Is There Room for Erotica in Christianity?

Erotica is experiencing a very big comeback. What does this mean for Christians?

BY ARLEEN SPENCELEY POLITICS / CURRENT July 26, 2012

I knew there wouldn’t be a second date the moment the guy asked this question:

“How do you feel about strip clubs?”

Not for ‘em, I said.

“What about porn?”

Are you kidding?

In the conversation that followed, I rebutted his defenses of both. He, a Christian (nominally, at least), was a consumer of erotic media, convinced that using it can be good. He is the only Christian I’ve met who has defended pornography. But he is not the only Christian who defends other kinds of erotic media.

When a bestselling erotic novel and a movie about male strippers simultaneously swept the female half of the U.S. in recent weeks, Christian women spoke up. Some criticized the book because it promotes lust. Some criticized the movie because it promotes the objectification of men. Others criticized the critics.

Popular erotic media is good, proponents said, if it can sexually excite a couple whose sexual relationship otherwise would be lacking.

It is good, one woman wrote in a blog comment, because “giggling over guys in thongs gets women to talk about what they like and don’t” in sex.

What erotic media does for sexless marriages and sexually frustrated women is important, some said. One said if erotic media objectifies people, it’s only a problem when women and men are unequally objectified. That erotic media designed for women validates female sexuality in a world that rarely does. That it acknowledges the existence of desire where the church often has denied it. That as such, erotic media can be a powerful weapon in the war against sexual oppression.

This week, the fanfare that sparked the fight for erotic media has faded. In its wake, I am left with a realization: That there are followers of Christ among the women who latch on to erotic media is, indeed, indicative of the existence of a need.

So I understand why, when erotic media inspires sex in a marriage, Christians use it. I understand why, when erotic media is a catalyst for important sex conversations, Christians defend it. But since when does what a person uses to meet a need necessarily equate to what a person actually needs?

The reason a marriage is sexless or women are sexually frustrated is complex, but a marriage has never been sexless because it hasn’t had enough exposure to erotic media. A woman has never been sexually frustrated because what she really needs is to be part of a culture in which women and men are objectified the same amount. And when the body of Christ consumes erotic media and praises it for what it does for sex and sexuality in Christian marriages, it really isn’t alleviating the problem. It is perpetuating a problem that underlies it:

In the realms of love, marriage and sex, the church has dropped the ball.

I know this because of how rare it is for people in the church to talk about love like it’s any deeper than sentiment, attraction or infatuation. Because few and far between are the folks who, like Pope John Paul II, remind the world that love is “the authentic commitment of the free will of one person, resulting from the truth about another person.” We are hard pressed to hear sermons or read books that say marriage is designed to result, in part, in the destruction of self absorption. And the church neither commonly nor clearly communicates what should be a cornerstone of any Christian sex talk:

There are two kinds of sex.

One kind of sex is the world’s version. Its primary purpose is pleasure, and it is often utilitarian in practice (“I’ll use you, you’ll use me, and it is good as long as both of us enjoy it.”). The other kind of sex is sex as it was designed to be, which has a twofold purpose: procreation and unity. It involves the creation of a unique, pleasurable sexual relationship between a wife and a husband.

But the church says sign this pledge, wear this ring and save sex for marriage. Then the church mostly stops talking about sex. And when the church doesn’t talk about sex and a kid’s parents don’t talk about it, either, the only concept of sex he or she grows up with comes from what he or she has seen on TV and in movies. But TV and movie sex is, at least in all my encounters with it, the world’s version of sex. And when the church doesn’t differentiate between that kind of sex and sex as it was designed, the results can be catastrophic.

“Saving sex for marriage” becomes “waiting until marriage to objectify my partner.”

Wedding nights are confusing or traumatic when what happens in bed neither looks nor feels as good as TV and movies imply it should.

The church divides again when one set of Christians rejects the only kind of sex the other set of Christians knows exists. And because the use of erotic media aligns nicely with the one kind of sex they know, to reject erotic media, to them, is both to reject sex and to be complicit in the oppression of sexuality.

But is it really? I don’t think so.

Because erotic media perpetuates the objectification of humans, the rejection of love as selfless and the promotion of sex as recreation. Objectification, selfish “love” and recreational sex are misuses of human sexuality. And when we are able to think a misuse of sexuality is ok, we might just be oppressing ourselves.

Arleen Spenceley

ARLEEN SPENCELEY

Arleen Spenceley is a Roman Catholic Christian, a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times and a student working on her masterÕs degree in mental health counseling at the University of South Florida. Visit her blog at arleenspenceley.blogspot.com.

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