marriage: financial struggles and the birth of a baby before, or soon after, the wedding.
There are, of course, plenty of exceptions to these rules‑messily divorcing professional couples in Boston, highschool sweethearts who stay sweetly together in rural Idaho. Still, Cahn and Carbone conclude, "the paradigmatic red‑state couple enters marriage not long after the woman becomes sexually active, has two children by her midtwenties, and reaches the critical period of marriage at the high point in the life cycle for risk‑taking and experimentation. The paradigmatic blue‑state couple is more likely to experiment with multiple partners, postpone marriage until after they reach emotional and financial maturity, and have their children (if they have them at all) as their lives are stabilizing."
Some of these differences in sexual behavior come down to class and education. Regnerus and Carbone and Calm all see a new and distinct "middle‑class morality" taking shape among economically and socially advantaged families who are not social conservatives. In Regnerus's survey, the teen‑agers who espouse this new morality are tolerant of premarital sex (and of contraception and abortion) but are themselves cautious about pursuing it. Regnerus writes, "They are interested in remaining free from the burden of teenage pregnancy and the sorrows and embarrassments of sexually transmitted diseases. They perceive a bright future for themselves, one with college, advanced degrees, a career, and a family. Simply put, too much seems at stake. Sexual intercourse is not worth the risks." These are the kids who tend to score high on measures of "strategic orientation"‑how analytical, methodical, and fact‑seeking they are when making decisions. Because these teenagers see abstinence as unrealistic, they are not opposed in principle to sex before marriage‑just careful about it. Accordingly, they might delay intercourse in favor of oral sex, not because they cherish the idea of remaining "technical virgins" but because they assess it as a safer option. "Solidly middle‑ or upper‑middle‑class adolescents have considerable socioeconomic and educational expectations, courtesy of their parents and their communities' lifestyles," Regnerus writes. "They are happy with their direction, generally not rebellious, tend to get along with their parents, and have few moral qualms about expressing their nascent sexuality." They might have loved Ellen Page in "Juno," but in real life they'd see having a baby at the wrong time as a tragic derailment of their life plans. For this group, Regnerus says, unprotected sex has become "a moral issue like smoking or driving a car without a seatbelt. It's not just unwise anymore; it's wrong.
Each of these models of sexual behavior has drawbacks‑in the blue‑state scheme, people may postpone childbearing to the point where infertility becomes an issue. And delaying childbearing is better suited to the more affluent, for whom it yields economic benefits, in the form of educational opportunities and career advancement. But Carbone and Cahn argue that the redstate model is clearly failing on its own terms‑producing high rates of teen pregnancy, divorce, sexually transmitted disease, and other dysfunctional outcomes that social conservatives say they abhor. In "Forbidden Fruit," Regnerus offers an "unscientific postscript," in which he advises social conservatives that if they really want to maintain their commitment to chastity and to marriage, they'll need to do more to help young couples stay married longer. As the Reverend Rick Marks, a Southern Baptist minister, recently pointed out in a Florida newspaper, "Evangelicals are fighting gay marriage, saying it will break down traditional marriage, when divorce has already broken it down." Conservatives may need to start talking as much about saving marriages as they do about, say, saving oneself for marriage.
"Having to wait until age twenty‑five or thirty to have sex is unreasonable," Regnerus writes. He argues that religious organizations that advocate chastity should "work more creatively to support younger marriages. This is not the 1950s (for which I am glad), where one could bank on social norms, extended (and larger) families, and clear gender roles to negotiate and sustain early family formation."
