Daily Mail

Sex and social suicide

By Melanie Phillips.
Daily Mail
December 14 2002

Something is clearly seriously amiss in our society’s whole approach to the status and significance of children. This week, two sets of figures were published which should cause us to stop dead in our tracks.

The first was revealed at a sexual health conference hosted by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Its honorary secretary, Professor Allan Templeton, revealed that a horrifying 13.8 per cent of girls aged under 16 were infected with the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia, which can cause pelvic inflammation and infertility.

In Professor Templeton’s words, this is a ‘staggering’ infection rate for girls who are under the age of consent. And this is quite apart from the unacceptably high 10 per cent infection rate among older teenagers and women under 25.

Even worse, among the girls he has treated no fewer than 28 per cent become re-infected within six months, and 20 per cent within a year.

In other words, there is an epidemic of promiscuity among young girls, including children for whom sexual intercourse is against the law – and whose reckless behaviour appears to be impervious even to the warning signals of serious disease.

At same time, the Office of National Statistics revealed that birth rates in Britain have now dropped to a historic low, with women having an average of 1.6 children. This is below the birth rate of 2.1 children which is required to keep population numbers stable.

So it appears that sex is no longer being used by our society to reproduce itself through having children. Instead, it is producing promiscuous children who are contracting sexually transmitted diseases (not to mention our appalling teenage pregnancy rate).

How can we have got ourselves into such a disturbing situation, which poses such grave dangers for the well-being and even the survival of our society?

The answer lies in the revolution that has occurred in the way we look at birth, marriage, family life and the relations between men and women. Sex has become detached from reproduction. Instead, it has been turned into a recreational sport denuded of any moral or social constraints.

These are symptoms of a society which now worships at the shrine of personal fulfilment and instant gratification, producing a profound change in sexual behaviour. If these trends remain unchecked, the eventual outcome must inevitably be the erosion of the bonds of duty between the generations and a country left with no stake in its own future.

At this point, a statistical health warning is needed. Demographic projections are almost invariably wrong. Unforeseen events occur causing people’s behaviour to change, throwing all forecasts into confusion.

Nevertheless, one cannot ignore current trends. And if a birth rate of only 1.6 continued, Britain as we know it would eventually go out of business. While the birth rate is falling, people are living much longer. So unless more babies were born, within a few decades Britain would become top heavy, with too few young people to support the huge numbers of the elderly.

There wouldn’t be enough working-age tax payers to fund the public services and meet the medical and pension costs of the older generation. And eventually the overall population would decline in numbers, too.

It is not just Britain which faces this difficulty. Most of the developed world is suffering from a birth rate below the replacement level. According to the European union’s statistical office Eurostat, last year there were more deaths than births in 43 per cent of the EU’s 211 regions.

But in some European countries – the Netherlands, France, Denmark and Sweden, for example – the birth rate has now turned upwards again.

Why is all this happening? The first thing to say is that this is by no means a new phenomenon. The British birth rate started to decline in the 1880s with the development of contraception. The ‘baby boom’ after the Second World War was an aberration. Now we are not only back with decline, but it is becoming more pronounced.

Demographers and other experts are scratching their heads over a trend that is common to countries with wildly different cultures and attitudes.

The rise of the consumer society is an obvious culprit, with materialism squeezing out the sacrifices of child-rearing. Women are charged with preferring to go out to work rather than devote their lives to child-production.  The status of children themselves has changed, too. In less developed societies – as in Britain, generations ago -- children are viewed as a source of income for the family. In modern Britain, having children has turned from an investment to an expense.

In addition, families have lost many of their functions as a result of the welfare state. Once, they played a principal role in educating children, caring for their elderly, or looking after relatives. Now, the state provides education, health care, old people’s homes and unemployment support. Since the state has nationalised the family in this way, incentives to have children have declined.

But this cannot be the whole explanation. In countries like Italy, Spain and Greece, where the family is still venerated and where a lower proportion of women work than in Britain, the birth rate is even lower at 1.2 and 1.3 children per woman.

According to the Oxford demographer Professor David Coleman, women in southern Europe are now simply refusing to shoulder the enormous burdens imposed by this veneration of the family, which leaves women having to do everything for husbands, children and elders simultaneously -- and increasingly, cope with a paid job too.

