This week I am going to devote most of the articles on this site to the topic of sex. I want to speak especially to young men, those who are teenagers or dating or engaged or newly married. However, I do hope that anyone can read and enjoy the series, even if the teen years are far behind you. I want to talk to young men as an older man. I would like to think that I’m in a sweet spot between young and old–where I am young enough to remember the troubles and travails of youth but old enough to bring a measure of maturity. I want to be forthright with you and yet I also want to be discreet; I often think we, as Christians, talk entirely too much about sex and in too much detail. You may accuse me of the former simply because I’ve written this series but I hope to remain innocent of the second.
I often thank God that I grew up in the years before the internet was in every home; I’m not sure that I would have handled it very well. It’s not like I’m ancient, either, but my thirty-three years do mean that I was born and raised in a pre-internet world. It is difficult to quantify or even qualify how the world has changed since the web tied us all together into this elaborate network of bits and bytes. There is scarcely an area of life that has remain untouched by it. We do not have the old world plus the Internet; we have a whole new world all around us. Even something as flesh and blood as sex has been radically altered in this digital world.
Teenagers in the 90s were not a lot different from teens today. We wanted the same things–we just had to work a little bit harder to get some of them. If we wanted to see pornography (and we did, of course), the process usually involved at least two kids working in tandem, one of whom would distract a shop keeper while the other would try to steal a magazine from the rack at the back of the store. It was dangerous, high stakes work that, if it went wrong, could easily involve a visit with the police. Times have changed.
Today a teenager needs only to turn on his computer and, within two or three clicks of the mouse, he can have unlimited amounts of pornography available to him. Today it is far more difficult to avoid pornography than it is to find it. It would be literally impossible for one person to watch all of the pornography being created today; there would not be enough hours in the day. Not even close. Needless to say, teens, and teenaged boys in particular, are quick to take advantage of this pornographic feast. Even pre-teen boys are being drawn into the world of porn. From the first awakenings of a boy’s sexuality, he is being inundated with pornographic images. These are not simple images of naked women as they may have been a couple of generations ago, but are hard core images that often extend to what is base and degrading. The sexuality of a whole generation of children is being formed not by talks with their parents, not by reading the kind of book I was given as a young man, but by professional pornographers who will do anything, anything!, to fuel the increased desire for increased depravity.
This is the very nature of sin, isn’t it? Sin is always progressive in nature. If you give it an inch, it soon seeks to take a mile. Sin is never content, but always seeks and desires more. Have you ever been scared by your sin? Perhaps there was a time that you saw how a particular sin was taking you over. Maybe you had thought you were in control of your sin but suddenly found that, almost in an instant, it had increased to the next level. You were no longer in control–sin was leading the way and you were more and more just along for the ride, obeying the impulses of the flesh. This is a terrifying place to be and I believe everyone has experienced it at one time or another.
I know beyond doubt that many, many young (and middle-aged and old) men can testify to the power of pornography in taking over. The first glimpse of porn may be fleeting–intriguing but short-lived. A naked body is all the eye needs to see and it provides plenty of fuel for a while. But before long the heart craves more. What was once satisfying is now boring; what was once repulsive is suddenly desirable. Along the way, a person’s whole perception of sex is changed. No longer is sex simple intercourse between a man and a woman. Instead it becomes a series of acts, even acts that are in some way uncomfortable or degrading. Pornography teaches that sex is everything but intimate face-to-face, body-to-soul contact between willing spouses. And, as they say, life soon imitates “art.” Young men enter into marriage with their minds full of pornographic images and their hearts filled with the desire to fulfill pornographic fantasies.
A short time ago I read an article by a woman who considered herself a feminist. She insisted that she enjoyed sleeping with men and thought little of sleeping with a continual succession of men. Yet she shared what for her was a growing concern. More and more, she said, the men she slept with had no real interest in her at all. They simply wanted her to act like a porn star for their benefit. They were using her to do little more than act out their pornography. There was no tenderness, no desire for shared intimacy, and certainly no love. They simply used her body as a means to a very immediate end. This, she saw, was very quickly becoming the new norm. She was disgusted by it but saw that her feminist worldview gave her no real recourse, no effective means of explaining her disgust, her discomfort. What seemed clear is that a generation of men, drowning in a cesspool of porn, has a new set of expectations for what they want from women. They want women to subdue their own selves in order to act like porn stars. The women walk away feeling like little more than prostitutes.
In the new bestseller SuperFreakonomics Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner spend almost an entire chapter investigating the economics of prostitution. They make many interesting observations, not the least of which is based on comparisons in the relative pricing between sex acts in the past and sex acts today. It seems that the taboo nature of certain acts has always claimed a certain premium. Yet “taboo” is a moving target. What was forbidden in the past, and hence what was expensive, is today so mainstream that the price has fallen substantially. What was once the most expensive act is today among the least expensive. Acts that were once taboo because of their exceedingly intimate or vulgar and degrading nature are now accepted as legitimate forms of sexual expression in any relationship. What would by any other standard be considered “normal” is now too undesirable, too boring. It has been replaced by the invasive, the degrading.
Pornography is inherently violent, inherently unloving. It is a perversion of sexuality, not a true form of it, and one that teaches violence and degradation at the expense of mutual pleasure and intimacy. It is about conquests, about conquering. It is the very opposite of God’s intention for sex. It tears love from sex, leaving sex as the immediate gratification of one’s most base desires. It lives beyond rules and ethics and morality. It exists far beyond love. And yet countless young men, Christian young men, are coming into marriage bringing with them all of this pornographic baggage. Having seen thousands of sex acts in a pornographic setting, they load the porn star expectation upon their wives. The young husband assumes or demands that his wife will be willing to do anything, that she will do it all with the proper joy and encouragements, and that she will be as willing and eager and skilled as the women he has seen on the screen.
My great concern with young men today (which is really more a concern for their young wives) is that they may perhaps inadvertently or perhaps intentionally pornify the marriage bed. They may bring impurity to the pure, selfishness to the selfless. Having given themselves over to pornography, they have had their whole perception of sexuality altered, shaped by professional pornographers. They may be imposing on their young brides the impossible expectation of a porn star. With the vast majority of young men having been exposed to pornography (at least 90% according to recent studies), with a large percentage of them having been addicted to it and with many enjoying it still as they enter into marriage, they need to have their understanding and their expectations reset according to the One who created sex.
Many young men need a kind of sexual detox before they are equipped to be the kind of pure, loving, attentive, sacrificial husbands that God calls them to be. In this series of articles I hope to help young men reorient their understanding of sex, both in the big picture and in the act itself, according to God’s plan for this great gift.
In the next article in this series, I want to try to put together the beginnings of a theology of sex. Stay tuned for that tomorrow. If you have questions or concerns you would like me to address in this series, feel free to use the contact form. Using that form you can get in touch with me anonymously if you like.