By Bernard Toutounji
IF you want a good insight into the state of a nation’s happiness keep an eye on sex and relationships.
While health, education, defence and the economy are the standard priorities of most governments; beneath the surface of those rather generic pursuits are the hearts and desires of actual people, from the greatest to the least.
On our business cards we may be teachers, plumbers or lawyers, but in the privacy of our own lives we are individuals who have varying degrees of success relating to other individuals.
And my premise is that we are failing – absolutely abysmally – in our priorities and methodologies regarding sex and relationships.
As a first thought, witness the incredible rise of online dating.
In Australia, a country with only 22 million people, the two most popular dating websites claim to each have 2 million members; allegedly 51 per cent of the population has either tried online dating or would consider doing so.
Alongside this search for love sits the rise of couples moving in together, and this is not necessarily as a pathway to marriage but increasingly with marriage not even considered a possible future reality.
Directly corresponding to the rise of cohabitation is the fall of marriage rates, the two lines intersecting sometime in the 1980s as they headed in their new directions.
Perhaps it is little wonder that marriage is taken up less frequently when the examples of good marriages continue falling.
More than one-third of marriages are ending in divorce and the figure rises to 60 per cent for second marriages.
After the divorce, floods of individuals head back over to online dating sites to begin again the search for “someone special”.
And flowing through all of this is an era and society that has never been so carefree about sex.
Any consensual sexual action between two or more people is not only tolerated but – as is seen in the case of the vocal gay lobby – it is often applauded.
A dating relationship without sex is almost deemed to be no relationship at all.
Pornography has become an addiction and is estimated to be a $14 billion per year industry with 25 per cent of all search engine requests being pornographic.
Our free sexual appetite though is costing us dearly.
Rates of sexually transmitted infections are skyrocketting and even normalised in government health campaigns, while the use of antidepressants has doubled since the year 2000.
To objectively look at this broad sweep across the current situation should cause serious alarm, and if it was in a realm other than sex and relationships, it surely would.
We are comfortable commenting on smoking, drinking and obesity but not the ethics of sex.
It seems we just find it all too hard, so for many of us life becomes about minimising the sadness; and pursuing a guilt-free hollowed-out version of sex and relationships.
Even if we know that a cheeseburger never really satisfies, it can seem easier to keep eating them every time we feel a hunger pain rather than setting aside the time and the cost to cook a decent meal.
Essentially what we have at the start of the third millennium is all the free and easy sex we could want but less genuine happiness than we have ever known.
So what got us into this situation?
The answer is sex … and not because sex is and of itself a problem – in fact it’s the contrary – but the problem is our failure to understand ourselves and what we actually desire.
We have collectively become like children in a candy store; everything looks so good but we have no ability to control ourselves.
The answer lies in a maligned and now mostly forgotten word, chastity.
Often incorrectly thought of as celibacy – abstinence from marriage and sexual relations – chastity is the successful integration of our bodily desires according to our state and situation in life.
A chaste married person loves their spouse sexually according to the vows they made.
A chaste single person shares a non-sexual love, which does not speak of a permanency they cannot offer.
Chastity is that virtue which lifts us from the level of animal to human.
A chaste person is mature enough to understand their own sexuality and what that means.
To practise chastity is not necessarily always easy – nothing worthwhile is easy – but we do have a choice.
A lack of chastity, according to the data, seems to bring disease and internal unhappiness.
The smart option would seem to be to try living a new integrated life.
Bernard Toutounji is Catholic blogger.