Evangelicals could start, perhaps, by trying to untangle the contradictory portrayals of sex that they offer to teenagers. In the Shelby Knox documentary, a youth pastor, addressing an assembly of teens, defines intercourse as "what two dogs do out on the street corner they just bump and grind awhile, boom boom boom." Yet a typical evangelical text aimed at young people, "Every Young Woman's Battle," by Shannon Ethridge and Stephen Arterburn, portrays sex between two virgins as an ethereal communion of innocent souls: "physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pleasure beyond description." Neither is the most realistic or helpful view for a young person to take into marriage, as a few advocates of abstinence acknowledge. The savvy young Christian writer Lauren Winner, in her book "Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity," writes, "Rather than spending our unmarried years stewarding and disciplining our desires, we have become ashamed of them. We persuade ourselves that the desires themselves are horrible. This can have real consequences if we do get married." Teenagers and single adults are "told over and over not to have sex, but no one ever encourages" them "to be bodily or sensual in some appropriate way"‑getting to know and appreciate what their bodies can do through sports, especially for girls, or even thinking sensually about something like food. Winner goes on, "This doesn't mean, of course, that if only the church sponsored more softball leagues, everyone would stay on the chaste straight and narrow. But it does mean that the church ought to cultivate ways of teaching Christians to live in their bodies well‑so that unmarried folks can still be bodily people, even though they're not having sex, and so that married people can give themselves to sex freely."
Too often, though, evangelical literature directed at teen‑agers forbids all forms of sexual behavior, even masturbation. "Every Young Woman's Battle," for example, tells teen‑agers that "the momentary relief' of "self‑gratification" can lead to "shame, low self‑esteem, and fear of what others might think or that something is wrong with you." And it won't slake sexual desire: "Once you begin feeding baby monsters, their appetites grow bigger and they want MORE! It's better not to feed such a monster in the first place."
Shelby Knox, who spoke at a congressional hearing on sex education earlier this year, occupies a middle ground. She testified that it's possible to "believe in abstinence in a religious sense," but still understand that abstinence‑only education is dangerous "for students who simply are not abstaining." As Knox's approach makes clear, you don't need to break out the sex toys to teach sex ed‑you can encourage teen‑agers to postpone sex for all kinds of practical, emotional, and moral reasons. A new "abstinence‑plus" curriculum, now growing in popularity, urges abstinence while providing accurate information about contraception and reproduction for those who have sex anyway. "Abstinence works," Knox said at the hearing. "Abstinence‑only‑ until marriage does not."
It might help, too, not to present virginity as the cornerstone of a virtuous life. In certain evangelical circles, the concept is so emphasized that a girl who regrets having been sexually active is encouraged to declare herself a "secondary" or "born-again" virgin. That's not an idea, surely, that helps teen‑agers postpone sex or have it responsibly.
The "pro‑family" efforts of social conservatives‑ the campaigns against gay marriage and abortion‑do nothing to instill the emotional discipline or the psychological smarts that forsaking all others often involves. Evangelicals are very good at articulating their sexual ideals, but they have little practical advice for their young followers. Social liberals, meanwhile, are not very good at articulating values on marriage and teen sexuality‑indeed, they may feel that it's unseemly or judgmental to do so. But in fact the new middle‑class morality is squarely pro‑family. Maybe these choices weren't originally about values‑maybe they were about maximizing education and careers‑yet the result is a more stable family system. Not only do couples who marry later stay married longer; children born to older couples fare better on a variety of measures, including educational attainment, regardless of their parents' economic circumstances. The new middle‑class culture of intensive parenting has ridiculous aspects, but it's pretty successful at turning out productive, emotionally resilient young adults. And its intensity maybe one reason that teen‑agers from dose families see childrearing as a project for which they're not yet ready. For too long, the conventional wisdom has been that social conservatives are the upholders of family values, whereas liberals are the proponents of a polymorphous selfishness. This isn't true, and, every once in a while, liberals might point that out.
Some evangelical Christians are starting to reckon with the failings of the preaching‑and‑pledging approach. In "The Education of Shelby Knox," for example, Shelby's father is uncomfortable, at first, with his daughter's campaign. Lubbock, after all, is a town so conservative that its local youth pastor tells Shelby, ‑ "You ask me sometimes why I look at you a little funny. Its because I hear you speak and I hear tolerance." But as her father listens to her arguments he realizes that the no‑tolerance ethic simply hasn't worked in their deeply Christian community. Too many girls in town are having sex, and having babies that they can't support. As Shelby's father declares toward the end of the film, teen‑age pregnancy "is a problem‑a major, major problem that everybody's just shoving under the rug."