Here's your daily dose of The Kids Today being wretched. Robert Frank in the NY Times:
Proponents of a ban [on contraception] may just want teenagers to grow up in an environment where they aren't expected to sleep with the first classmate who hits on them. A ban, though, would cause enormous harm, and is an ill-advised strategy for creating such an environment. But the wish itself is hardly mysterious.
First: where exactly are teenagers expected to sleep with the first classmate who hits on them? Frank could at least say he's just talking about how some parents don't want their teens to have sex at all instead of implying that schools are little more than non-stop orgies, where rejecting others so impolite that you have to drop your pants the minute someone propositions you to make his point.
Second: has Frank read the Religious Right's mind? I doubt concern for young people's well-being is what motivates those who consider hitting children an inalienable right, and either way some proof would be in order before assigning this motivation to anti-contraception advocates. Data doesn't support the claims that non-exploitative sex is harmful and that taking away contraception makes it less harmful. It's so far away from proving the latter that it's hard to assume people working towards it are doing so in good faith.
But most striking is the "hardly mysterious" comment. An off-hand, non-rigorous dismissal from an economist should raise an eyebrow. Lots of things are "hardly mysterious" but are still the subjects of study, especially in economics, often because understanding the hardly mysterious can help explain the actually mysterious.
Alternatively, lots of things written off as "hardly mysterious" are genuinely mysterious, and you only notice it if you study the subject.
Here, it is mysterious how parents often want to control teens' sexualities, or conservatives want to control everyone's sexualities. Is there any other activity with such capacity to increase happiness - everyone's happiness - but still manages to be suppressed with disproportionately little protest? In economics-speak, is there any other set of preferences that elicits bad policy so easily in order to repress it?
And I remember thinking it was mysterious since I was in eighth grade, long before I had sex and long before I was introduced to the concept of rigor. I just plain found it weird and never got a satisfactory explanation until I finally came to understand what an anomalous topic sexuality is. Americans claim to be "live and let live," but bring up sex, especially teens and sex, and suddenly they wouldn't mind a dictator telling people exactly what they should be doing with their genitalia.
While there's lots of push-back when it comes to adults (although the push-back only exists because the powerful desire to control other people's genitalia exists), when it comes to teens few people question the idea that parents should be allowed to control them in this way, and even fewer question why they would want to control teen sexuality. It's just accepted that parents wouldn't want their teenage children to be happy, at least not like that.
Doesn't it at least sound weird? Sex makes people happy, and it's been making them happy for millennia. Many people don't want to wait until they're 18, and historically few people did. The sex drive doesn't just appear on one's 18th birthday or the day a person gets married, and people generally understand this. Shouldn't we at least ask why parents now want to keep other people, people they care about, from having sex until they're 18?
And of course there's great work in this field that reduces Frank's maybe's and "in some circles" to annoyingly uninformed prattle.
Maybe I'm looking for a little too much, for a professor of economics who has a column in the NY Times to make an attempt at understanding a human behavior before writing about it for the whole world to see. But it's not like many people are going to push him to think about it.
(Mysterious investigation graphic via Bigstock)