This is clearly not the situation in Britain, where women do not generally juggle such extensive family duties. The common factor, however, is surely a revolt by women throughout the developed world against a domestic role they believe fetters their personal freedom.

In Britain, where the integrity of marriage and the influence of the church have all but imploded, such self-interest has gone far further. Fewer calculate their interests down through the generations. The here and now is all-important. So without that need to invest in the future, the dependency of the young – or the old -- becomes an intolerable bore.

The change in women’s attitudes is indeed pivotal – but not perhaps because so many women have jobs. After all, in countries like Sweden or Denmark where just as many women work, birth rates are now rising.

It is surely much more to do with our extreme, ‘unisex’ feminism which has relentlessly inculcated the view that marriage is slavery and must be avoided at all costs if women are not to lose their identities. 

To free themselves from men, says unisex feminism, women have to become like men (or their caricature) – unconstrained, predatory, seeking instant gratification and then moving on. Thousands of women, believing this propaganda, now behave accordingly.

As they get older, however, and their biological clock ticks ever more loudly, they get a terrible shock. Wanting at last to have a child by a man who will fulfil his role as its father, they cannot find a suitable chap to oblige.

This is surely the difference from other countries where the birth rate is now rising. There, women in their thirties are finally having children. Here they are not – and the reason is surely not hard to spot.

British men have been demonised as rapists, child molesters and wife-beaters, or caricatured as feeble-minded wimps. They are told their role as breadwinner is defunct -- unless they are actually separated from the mothers of their children, at which point they will be hounded for child support.

At the lower end of the income scale, their full-time jobs are being replaced by part -time jobs colonised by women. Marginalised by work, home, the divorce courts and the welfare system, not surprisingly they no longer view a broody, unattached but multiply-partnered woman as an unmitigated joy.

In the meantime, women wonder why they can’t find a decent man with whom to have a child.

The freedom women now enjoy to have sex without the risk of reproduction, with the corresponding collapse of any stigma or moral constraint, has turned sex into the defining commodity of our consumer culture.

The flip side of such adult irresponsibility is that children are treated as mini-adults. Not only parents but the state now refuses to treat children as the immature individuals they are, requiring the effort of protection and guidance.

Instead, through sex-education in schools it equips them for the sexual marketplace – and congratulates itself for its ‘responsibility’ as it dishes out condoms to under-age youngsters. The result is that sex has become a recreational sport for children just as it is for adults, with shocking and shameful results.

When individuals become concerned only with their own selfish needs and desires, society starts to break down. The traditional family was the principal mechanism by which our society ensured that its members had a commitment to looking after each other and thus guaranteed its survival. Safeguarding the welfare of children was critical to that understanding.

But now, children have ceased to be our investment in the future. Of course, there are thankfully still many families where children are infinitely precious. But the bleak statistics of dismembered family life cannot be gainsaid.

Children have become commodities, to be fitted into lifestyle choices just like other consumer goods – desirable, certainly, as adult ‘rights’, and alas all too dispensable when they get in the way of adult desires. A society which abandons its children has stopped caring about its own future.

This is not irrevocable. As I have said, there are countries – Denmark, Sweden, the United States – which have looked over the edge and decided to pull back. But it all depends whether people feel an investment in their society, or whether they are rootless individuals only interested in themselves. A country has to have enough pride and belief in itself to want to continue.

A society that no longer wishes to survive but is prepared to replace itself by something entirely different is truly decadent. It is engaged in nothing less than social suicide.

Saving ourselves from this fate means restoring the pact between the generations. This mean investing heavily in committed parenting, with financial incentives to have children and to shore up and strengthen marriage.

Admittedly, this would not solve the dilemma of women torn between their desire for freedom and the pull of motherhood – a dilemma that individual women alone have to resolve for themselves.

And women are the crux of all this. It is women who are the civilising force in both family and society. This was the critical insight by the feminist pioneers of the 19th century, who opened up the public sphere for women so that the whole of society might be improved by their influence.

But unisex feminism has betrayed that legacy and left women confused and abandoned. It is possible that women will come to rethink where their own interests really lie. If that were to happen, our children might be rescued from the sexual free-for-all, and the gloomy demographers might be proved wrong yet again.

To comment on any article, e-mail melanie@melaniephillips.com

© Melanie Phillips 2002.