Sex, Money, and Marriage Utility

This thoughtful guest post is provided by Joseph A. Kohm, III, Regent Law 2L, current Family Law student, and former RSG Oxford program student.

What directs a person most when determining whom they are going to marry? Understanding and manipulating these underlying directions is the key to restoring many virtues to society. What drives matrimonial decisions may be how each party perceives utility; this makes a society’s concept of utility critical to creating good marriages.
            Charles Wheelan makes eminently clear through his book Naked Economics that individuals are driven by what they believe will maximize their utility, or their happiness. Charles Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (2002). Consequently, marriage has always been a method of maintaining and increasing our happiness, and therefore our utility. Perhaps this seems self-evident, but what has changed about marriage is how we define our utility.
            Two concepts of utility through marriage are most helpful in this context: financial stability and romantic love. Jane Austen’s beloved works illustrate this well, but none do so better than Pride and Prejudice. Austen accomplishes this by giving the character of Elizabeth Bennet a fierce conviction that she will not marry without affection. In holding fast to this conviction despite the lure of family and fortune stability through a marriage to the absurd Mr. Collins, Lizzy is shown to be a drastic anomaly to the popular ideas and purposes for utility in marriage of her time. Austen expertly illustrates her society’s ideas of utility by giving her readers an exception to those ideas and then showing the ridicule that such an anomaly would be exposed to, even from her own family. Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (1813).
            Research today shows that women still consider a man’s financial stability to be one of the most important factors in their determination of his marriageability, while romantic love is generally the stronger driving force in marriage utility. In today’s Western world, and increasingly in the Eastern world as well, romantic passion is generally the chief driving force behind matrimonial decisions. Women have increasingly gained more rights (rightfully so) since Austen’s time.  This increase in women’s liberty is something to be celebrated. What has been lost, however, is the fact that each increase in liberty for any group brings with it an increased price of internal and external vigilance and responsibility. The West has linked romantic love with sexual satisfaction, and the family has potentially been put on the altar as payment. We seem to have hung marriage and the family itself on the constantly and wildly swinging pendulum of our present desires. The utility created through happiness in marriage has failed to maintain a strong sense of responsibility which fosters virtues and family strength.  Western culture’s linking of marriage to sexual gratification can also work to equate sexual frustration with marriage failure. This is consequently the reason why so many couples are having sexual relations prior to marriage: they want to be sure that their potential spouse can sexually gratify them before they commit to what could be a lifetime with that person. Admittedly, it is not improper to seek sexual gratification in one’s marriage. The error has come in that we have hung all of marriage on what is essentially only one piece of a very large pizza pie. In fact, sex is simply one (very wonderful) slice of a glorious pie designed for us by our Creator.
            There are of course, other significant pieces of the “marriage pie,” but the essential point is that people need to derive and shape the utility they get from marriage based on God’s precepts and design, and not from anything culture dictates. Culture emphasizes sexual fulfillment at the expense of quite literally everything else, including other people. God, by contrast, opens one’s eyes to the reality of all the glory and satisfaction that marriage can be. Young people need to work for this perspective and base their matrimonial decisions on it. Financial stability is a great thing to consider when making marriage decisions. So is physical attractiveness. However, the only lasting and meaningful solution that will allow us to properly comprehend the purposes of marriage and derive our utility from it is a relationship with God.
Each person is able to determine the utility he or she derives from marriage. With that ability comes the responsibility to properly derive from marriage the utility that God had designed for us to enjoy in matrimony. Through this proper utility, the sanctity of sexuality can be restored and the full glory of marriage realized. 

So what really directed Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy in their marriage decision? I will leave that for you to decide – for them and for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. You said, “The utility created through happiness in marriage has failed to maintain a strong sense of responsibility which fosters virtues and family strength.” Well said. I agree that we enter marriage in hope and expectation that we will find happiness. But, as a Christian, I believe marriage and a family is also the place where God leads us to die to self. When expectations are not met, do we cut and run? Or do we stick it out based on real commitment? The disciples believed in a Messiah, but there idea of him and God’s idea were different things. They were ready to take up swords. Jesus called them to lay down their lives for a greater purpose and a more lasting, eternal kingdom. Likewise, I think marriage, and anything God call us to in life, must be tempered with the reality that things may not always work out as we planned, but, if we follow Him, as God plans, and God’s plans are better.