After seven years of college ministry and with two small sons under my care, I have been burdened over the last six months to preach, teach, and write on the unpleasant topic of pornography. Here are the previous posts so far: “‘Sexology’“…; “Preaching on Pornography.”
For this post, I am arguing that porn decontextualizes sex….
Sex always has context. Sex never occurs in a vacuum. There is baggage. There are conjoined histories. There are dual sets of longings and disappointments. There are complex motivations. There is some ongoing dialogue. Sex always has context, the context of two complex and complicated individuals with pasts, with pains, with joys, with questions, with hopes, with failures. Sex never occurs in a vaccuum.
This is a bit explicit, so be warned (explicit material requires explicit address)—I sometimes pose to young guys questions like these about their sexual fantasies or about the sexual footage they are watching on their screens: “Is the female in the images bored? Does she have a headache? Are there dishes in the kitchen sink that she might be worrying about? Does she pause to ask if the baby monitor is on? Did she have a good day at work? Was her boss a jerk that morning? Are the clothes still in the dryer? Is she pleased with how kind you have been to her over the past couple of hours?”
These are shocking questions for a college guy. What in the world do any of those factors have to do with sex? And the fact that such a question might arise exposes just how little is really known about sex, including the reality that all sex has context.
In porn-sex, and in porn-generated fantasies about sex, there are no headaches, no dirty dishes in the sink, no projects due the next day, no children sleeping in the adjoining bedroom, no need for kindness, no history of gentle listening or patient care-giving, and no thrilling or threatening acknowledgement of the fact that two minutes in bed can irreversibly alter the entire course of one’s life should two particular cells collide.
But in real sex, there is context. There are two people with emotions, fears, joys and lingering doubts and uplifting joys. There is the conversation that just took place over supper, the overdue bill on the dining room table, the telltale odor in the hallway indicating that the diaper pail is full again, the scent of coffee ground and prepared for the morning cup to be enjoyed with the cereal bought with those precious coupons dutifully clipped out of the weekend paper. Even when real sex is outside of marriage, there is still the context of anxious fears about how the interaction is going to go the next day, with the anxious or excited prospects of what friends will say, with the foreboding sense that some will find out, with the exciting sense that others will. All sex has context.
Most young people presumably use pornography because they do not have such ready access to the real thing. But if our expectations and understanding of sex come from secular media, then there will be a great deal of shock to overcome when the messy (but beautiful) factors of context become so obviously important.
The context of healthy, beautiful sexual intimacy includes the hard, back-breaking work of exalting someone else over oneself minute by minute, year after year, decade after decade. Kindness showed in the dining room affects what happens in the bedroom. Odd, I know, but the scent of a $4 bottle of anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner might have more rewarding impact in someone’s sex life that the scent of a $50 vial of cologne.
The decontextualizing of sex by pornography requires years of painful unlearning when it comes to real, live contextualized sex. And decontextualized sex trains porn viewers that it does not matter how you treat the kids before bedtime or how you treat your spouse day after day, decade after decade.