Sexual energy, beautiful bodies, romantic love, and close relationships -- as much as they are idolized in our culture, there is nothing inherently good or bad about them. They are all morally neutral resources, because they can be used for good or bad purposes. Whether or not we have them isn’t nearly as important as how we give or take them.
Except for money, we don’t call anything counterfeit anymore. Because we’ve been given so many glamorized distortions of genuine romantic intimacy, most of us wouldn’t know it from its knock-off imposters. Counterfeit things are now being marketed very effectively by calling them virtual. We increasingly prefer our virtual realities to our realistic virtues.
Unless we make other plans, this culture will teach us its hedonistic values and beliefs. Madison Avenue and Hollywood give us virtual versions of romantic intimacy on the big screens we have at home, and the little ones we carry with us. This virtual reality teaches us to use sex and love for pleasure, amusement, and anesthesia. It tells us our identity and self-worth come from the sexiness and youthfulness of our bodies, not from how we use them to leave the world a better place. Pursuing false intimacy brings us enmeshment and autism in our relationships, leaving us with a residue of loneliness, shame, and resentment in our hearts.
Our virtual realities breed chemical or behavioral addictions and mutually dependent relationships. They also generate compulsive habits of avoidance, such as commitment phobia, intimacy anorexia, reproach for our body images, and porn-induced erectile dysfunction.
Celebrations of counterfeit intimacy in the media erode the warnings we should have been given in our childhood against pornography. Today both our men and women, young and old, are being trained by a HUGE underground industry to neglect our prom queens, and hook up with porn queens instead. Instead of a girl we’d have to warm up ourselves, one who saves her best for the life partner of her dreams, men are being taught to settle for a pre-heated actress, or even a virtual fem-bot. These will merely infect us with an empty craving for self-administered orgasms.
Our movie, television, advertising, and porn industries hire the best technological minds out there, and pay them the absolute top dollar. Too often we let ourselves get trained by the cleverest forces in our sick society. We don’t always know when we have laid ourselves open for reverse inspiration, for evils from down below.
People who masturbate to pornography generally don’t realize they are training their brains to want porn instead of a person. Pavlov’s dogs became turned on to a bell being rung just moments before the juicy highlight of their day. We also become more and more aroused by whatever brings us to our sexual climaxes. Dr. Pavlov is the porn industry, and if we aren’t careful, we are as dumb and as driven as his dogs.
We can scare our children away from pornography, but it doesn’t work with our teenagers. Fear backfires, because most adolescents are intuitively rebellious, inquisitive, and counter-phobic. To show how mature and independent they are, they’re inclined to run like the wind toward whatever we try to scare them away from. Parents and teachers need to take a different approach to sex and love education.
I am a social scientist, and a pragmatist. I am not writing this as a member of any religious faith, but rather as a seeker of heaven on earth. I am trying to reach Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists alike. I am appealing to our common sense of what matters most to us all, to what research confirms most of us will come to believe is best for all concerned over the fullness of time. I am presenting certain values that deep down we all know are good for us, values that throughout the centuries have been promoted by cultures whose citizens were genuinely happy because they got along well with each other. These are not the values of nations which are waging war against their neighbors or their own citizens. These are the values of peace-loving peoples.
Instead of trying to inculcate these values by pushing them or pounding them into our youth, I think we do better to draw these values out of our young people. That is after all the meaning of the Greek word educare, to draw forth from. We can help them discover that deep down, we all need the same things. We can challenge them to consider how the futures of our love relationships will be empty and lonely if we don’t live by the following five principles:
These days, most young people are offered some pretty juicy invitations for recreational sex. Before responding, we all need to ask ourselves what recreational sex will give us, and all the others who will be affected now or later on in our lives. Does it give us the good stuff on the left below, or the stuff on the right, things that will eventually make us and others sick:
We had better train our brains, or else technology will do it for us. Another challenge is to protect our hearts from the hard shells that can grow around them. That hard shell may protect us from hurt in the short run, but it guarantees us loneliness and rejection down the road. Sure, it keeps hurt out, but it also holds hurt in. Our protective shell keeps our romantic love trapped inside with our old hurts, and keeps the love of others locked outside. We reap what we sow. What we feed, we will eat. What are we feeding?
So far, all we have talked about is just knowing what’s wrong, and how we got there. Especially in this area of addictions, changing our habits is very difficult. If we just fight it with cleverness and willpower, and pray to a God embodied merely in organized religion and not also 12-step recovery, research and my clinical experience show that our odds aren’t very good for success. Lasting change usually requires more than inspiration, education, and effort. Our chances for success improve greatly when we also use the people, principles, practices, and prayers of recovery. For starters, seekers of recovery from porn addiction can go to sexhelp.com, thebodypositive.org, nofap.com, and mynewlife.com.
However you get there, I hope you find genuine intimacy in this life, the kind that not only lasts, but gets better with age. For those who find it, it is quite the delicious foretaste of heaven. It is the orientation program that’s heaven on earth.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach in Louisville, Shelbyville, and Lexington, 502-633-2860.