Deepening Divorce in the Deep South

You hear about divorces on occasion in any area of the country, but a new study by the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that the South may have a higher rate of divorces than many other areas, especially the Northeast. A few factors seem to be strong indicators of why this is the case. The first is the predominance of fundamentalist or conservative Christian values concerning premarital sex. The other is minimal or lacking education on dating and sex.

In terms of people’s disapproval towards premarital sex, the South is notorious. I myself can vouch for this position that you should abstain until you get married, since we had the “True Love Waits” group featured at the church I went to up until college. I don’t think we had people come to our school, but there were instances of teenage pregnancy, which was excused on the grounds that the students were either taking responsibility or giving the child up for adoption. This idea of social conformity is a subset of the moralistic pressure from Christian parents and community members. I chose not to have sex before a certain point, but I don’t think I ever completely bought into the notion that you should wait until you’re married to have sex. Even back then I was thinking, “What if the two people are responsible and willing to take whatever the results of their intercourse may be? If they’re willing to raise the child and get married eventually, isn’t it still better for the child?” Part of the problem with this line of thought, though, is thinking that marriage will somehow make you happy over the period of time you’re married. People rush into marriage because of unexpected pregnancies; the so called “shotgun weddings” stereotyped in the South so much. Virginity is valued in the South only to the extent that you’re already put into some clique. If you happen to lose your virginity, it’s almost just not talked about unless the intercourse leads to pregnancy, in which case, fervent pro lifers will push the child into marriage or adoption without letting them even contemplate other options. The pressuring into marriage seems self destructive, especially if the parents presume that just because you have sex with someone that you also must love them enough to marry them. It seems like the focus is more on keeping up appearances and not looking as if your child is flawed in any sense. But children make mistakes and just because they own up to them doesn’t mean they need to feel like they must get married or their child won’t be worth as much as a child born in wedlock. People spread that kind of garbage of a bastard child being somehow cursed or otherwise some sort of trouble to the parent. A child of rape is one thing, but a child of consensual sex that resulted in an unexpected pregnancy is hardly on the same level and any person who says otherwise is missing the forest for the trees big time. Marriage shouldn’t be about social propriety, it should be about mutual love and respect between two people, regardless of if the parents approve of the person in question or not. As long as the couple is happy, shouldn’t you give them your blessing?

Education is a more contentious subject, since one can bring up plenty of decent people that didn’t get beyond high school education, for instance. But education doesn’t always have to be limited to academics. Just having basic education about how you should date and choose your future partner is something that is, again, on the parent’s shoulders to an extent they commonly want to defer to the child or other sources. I can understand if you want your child to learn things the hard way, but if you’re morally opposed to divorce, it’s obligatory that you educate your children as parents do within particular contexts. In being a parent, educating your child at an appropriate age about dating and how they should approach it, is key if you want some modicum of security with your future in-laws and grandchildren. Dating a few different people, perhaps even cohabitating when you are old enough; these are things that can solidify your standards for what you look for in a mate. If you just marry the first person you’re infatuated with, 9 times out of 10 you’ll be miserable after 5 years or so.

Sex education is pertinent here as well, since parents who leave it up to the school to educate children about things of that nature entirely will be sorely disappointed as well, since teenagers are rarely so self controlled or disciplined that, when left to their own devices, they will behave with restraint in the area of sex (especially with hormones at their highest levels, practically). Many in the South tend to view sex-ed as either just right in the basic idea of “scaring” kids into abstinence with threats of STDs and pregnancy (through the use of simulation dolls to demonstrate childcare) or too excessive in teaching kids about the use of protection. I wasn’t taught that myself, so in that sense I found my sex education lacking. The tendency appears to be either kids getting married early, not knowing better about dating options or discernment of a partner in order to have sex without condemnation or they have sex prior to marriage and are forced into it afterwards due to accidental pregnancy. It boils down to both a lack of education and, too often, a willingness to cow to one’s community instead of making your own decisions.

Both of these problems could be solved by education of one form or another. Educating children about being individuals, but also part of the human community would be one thing. I’m not suggesting we tell kids to always rebel against their parents, even though they’ll probably do it anyway. It’s just that kids shouldn’t be told they have to conform and maintain some status quo to keep their parents’ reputation or even their community’s in good standing. If they make a mistake, they should take responsibility for it, but how they do it should not be stratified into the best choice and then every other choice being selfish or immoral. Teens and young adults should also be advised strongly about dating and how it should progress into marriage. There shouldn’t be this desire to marry the first person you feel like you’re in love with, not only because that’s commonly infatuation and not genuine affection, but that in youth you are more prone to impulsive and emotion based decisions, not thinking ahead at all. This may be the strongest factor in the South with people marrying earlier and thinking they can handle it and either getting incredibly lucky with their first choice or suffering after a decade and eventually crumbling to the choice of divorce because they’ve grown apart from their spouse. The worst part is that children are often involved, so the separation can affect them in one way or another. And proper sex education is a solution to the issues of pregnancy leading to shotgun weddings due to suggesting children born out of wedlock are worth less and premarital sex as a social taboo that negatively reinforces the idea that you cannot ever have sex before you’re married. If children learned both how to have safe sex and also be responsible in general with their sexual behavior, the problems wouldn’t occur nearly as much. I’m not saying they’d disappear, but with education, there could be a conceivably higher incidence of marriages lasting instead of breaking apart after hasty decisions. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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