Rather than believing in objective moral truths, many young adults do believe that morality is a social construction that changes with time and place, as the following public disagreements illustrate. Currently some Americans believe in a woman’s reproductive rights over her own body while others accuse abortion doctors of murder, believe that abortion leads God to allow disasters like giant storms or terrorist acts, and are adamant that human life and property rights begin at conception. Some believe that guns should be harder to get and kept out of the hands of potential killers, while others view gun ownership—including military assault weapons, as a constitutional right. Some believe that government should make sure every American has health care and others believe that each person is responsible for him or herself, as debated in the 2012 presidential race. Candidate Rick Santorum argued against birth control and abortion on the basis of his Catholic beliefs. Mitt Romney agreed with him, advocating defunding Planned Parenthood, while President Obama disagreed. Popes are infallible according to church doctrine since the 19th century: Pope Benedict said that use of condoms helps spreads AIDS. Who is right? What is the “moral truth?”
Also in 2012, the Vatican accused US nuns in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Bishops were put in charge of reining them in from their 2010 support of national health care (in opposition to American bishops) and their emphasis on helping the poor as Jesus advocated, rather than opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Sister Simone Campbell, a leader of Catholic nuns, explained the Vatican is not used to strong women. But Millennial are used to them. Is the Pope correct or the radical feminist nuns? In the face of these kinds of opposing beliefs, it’s understandable that youth would question moral absolutes.
In “Lost” telephone surveys, over half (57%) had some regrets about their past sexual experiences. Women were more likely to express regrets, while three-quarters of those with no regrets were male. Few of either gender mentioned concerns about STDs although they’re widespread. The authors found romantic breakups were usually more painful for the women than the men and that a double-standard still exists, as one young man said: “Many guys act like women are different, they cannot understand them, and it is not their responsibility to try to.”[i]
“Lost” states that young adults’ supposed lack of principles leads to casual sex, “hooking up.” One young woman they interviewed advocated, “Sex should be a big deal. Sex is not a big enough deal to enough people.” The authors’ written survey results found 73% of never-married emerging adults have had sexual intercourse and the average age for first sexual intercourse was 16.[ii] But the average number of sexual partners was three, which doesn’t suggest a lot of casual hooking up. The facts are nationally teens are waiting longer to have sex than in 1995, as 43% of girls aged 15-19 have had intercourse, a decrease of 8% by 2010.[iii] The national average age to have sex is 17 so “Lost” statistics don’t smatch the national average. Two thirds of youth ages 15 to 24 have engaged in oral sex, often before having vaginal intercourse for the first time, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. The reasons virgins of both sexes wait to have sex are it is against their religion or morals, they don’t want to get pregnant, and they haven’t found the right person. (European teens have similar patterns but are more likely to use birth control.)
“Lost” authors believe moral relativism also leads to binge drinking and use of drugs, mainly tobacco and marijuana. The authors report that more than 40% of college students report binge drinking during the past two weeks and that thousands of college women are victims of alcohol-related date rape. The authors cite studies that about one-quarter of young women suffer rape or attempted rape during their college years. However, the 2011 survey of almost 204,000 college freshmen reported that drinking alcohol was at an all-time low, down to 41% who had consumed frequently or occasionally in their senior year of high school.
“Partying” or getting intoxicated is associated with having fun and being wild. The “Lost” authors fault alcohol advertisers who spend billions of dollars to associate alcohol with living with gusto. However, they report 22% of their interviewees were non-drinkers, 25% were occasional users, and 22% were recovering drinkers who had become more moderate. Their figures mean that less than one-third were heavy drinkers.
The authors categorized young adult’s political orientation as apathetic (27%), the marginally political (27%) who are somewhat informed but not activists, uninformed (13%), distrustful but informed (19%), the disempowered but informed who don’t think they can make a difference (10%), while only 4% are genuinely political and engaged.
[i] Ibid, p. 177
[ii] Ibid., p. 149
[iii] National Survey of Family Growth collected for 1995, 2002, and 2006-2010.
“US Teens Postponing Sex,” NY Daily News, May 4, 2012.