There is something going on in our culture that puts both men and women, and boys and girls at risk. Our hypersexual culture is undermining our health. Both males and females are at risk but from different directions.
First, consider men and boys.
Men get trapped by their natural and healthy biological drive to reproduce. Sexuality is a great good. It generates the next generation. It creates bonds of affection and attachment between intimacy partners. It creates pleasure for a purpose.
However, a hypersexual culture separates sexuality from relationship. In the process it diminishes men who are trapped by the promise of easy pleasure without the obligation of relationship. Rather than presenting sexuality in the fullness of its human expression, a hypersexual culture offers up limited sexual release.
The limits of hypersexual culture are felt most painfully in the isolation it creates. Isolation ensues whether a man is caught up in pornography, or in transactional arrangements via prostitution, massage parlors, or strip clubs.
It is sex without relationship. Pleasure without purpose. Drive without meaningful direction. In limiting sexual expression, a hypersexual culture limits those who become caught up in the truncated vision it projects.
What’s worse, as a man falls deeper into the trap and invests more of his time, energy, and money in pursuit of sexual experience outside of relationship, he receives diminishing returns as he develops tolerance for the behavior. The more he pursues pleasure, the more illusive it becomes.
Eventually he is left empty.
The hypersexual culture puts boys at particular risk. Before boys reach puberty, they have already learned to access pornography on the internet. Rather than develop the skills associated with healthy intimacy, they are at risk of falling into the trap of their fathers, uncles, and older brothers and male cousins. The cycle repeats with successive generations.
Now consider women and girls.
Women are objectified by hypersexual culture. Rather than recognize the rich and complex dimensions of a woman’s full humanity, hypersexual culture reduces women to an object of sexual pleasure.
They are not taken seriously at work. The well-known struggle for work equality – whether in terms of hiring, promotion, or pay – is directly tied to the way a hypersexual culture reduces a women’s role to the service male sexual appetite.
Women are not taken seriously at home in a hypersexual culture. Rather than serving as an equal partner in marriage, a hypersexual culture diminishes the value of a wife and mother in proportion to her sexual appeal to her husband. Commercial “beauty” products play on the anxiety a woman may feel as she imagines herself losing her sexual appeal as she ages.
In truth, a woman’s sexual appeal can grow with age. When a marriage is anchored in healthy intimacy, sexual intimacy is enhanced by emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intimacy. As a woman matures she gains wisdom, strength, and character through life experience. Sadly, the hypersexual culture obscures the genuine power women possess at every age.
Like boys, hypersexual culture undermines the healthy formation of girls and the female identity. As girls reach puberty, they are formed to believe that their value is anchored by their ability to embody the idealized, sexualized presentation of the feminine form. As girls become teenagers, they lack the critical thinking skills that could otherwise protect them.
As a result, the tendency to conform to male expectation results eating disorders, depression, and codependency as girls unwittingly embrace the distorted images of female power – having reduced all to sexual appeal.
The challenge is to seek health.
First, we must acknowledge the power a hypersexual culture has over ourselves and our families.
Second, we must seek to restore in ourselves the practice and experience of healthy sexual expression understood in its relationship to healthy intimacy.
And finally, we must learn to talk about and take responsibility for stripping a hypersexual culture of its power.
The emerging person deserves a chance to grow up healthy, happy, and whole unencumbered by a culture that puts their ability for flourish at risk.
Image by Timm Suess