The world into which we send our young people is unlike our ancestors’ world in many ways. It is organized on principles of reward and punishment that combine in an incoherent way, and therefore send mixed signals. In certain respects, it has become difficult to combine virtue and natural happiness with worldly success, and this creates painful choices.
Modernity likes to claim that the opposite is true: that it was our ancestors who suffered this dilemma on account of their “artificial” social conventions. Notably, these made sexual activity outside marriage less attractive, and that is something many people in all ages have been tempted to do. So, the modern argument goes, that was artificial, and everyone is better off now that those conventions have, for nearly everyone and for practical purposes, disappeared. People can do what they like, and this is obviously a good thing, isn’t it?
It is not, however, a foregone conclusion that satisfying our immediate, natural, sexual desires is compatible with our dearest long-term objectives. The question requires some serious thought.