After reading several reactions to my article, “Stop Pretending Sex Never Hurts,” I decided I needed to write a follow-up. My purpose isn’t to spend a lot of time countering crazy assertions to my original post, such as: I’m advocating a government ban on sex (which, clearly, I’m not—I recognize a person’s right to do whatever they want sexually, however they want, as long as they’re not violating another person’s rights); or that I don’t think sex is fun (yes, sex is very fun, of course, but that’s not the point; just because something is fun doesn’t mean it’s best at a given moment—to think only in terms of fun is to think like an immature child); or as one commenter said, “McAllister is so shut up in her bubble, she can’t imagine how a woman could have casual sex (or any sex, I’m guessing) and not feel ashamed by it.” Actually, I don’t have to imagine it. I know a woman can have causal sex and not feel ashamed by it. We’re awash in guilt-free sex because sex no longer has morals attached to it. It’s all about doing what you want.
That leads me to my purpose now: getting to the root of why people have a frothing-at-the-mouth, crazed response when anyone even remotely suggests people should zip up their pants occasionally and exercise a little self-control. It doesn’t seem that warning everyone about risks is enough. I mean, seriously, who hasn’t watched “Sex in the City” and wondered how many little critters Samantha must have crawling all over her? Is that such an off-the-wall question, especially considering that 110 million Americans have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) at any given time, costing nearly $16 billion a year in medical costs? And then there’s the prevalence of sexting among teens, exposing them to exploitation and abuse. Oh, but never mind, sex education will solve those problems . . . . or so we thought.
But I digress. Let’s face it, America is obsessed with sex, and at the core of that obsession is a hardcore materialism that reduces human beings to their fundamental natural state, aptly described by Thomas Hobbes as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Sex as Power
The natural condition of humanity is “a state of war,” and when we live in that state, life is essentially a quest for power, not freedom; it’s about feeding our appetites and quenching our desires. When we see ourselves solely in this natural state, sex is about power, too.
That power isn’t always expressed violently—in fact, most of the time it isn’t. It’s expressed through self-gratification and control, as two people come together to use each other’s bodies to meet their own needs. They might do it consensually, but it’s still about taking, feeding at nature’s trough, and empowering oneself. They’re free to do what they want, but they’re enslaved to their base desires like an addict. In essence, they’re not free at all. True freedom that liberates people from self-addiction and elevates humanity above the brutishness of nature only comes from exercising self-government and living a life of mature love.
To suggest that something so compelling and natural should be controlled by self-imposed moral constraints is anathema to the natural man or woman. Sex, to them, is about living in the fray as the shifting power dynamics between men and women play themselves out in bedrooms (or in bathrooms, the backseat of cars, hotel rooms, behind the dumpster, wherever) and on the public stage through entertainment and the arts (and public policy).
Many openly embrace his sexual power-play, and they have no patience with religious moralism or even feminized blame-games that always make women the victims of men’s quest for dominance. Camille Paglia, for example, has famously criticized feminists for being more concerned about “social power” than understanding and embracing “woman’s cosmic sexual power.”
When you live according to a purely materialistic worldview in which nature is god, everything is about power. And when everything is about power, you need to know how to be strong—and Paglia sees women as strong because of the power of their sexuality (in other words, men become slobbering idiots when faced with a glorified, sexually empowered female).
The War Against Nature and Humanity
Instead of playing victims, Paglia argues, women should embrace their sexuality as the powerful force it is and enter the fray with men instead of running from it. Because women have the “superior biological status as magical life-creator,” they don’t need to be afraid. Given her naturalistic worldview, Paglia logically concludes that the most powerful woman is the prostitute—precisely because she isn’t the victim. She’s making a choice, she’s a “conqueror” of men, because she’s making them pay for it. She’s the one “who controls the sexual channels between nature and culture.”
When it comes to sex being about power, Paglia is exactly right—if you look at it from a purely natural perspective. If your worldview is a materialistic one and you think sex is power, completely devoid of a moralistic or nonphysical framework, then you need to listen to Paglia. She is spot on, and she has the guts to embrace the logical conclusions of her own presuppositions, including extreme views such as seeing prostitution as a form of female empowerment and admitting that abortion is the actual killing of a baby but still believing it’s a woman’s right to destroy that life. Having an unwanted baby robs a woman of her power, of control over her own life. Because power is supreme for someone with a naturalistic view of life, the baby must be killed.
Paglia would see abortion as part of a woman’s war against nature within the paradigm of nature. There seems to be no consideration of an order that is above nature—supra-natural; there is only a war within nature where human beings exercise their will to power. Paglia says nature imposes the necessity of reproduction on women, and women defy that imposition through killing the baby. “Women,” Paglia writes in “Vamps and Tramps,” “inspired by the Uranian Aphrodite to produce spiritual progeny, should view abortion as a sword of self-defense put into their hands by Ares, the war god.” Paglia sees this as a religious war of sorts that government has no right to be involved in. Women have a quarrel with their god, and, in this case, that god is “pagan nature.”
As Paglia so clearly shows, the pagan worldview that is steeped in naturalism centers on power, even at the expense of human life. Yes, there might be risks to sex—an unwanted pregnancy, disease, or emotional turmoil—but you embrace those risks because life is about asserting your autonomy and living according to the dictates of your own will as you push against anything, even nature itself, in your quest for power. The “strong” see life in a realistic way—as a battle—and you either play the victim and fail or you get into the game, fight on the same playing field (men and women), and suffer the knocks and blows of the fight. This is life.
