By Paul Fahey Thursday, October 24
This probably won’t be a huge surprise for many people, but, quite simply, the western culture that we presently live in is over-saturated with sex. From the rampant consumption of pornography to the primetime objectification of women for profit, sex pervades nearly every aspect of our media. As a culture, we are obsessed with sex, period. Take my regular Thursday post for example. Like Miley Cyrus’ YouTube page, all I had to do was add sex to the usual act and my page views went through the roof.
Ironically enough, two of the main consequences of this sexual over-saturation is a newfound prudishness with regard to the human body and an inability to be intimate. Concerning the former, as a culture, we have become nudity prudes because we are unable to view human beings as anything but sexual beings. Don’t believe me? Just look at the controversy over public breastfeeding (even in churches). We just can’t wrap our heads around the idea that a woman’s breasts can be used in a completely non-sexual way. Even The Oatmeal understands this newfound prudishness. More so than the generations previous, this generation feels really uncomfortable with nudity because we cannot imagine the naked human body as being anything but a sexual object. We have been so steeped in the objectification of the human body (particularly the female body – largely through pornography) that nudity scares us. Christians are especially afraid – afraid of being used as sexual objects and afraid to use others as sexual objects. This is so much the case that instead of recognizing sex as a good and beautiful thing to be cherished, we just shout “immodesty!” and “abstinence!” in reaction to any discomfort. We have embraced a new puritanism.
A second consequence of sexual over-saturation is a lack of intimacy. At first glance this seems silly. More sex = more intimacy. Right? That is precisely the problem. Believe it or not, physical intimacy doesn’t necessarily mean sex. We are embodied souls, so our innermost being expresses itself through our physical body. Thus there is a whole spectrum of physical actions that express a deeper intimacy. Because, as a culture we have equated sex with intimacy, we have forgotten how to actually be intimate. No longer can we traverse the spectrum of human intimacy, rather, we jump from hugging to having sex (so no wonder everyone is just having sex!). A life that is void of physical actions that sincerely express intimacy apart from sex is severely impoverished. Why? Because sex doesn’t create intimacy, it simply expresses it.
And that is where we find ourselves: in a culture with an overabundance of sex, but no genuine intimacy; where nudity abounds, but we’re afraid of the human body. Since the great revolution from all sexual mores in the 60s and 70s, we have created a monster that we do not understand and certainly cannot control. We have embraced a hedonism that worships our own sovereign will. Whatever makes us feel pleasure is Good, and whatever makes us feel pain (or simply a lack of pleasure) is Bad. Thus sex and food have become our highest goods. However, because neither of these things will truly satisfy, there is an insatiable desire for more sex, better food, greater pleasure. This unquenchable desire for sex leaves in its wake a society that in the past 50 years has seen an unprecedented rise in divorce, broken homes, children born to single mothers, abortion, AIDS, adolescent sexual assault, pornography, sexual abuse, STDs, and the list goes on. We view absolute personal sexual liberté as a sincere good, something worth fighting for, something worth the collateral damage.
How do we reverse this? We begin by ceasing to view sex as a right, a need, and an entitlement. We must start recognizing sex as the good and beautiful gift that it is. We must stop viewing the human body as a toy, a tool, a means to an end, and something divorced from the infinitely valuable human person. In other words, we must give up this grand charade and start seeing reality as it truly is. At the very least, we can recognize that when we get upset with women breastfeeding in public, it’s our problem and not hers, because she’s not the one playing pretend with the human body.
Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology with minors in History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology.