On the Meaning of Perverse TV Sex

Pornography continues to intrude more and more into the standard fare on TV, and from there into the hearts and minds of many, including many children and teenagers. A recent essay lays out clearly the way the fundamental worldviews are at play in the depictions of sex on TV.

Girls” is a new television series on HBO (that we have never seen). An early episode created a cascade of criticism for a particular sex scene, with those criticisms in turn sparking a spirited defense by writer Elaine Stair of the show and of the specific sex scene in the pages of the New York Review of Books.

We will try to describe the scene with some delicacy; for more details, read the story.

The main character, Hannah, is a 24-year-old aspiring writer. She has a casual relationship, with full sexual benefits, with Adam, always entirely on his terms. In the middle of an intimate sexual encounter, Adam stops, removes his condom, and stimulates himself to climax while sitting on Hannah and describing a fantasy of having sex with a heroine-addicted 11-year-old girl; he draws Hannah into his fantasy for verbal comments to embellish his fantasy.

Depraved? Debased? Pornographic? Not to Elaine Stair, who embodies the kind of enlightened and profoundly non-Christian view of sexuality that is increasingly a given in our society.

Stair sees the scene and the series as a liberating, empowering and thought-provoking commentary on our evolving sexuality. Adam, by her measure, is the healthy one in the relationship, because he knows exactly what he wants and has the courage to act on it.

Hannah’s problem, on the other hand, is that she is not sure what she wants. In her weakness, says Stair, she has “thus far, accepted his terms, though she feels uneasy about them” and as a result of her indecision, “Hannah cannot seem to channel her general sense of attraction into acute sexual pleasure.”

Stair then argues that sexual pleasure is not ultimately what sex is all about. “The ultimate prize to be wrung from all these baffling sexual predicaments is a deeper understanding of oneself.” There you have it in a nutshell: Sex today, in the secular mind, is ultimately about oneself. Lest we miss the point, she concludes her essay arguing:

“sexual freedom is, in a way, least about sex itself. The sexual revolution is a social revolution. Men and women are free to talk to each other without prior vetting or pretext, to see each other in any setting. We can form acquaintances and friendships that are laced through with attraction and desire (or not), and of course we can form romantic attachments as well. All of us can know more people in more ways than was previously allowed.

In the face of such vast possibility, to think of one’s romantic life as a game of numbers and animal pleasures, on the one hand, or as one long search for a spouse, on the other, is to miss the point. We can only justify our freedom by giving full attention to the human relationships formed by sex, even if those are relationships are brief or strange.

And there you have the modern view of sex: Sex is about an endless set of possibilities of forming ourselves through relationships without stable attachments, without parameters, in complete freedom. You can have your “animal pleasures” without attachment, and flow from one relationship to the other in constant experimentation as you create the evolving self apart from any stable attachments.

Rarely have we seen a better depiction articulated of the secular view of sexuality opposed to God’s view. In Christian understanding, life is utterly and completely about stable attachments. The ultimate ground of our being is the eternal attachment we have to God. Our ultimate goal is to be attached as faithful children to God. As part of his preparation for us to enter into that eternal relationship, we are born into families where faithful mothers and fathers are permanently attached to each other and we children to them.

Husbands and wives commit their lives to each other, leaving our parents to “cleave onto each other.” We manifest sexual faithfulness to each other as a testimony to God’s faithfulness and as an outworking of God’s call to our holiness. We have children who are attached to us by bonds of biology and love, and we teach them that what they do with their bodies matters. We parents model for them complete fidelity, complete loyalty, faithful attachment.

The secular vision is one of the un-attached self constantly forming itself anew. The Christian vision is one of the self in relationship, faithfully committed to God first, then to our spouse and to our children (and children to their parents). Sex is a sacred and sacramental blessing of intimacy that unites spouses for life and gives new possibilities for new life.

Which vision will we teach our children, the Christian view or this pagan view? And how will we prevent the non-Christian world from convincing our children that the view of sexuality flowing from the sexual revolution of the 60s is right, unless we faithfully model God’s reality to our children and teach them with our words the beauty of God’s view of sexuality?