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VICTOR JOECKS: How popular culture pushes people toward misery

Friends don’t let friends take life advice from popular culture.

Think about the challenges you faced moving from adolescence to adulthood. You had your own unique circumstances, but here’s a fundamental difficulty we all shared: Our options were nearly limitless.

Everyone likes choices. But too many choices can be paralyzing. That’s especially true for a teenager who lacks life experience. The stakes are high. Many of their decisions will have lifelong consequences. No one gets a do-over on these all-important years.

This is one reason parents are so important. They’ve quite literally been there before. In a healthy family, they’re usually the most important influence on a young adult.

Culture matters, too, especially when parents are absent. Children are going to get advice from somewhere. Unfortunately, modern culture, backed by major institutions, generally promotes messages that lead to despair. One of the most prominent is, “If it feels good, do it.”

Nowhere is this more obvious than with sex, which, for many, is the ultimate example of what feels good. Movies and music videos portray casual sex as a normal part of life. Even sex education in the Clark County School District is built on the assumption that teenagers will have intercourse. It directs students to role-play asking each other for sex.

This is a stark contrast to past generations. Society used to encourage people to have sex inside of marriage. Obviously, that didn’t happen in many cases, but the cultural norm was there.

The removal of this taboo and birth control have led to more casual sex. But that’s not the only thing most people are interested in. Around 95 percent of teenagers expect to be married someday. As it turns out, the choices you make before you’re married affect the likelihood that you’ll have a happy union.

A new report from the Wheatley Institute looked at marital happiness compared with the number of sexual partners spouses had before marriage. It found those who’ve had sex only with their spouse “are most likely to be flourishing in marriage.” They even had the highest level of sexual satisfaction.

As the number of previous partners increased, so did the likelihood of divorce. Those with 10 or more sexual partners before marriage were also around three times less likely to report being “very satisfied” sexually with their marriage.

Leave aside the downstream personal and societal consequences that come from sex outside of marriage. Those include single motherhood, abortion and an increased risk of STDs. If someone wants to improve only their odds of long-term sexual satisfaction, delaying sexual gratification for marriage is a sound strategy.

This pleasure-first message is destructive in most other areas of life, too. Doing homework isn’t fun, but it’s essential to learning. Playing video games is more exciting than going to work, but the latter comes with a paycheck. For most people, exercise is a chore, but the health benefits are life-changing.

There would be massive societal benefits to a culture that elevated messages such as “Begin with the end in mind.” That’s the second habit in Stephen Covey’s bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

For instance, the government has spent tens of trillions of dollars fighting the War on Poverty. Poverty won, and it’s not even close. But there’s a simple way to defeat poverty. Get people to follow the “Success Sequence.” That’s when individuals graduate high school, work full time and get married before having kids. Among those who follow these steps, 97 percent escape poverty when they reach adulthood.

You won’t learn it from popular culture, but the single-minded pursuit of pleasure is a good way to make yourself miserable.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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