February 21st 2020
Once more, the wisdom of the ancient world has been proven true.
A new report by British researchers shows a strong association between the number of one's lifetime sexual partners and one's risk of developing cancer and other serious diseases. According to a new report published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, women with 10 or more lifetime sexual partners were 91% more likely to develop cancer compared to those with zero to one partner, while men with that number of partners were 64% more likely to contract cancer.
The researchers based their work on the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, a detailed study of 5,722 men and women. Along with higher cancer rates, they found that women with the high number (10 or more) of sexual partners were far more likely to suffer from a long-term debilitating illnesses.
The researchers and others in the field were quick to qualify their findings: doctors have known for a long time that certain STIs (sexually transmitted infections) can lead to particular forms of cancer. In addition, the study showed that those who have a higher number of lifetime sexual partners are also more likely to smoke and drink alcohol, so the higher number of partners may not be the actual cause of disease.
Nonetheless, the association of promiscuity and disease is overwhelming, and a greater number of sexual partners may be the direct cause of disease. Scientists just don't know. In the meantime, the study's co-author, Lee Smith, suggested that using condoms might "minimize the risk." But there is a better way: live a chaste and sensible life.
The question of chastity falls into what Plato would have called the Form of the Good or what, in less stilted terms, we might simply call "morality." The difference between right and wrong is not difficult to ascertain, nor was it ever meant to be. It is only modern-day relativism that has confused the public as to what is best. While our popular culture once celebrated "one true love" in beautiful songs, films, and novels, today the dominant treatment of sexuality falls into the category of casual sex or "hooking up."
Unlike those beautiful doo-wop songs of the 1950s, like "Earth Angel" and "I Only Have Eyes for You," the popular music of our time celebrates a gross hedonism that depicts sexual scoring as the end-all of existence. In songs like "Nasty Girl," "Make It Nasty," and a number of songs by different "artists" entitled "Pussy," there is not a hint of commitment or fidelity. Just the opposite: Both men and women are portrayed as amoral beings engaged in a crude travesty of values. And it is not just male rappers who deride the moral life: even a performer as mainstream as Beyoncé - recently voted "artist of the decade" - fills her songs and videos (like "Drunk in Love," and "Partition") with explicit lyrics and images. It is not just the fringe, but the core of our culture that has been taken over by an aggressively immoral mindset.
Insider magazine celebrates Beyoncé's last decade by saying "she shoved the needle forward for the industry and for her career," whatever that means. Certainly, Insider is correct in saying that Beyoncé, who sang during Obama's first inauguration and has won multiple Grammys, can be taken as a barometer of contemporary taste. Her tens of millions of fans watch suggestive videos of scantily clad, seductive women and predatory young men and think them "cool."
Other "artists" are far more explicit, but it comes down to the same thing: the dominant message of our general culture is hedonistic and deterministic. Grab as much sex, food, experience, drugs, money, and power as you can without a thought for the consequences. This message has had a devastating effect on the actual lives of ordinary persons. Although it is difficult to quantify, it's likely that the number of sexual partners has risen in recent decades, and certainly a great deal since that prudish 1950s - and with it cancer rates and the rates of other serious diseases.
Thoughtful persons know, as human beings have always known, that there is an alternative. The contemplation of goodness was the activity of not just philosophers in ancient times. It has been a burning concern of everyday human beings for thousands of years. It was crucial to know that one had lived a "morally upright existence" - like "true love," another phrase we no longer hear in use - and not merely because it might earn one a place in Heaven.
One's identity was tied to the fact of "being a good person." Those who had sinned experienced guilt as they grew older and sought to atone for their actions. And those who had no capacity for making moral distinctions fell outside the protection of society. Like Charles Manson, squatting in his prison cell for a half-century, they were punished by society and by their own depraved thoughts. They had no identity.
Most ordinary persons knew this to be true, and it was reflected in the nature of our popular culture. The central theme of the 1939 film Stagecoach is not "cowboys versus Indians" or even physical survival - it is the Form of the Good, and there is no confusion as to what the Good is. From the very first, as the kind-hearted but unfortunate saloon girl Dallas is driven from town by a female Law and Order League and as the Ringo Kid is arrested for fleeing prison to avenge a wrong, the true nature of goodness is center stage.
Stagecoach sets up the distinction between the corrupt minority, like the embezzler Gatewood, and the majority who recognize a higher and more enduring standard of right. The birth of a child and the need to protect mother and newborn play an important role in the film. Equally important is the chaste relationship established between Dallas and the Ringo Kid. When Ringo proposes to Dallas, he pledges that he will provide a good life for her on his ranch. His pledge is based on the indisputable truth that marriage involves a lifetime commitment and that adultery, or even disrespect, is unacceptable.
An indisputable truth, until now.
It is not necessary to dress up in black clothes and adopt puritanical standards in order to live a moral life, though it is necessary to alter our conduct and reject the standards of celebrities and the media. We must celebrate innocence and fidelity in the way that Stagecoach and so many others earlier films and stories did. We must reflect on the true nature of goodness - the difference between right and wrong - and the way it relates to dating, marriage, and parenting. It is time for the simple moral distinctions accepted for millennia to be indisputable once again.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).