Try Sex in the Context of Love
Nasty and brutish, indeed. But like soldiers who are stimulated by the adrenaline of war, materialistic warriors revel in the brutality of nature and fight with a fearsome fury. One might almost admire them. Almost. But is this worldview true? Let’s consider another one, because it’s primarily the clash of these two worldviews (in various forms) that undergirds most of the conflicts we face in our culture—especially conflicts relating to sex.
While the natural state of humanity is certainly one of conflict, this is not the natural state of human beings as originally created. It’s also something that can be overcome, not with a brutality of our own, but with love and self-control. Human beings have the ability—if only they exercise a godlike tyranny over themselves and their own natural appetites—to overcome nature and subdue it (while not redemptively, at least practically).
According to a theistic worldview, human beings are more than material creatures. They are spiritual, moral beings created to exercise stewardship and dominion over nature, to exercise self-government, and to love. If we lived in a perfect world, there would be no struggle to do this, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen world, full of brokenness, pain, evil, selfishness, and hate. We live in a world of power. We have moved out from under the loving care of our Creator God, our heavenly Father, and we have put ourselves under the heavy hand of nature—the pagan god—and its cruel dictates.
When it comes to sex, those living under the tyranny of nature engage in sex as an exercise in power. They might not always see it that way, but it is. They’re in it for themselves—what they can ultimately get out of it. That’s why they pass from one person to another, looking to feed their appetites through another person, no matter the cost. They are like the Walking Dead, eating up other people to survive.
But human beings are meant for more than the will to power; they are made to act in virtuous love. The problem is, they’ve given up love—particularly divine love—and the guidance of its gentle and gracious hand. Instead, they have arrogantly turned their backs on it and embraced power, and now its cruel whip drives them.
It doesn’t have to be this way. They could rest in the power of divine love—the love of a personal God, but they don’t want to. They refuse to see the power in making that choice—the power of real love. They’re too prideful. They prefer, instead, to bow to an indifferent and hostile nature (even as they, at times, rage against its cruelty), and society is suffering as a result. They live as self-seeking takers, and this is seen most fully in their attitudes toward sex.
When Sex Is About Power, It’s Selfish
When people reduce sex to power and give themselves over to the tyranny of their base natures and physical appetites, they are—by definition—engaged in a selfish act. If sex is about power, it cannot be about love, about selflessness, about thinking of the other person first. Choosing to control ourselves, to use our bodies in a loving way, is, in itself, an act of power—but it is power exercised over ourselves, not over others. We act, not to gratify our own desires, but to control them for the benefit of someone else (and, ultimately, for our own good as well).
Our society is so obsessed with sex because we’ve rejected the moralistic, compassionate worldview that gives it meaning, that understands it in the context of love and respect. Instead, we’ve defined sex solely in the context of a materialistic, natural worldview—it’s only physical; it’s about getting what we want; it’s about power.
But our souls cry out for something more, because we are not just physical creatures, we are not just locked into this war of nature; we are made in the image of God—a God who created us to be in a loving relationship with him and with one another. We are not merely physical entities put together through chemical processes, each of us, existentially alone, striving to survive. We are human beings, individually connected to the divine, with rational minds, spiritual souls, and moral consciences that reflect the nobility and beauty of being made in the image of our Creator.
As God’s children—and not simply nature’s spawn—we rise above the brute beasts that prey on others to survive. We are not enslaved (or we shouldn’t be) to our natural appetites. We don’t deny their presence or their importance, but we try to control them and express them in healthy ways. This is the essence of self-government.
The only tyranny we should have is the despotism of the divine in our own souls. We are individuals answerable only to God, not controlled by nature, religious institutions, political agendas, governments, or even by our own insatiable and self-destructive desires. We should not be driven, like stupid animals, by our own wants—no matter how natural they might be. We should be driven only by love—love for God and for others.
True Love Means Putting Someone Else First
There is no love in war. There is no grace in the jungle. There is only power. Love is spiritual communication between rational, moral beings in which we give up power—it supersedes nature. Nature teaches us to survive. Love teaches us to sacrifice. The pagan god knows much about justice; it knows nothing of grace. Love means turning away from our obsession with ourselves and focusing on someone else. Their needs. Not mine. Their fears. Not mine. Their survival. Not mine.
Love is what a human being longs for. We can’t deny it. But we’ve forgotten what it really means to love. In our rejection of our spiritual, moral selves and of our Creator, we have replaced love with the physical, with sex. In doing this, we have twisted sex to be an end in itself instead of an expression of love. Sex has become such a central focal point of power, self-worship, and the tyranny of nature that nearly all rationality about it has been lost. Move ever so slightly to challenge the notion that casual sex is good, and people will stand over it like a pack of wild animals, barring their teeth and snarling to defend their bloody kill from anything that comes near it.
People who know themselves to be made in the image of God—spiritual, moral, and rational—strive (often with great difficulty) to not live as animals. They see human beings as children of God, crowned with dignity that comes from his beauty, his love, his truth, and his goodness. Our freedom and happiness, as Augustine said, is found not in moving away from that image, but in living it out.
These are the attributes that elevate humanity, and they can’t be found in the death throes and conflicts of a fallen nature. We see glimpses of it—beauty, especially, faint reminders of what humanity is meant for, a glorious sunrise casting light over a city of darkness. But the real beauty—eternal beauty—is found, not in the warlike passions of nature, but in the heart that truly and humbly loves with a love that comes from God.