[WARNING: Sexual content below.]
Shameful admission: in the year 2008, when I was waging a twofold battle against cancer, I began to watch a show called The Bachelor. Or maybe it was The Bachelorette, that season. Whatever the gender of the mate-seeking protagonist, it afforded me a bit of an escape from my torturous reality, and I considered the insipid saga of romantic pursuit to be fairly harmless, though not entirely hygienic!
I was back in Germany when the next season aired. I told myself the show was a fascinating character study as I streamed an episode or two. I told myself I was taking a stance against immorality by condemning what I saw on my small laptop screen. What was wrong with these people? Despite my righteous protestations, every time I clicked “play now,” I was perpetuating the lie that it is “just harmless entertainment.”
It wasn’t until Sean’s season, when details of the new bachelor’s character and faith were reported to me by wide-eyed Christian girls, that I realized the extent of the show’s danger and of its reflection on the society we live in. Sean was handsome—a healthy young man from a reportedly solid family, whose pecs launched an online frenzy and whose tweets about his church, his pastor and his favorite Bible verses assured star-struck young viewers that he was a good guy—a good Christian guy. Exactly the type of man they’re looking for. Right?
That’s what has caused me to write this article. When the show was a social phenomenon devoid of moral fiber, whose entertainment value was more about toned bodies than happily-ever-after outcomes, I could tsk-tsk my disapproval and not-too-subtly suggest to the young ladies in my life that their viewership was morally, relationally and psychologically risky. With Sean’s professed faith, however, the show increased its potential to distort their standards for the Christian men they hope to marry, lowering them to glamorous worldly levels we should flee rather than embrace. And that, my friends, is ground too dangerous to concede without a fight.
I’m sure there have been more candidates in every season since Sean who have professed Christian beliefs and high standards. I am in no position to judge the authenticity of the faith of a TV personality. I can, however, without the slightest hesitation, point out the incongruity of belief vs. behavior. Can young people with Biblical values immerse themselves in a whirlpool of sexuality, competition, seduction and deceit and not lose their standing as Christian role models? Can they engage in physical intimacy with several people at the same time and participate in scantily clad make-out sessions—legs, arms and bodies intertwined—and still claim (as Sean and others have) that God is using this unusual method to guide them toward the wife or husband of His choosing?
Apparently, yes. They can. Because we have become a society in which sexuality is so minimized and banalized that it no longer carries a moral, psychological and relational weight. Where pornography, in many “conservative” circles, is still condemned, scripted-TV and reality-TV have brought soft porn—and its consequences—nearly undetected into our homes.
It’s no wonder, really. Because in the secular mindset, using pornography is no longer a fringe behavior. Where it once was stigmatized, it has been normalized. Where it once was cloaked in secrecy, it can now be flaunted. It is now embraced by nearly equal percentages of men and women, often promoted as marital help in couples’ therapy and considered as vital to our health as food and water. When the 33 Chilean miners were trapped underground for 69 days a few years ago, authorities provided them with the basics they needed for survival: something to eat, something to drink…and pornographic materials. It was unfathomable to these men and to those who provided for them that they should be expected to go without their sexual fix for even that period of time.
If you watch adventure shows like Survivor, you’ve heard the same refrain. “It’s been 23 days since I had sex, and I can’t take it a minute longer.” Cue the sympathetic murmurs from entranced TV viewers, some of them young enough to accept without question the notion that having sex is not only an element of survival, but something without which a fulfilling life cannot be achieved.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that the very notion of sexuality must be banished from our lives and our consciousness. No—it is indeed part of our human makeup, created by God for practical and pleasurable purposes. But “having sex”—that’s where nature and choice can and should diverge. One can absolutely be a sexual being without engaging in sexual activity. The two are not exclusive.
I grew up in France, where the dehumanization and devaluation of sex have reduced it to something akin to taking a walk or eating a pastry. It’s rampant in advertising (frontal male nudity to sell coffee?), in literature (porn magazines are displayed at eye-level with no attempt to hide them from children) and in behaviors. It is so insignificant that my childhood friend’s grandmother had stacks of Playboys laid out in full view in her living room. It is so meaningless that some men will take their fifteen-year old sons to a prostitute for their first sexual experience, much like they’d take them to a dojo for karate lessons. It is considered so central to a person’s value as a human being that men and women who call themselves “sexual therapists” earn a living providing sex to the mentally and physically ill. Engaging in sex has no more moral or spiritual impact than learning to ride a bike.
Shame on those foreign countries, we decry—our voices heavy with pity and condemnation…our eyes averted from our own failures. I too used to think the perversion of sexuality was a strictly “other places” trait, but I’m learning that we in the United States are not far behind. In some circles, we’re right there with them. We sit in our American living rooms and unquestioningly watch a Christian bachelor engaging in real-life, full-bodied promiscuity without batting an eye or questioning his integrity. It’s entertainment. It’s reality TV. It doesn’t count.
Is it any wonder that an preschool in California had to close its doors, this week, because of sexual acts happening among its 4-6 year old students? Is it any wonder that incidences of middle school pregnancies have sky-rocketed in the past 10 years? Is it any wonder that demands for the legalization of prostitution are growing louder with each election cycle? We’re witnessing the degradation of an entire generation, one that prides itself in having burst through the restrictions of a puritan past and embraced a more open-minded view of bodies and sexual activity—perhaps so open that modesty, morality and self-respect have spilled out of our consciences.
We know and understand the dangers of pornography. And we can somewhat distance ourselves from the sexual messages sent from scripted TV shows in which actors merely parrot the lines written for them by behind-the-scenes scribes. It’s fiction, right? But the sexuality in “reality” shows is often unfiltered by minds too enamored with the “real” people engaged in “real” love to apply judgment and values to what they witness.
What can we do? We can begin by using real words, not euphemisms. It’s not The Bachelor and his candidates. It’s a man who is willing to bask in a pool of sexual seduction with morally depraved and often conniving women who use their sensuality and manipulation to make him choose them. This isn’t Love. It’s promiscuity. And the Fantasy Suite in which the bachelor/bachelorette holes up with three lucky winners on three consecutive nights, ostensibly to have sex while the cameras stop rolling? That’s self-imposed prostitution. It’s exhibitionism on a global scale, and this year, it’s a self-proclaimed Christian man willingly “trying on” half-naked women who are willing to sacrifice their bodies, their emotions and their wholeness for a dubious chance at marriage and 15 minutes of over-exposed fame.
Are there other shows that are just as dangerous in the message they send? Of course. And there is little one blog post—or a thousand—can do to curb our society’s descent into a sexual quagmire in which innocents will willingly drown. But one by one—that’s how we can slowly curb the trend. By talking to the one or two young women we know about the influences they allow into their mind. By pointing them lovingly toward the good and honorable choices that will allow them to mature into women of integrity, with self-respect and sexuality intact, fully feminine and wholly moral. And we can start by communicating this:
- If he is dating multiple women at the same time, he’s a jerk. Walk away.
- If the only way to “get” him is sexual manipulation, walk away.
- If invitations to physical intimacy precede mutual knowledge and relationship, walk away.
- If he claims to be a Christian yet displays lack of judgment, lack of integrity and lack of character, walk away—no matter how “hot” or glamorous he might appear.
A man after God’s heart will respect you, value you, honor you, protect you, better you, strengthen you and devote himself to only you.
Anything less is unworthy of your time, your effort, your compromise and your heart.
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