There’s no question that sexual assault is an epidemic in the U.S. There’s no question that we are right to be outraged by the brutish behavior of Hollywood bigshots like Harvey Weinstein and that such behavior should result in serious consequences of both the social and legal variety. The real question is: When will we open our collective eyes and recognize that widespread sexual misbehavior is an inevitable byproduct of a sex-saturated culture?
Our opposition to indecent behavior seems to be a mile wide and an inch deep. While we are remarkably unified in our disdain for sexual harassment and assault, that galvanized opposition doesn’t extend to the epidemic’s underlying causes. We’re complacent toward the cultural trends that constantly push sex and sexuality upon our conscious and subconscious thoughts, the efforts to deaden our sensibilities and erase the boundaries that once defined a concept of decency.
Sex, in its proper place, is a good thing. The problem is that the overwhelming message of our culture is that sex without limits is the ultimate thing.
The magazines displayed in checkout lines tell us who had sex with whom. Much of the music we listen to contains lyrics that are explicitly or implicitly sexual. Sex and references to it are commonplace on prime-time television. And as the parent of a teenager, I can tell you it’s almost impossible to find a non-animated movie without a sex scene.
But we can’t blame Hollywood for everything.
For instance, how do we account for the fact that businesses like “Hooters” and “The Tilted Kilt” not only continue to operate, but are so mainstream that parents take their children there for lunch? Surely we can see that these commercial enterprises are banking upon men’s sexual desires and exploiting girls’ willingness to appeal to those desires. I once saw a child, no more than 9 years old, wearing a “Hooters” shirt in a department store. Before she can even understand the issues at stake, she is a walking billboard for a company that cashes in on female body parts.
Women worldwide continue to shop at Victoria’s Secret, a company that parades nearly-naked girls in sexually suggestive poses across billions of television screens, to the unwitting, captive delight of adolescent boys – and the men we expect to teach those boys to honor women as intelligent, capable and hard-working human beings.
If you visit your local high school’s homecoming dance, you might catch some future Harvey Weinsteins and their future victims in training. I’ve heard of parents whose well-grounded teenage girls finally opted out of these dances due to the unwanted groping and grinding that ruined an otherwise enjoyable evening with their friends.
Here’s the bottom line: When “free sex” and body parts are the air we breathe as we go about our daily lives, our society will suffer the effects of pollution. For decades, we’ve been on a steady diet of explicit, out-of-context sex. Now we’re vomiting up the results. So yes, we should absolutely be outraged by and intolerant of the indecent behaviors of Harvey Weinstein – and even our own president. But we shouldn’t be surprised by them.
How many Americans have had their entire lives derailed because they failed to rise above their basic, physical desires? To the extent each of us facilitates and perpetuates a culture that is permeated by sex, we are complicit in that derailment.
I don’t come to this conversation with clean hands. In various ways throughout my lifetime, I, myself, have partaken of and thus contributed to the sexually charged culture I am describing. But I come to the conversation with a conviction that has been clarified by the lens of motherhood. And my conviction is that my children were created for much, much more than a world that lives, eats, sleeps and breathes sex. All of us were.
The problem isn’t just the devastation caused by our extreme preoccupation with sex and the harmful behavior it produces. The problem is also the opportunity cost to us as individuals and to society. When we get stuck at the level of physical desire, we miss opportunities to stretch into the realm of the noble, to share, consider and explore ideas of lasting significance – about why we are here, and how we can help those around us.
I’m glad that America is unified in a commitment to raising the bar in terms of our standards for sexual behavior. But let’s not settle for raising it a millimeter. Let’s raise it by a mile.