At our blog my brother recently wrote about helping children nourish healthy sexuality while avoiding destructive and deceptive outlets like pornography. To me that stance seems relatively secure. Both statistically and within my own anecdotal experience, pornography can harm relationships. It’s bad for the viewer and often bad for the people on the other side of the screen—the ones taking the pictures.
However, I am not entirely ignorant of arguments against conservative sexual mores. We can come across as uptight, prudish, genophobes. So I do want to acknowledge that conservative sexual paradigms have at times been restrictive, narrow, and damaging. So there’s certainly some constructive liberal critiques worth listening to.
Still I was surprised by commenter asaasa1983’s response—so surprised in fact that I reproduce it here in its entirety:
As a father… I hope you change your methods when you do have a son!
It reeks of snobism. What you think about life is not necessarily what he should. How he lives his life is none of your business and your closed view on sex and pornography is condescending at best.
Open your mind that some people are aroused and interested in different things. Maybe he will be a porn star and that will be his high. Maybe he will seek an open relationship with his wife. Maybe he will be asexual. But your closed mind about the perfect world and perfect way to live your life really has no place in a parents mind.
A parent is supposed to be someone that encourages his child without forcing him into something. You do exactly the opposite, you force feed him (hypotethical him) into your narrow-minded view of the world and sexuality.
Hopefully you will have matured before he’s of the age of having sex.
The overall argument is familiar: don’t judge; instead tolerate and love. It’s almost cliché. Still it carries some value. But the overall message is not what surprised me. What surprised me are the examples he uses. They are the examples I would have chosen if I was trying to refute his claims, not defend them. Becoming a porn star? Seeking an open relationship with his wife? A child in these situations deserves love, yes, but also help. There are better, happier ways to live.
At what point is tolerance a cheap excuse to give up? At what point does it become a refutation of both science and experience? And when does it negate a father’s responsibility to teach the truth he knows? One of the saddest results of ethics built entirely on tolerance is a complete inability to scrutinize choices or suggest alternatives.That’s why I will not be following asaasa1983’s advice, although I want to believe it was well-intended.
Why Feelings Should Not Guide Your Actions
Here’s where I’m coming from. I am newly married. Soon, we will try to have children. We’re scared. We’re scared like a lot of people are scared. It’s new, it’s a large commitment, and it’s not glamourous.
But we’re also scared because neither of us have been blessed with an overwhelming desire to have miniatures of ourselves running around. There’s no natural prompting for us. Other people describe an innate desire to procreate. They feel as though it would be hard for them not to have children. We’re not them. Sure, part of us wants it, but it’s not a visceral compulsion. It would be just as easy to continue our life together just how it is and grow old this way. It would be a lot less stressful to skip that little adventure of childrearing altogether.
So why do it? Why not follow the path of least resistance? Why not do what feels most comfortable? The answer is simple. Because what is best is not always what is natural or easy. This should not be a new insight. My parents have never been shy about offering advice and suggesting direction. I’m better for it. They did not sit passively on the side ready to cheer about whatever direction I chose. Instead, they ensured that we were kind to our siblings and our peers, and if we weren’t, they were disappointed and helped us do better.
My parents likewise taught me that raising my own family will do more good, create more character, and generate more joy than any other endeavor. They taught me that despite feeling attraction for another man’s wife, I should be loyal to my own. That the deepest happiness and satisfaction comes not from seeking happiness or satisfaction but by doing meaningful activities, building lasting relationships, and pursuing what is good.
We Need Help to Do the Right Things
Here’s the thing I’m realizing: it would be a lot harder to decide to have children if I didn’t have encouragement. And it would be a lot harder to remain loyal to my wife if my family and society didn’t promote it. It’s just too easy to be aroused by something new. My loyalty is greatly aided by the fact that I’ve been taught to be loyal. I’ve been taught to be loyal profoundly by example so that I find myself choosing loyalty even when it’s not natural.
Of course it’s very natural to use pornography. Most people do. It’s almost impossible to avoid. And that’s okay. We make bad choices all the time. We eat bad food, we lose our temper, we may even cheat on our wife. But just because we do it—just because we felt compelled to do it—doesn’t mean it was good.
If we only had to do what came naturally, we’d never have to learn anything. That would rob life of its most significant moments—moments in which we transcend our natures, when we reach above and beyond our own sight, moments that make us human. But we do need instructions, and we’re better for it.
That is why my wife and I will raise a family: not because it is natural, but because we’ve been taught that it is good. And we believe it. We will also teach our children to avoid pornography and to seek a committed marital relationship and raise a family just as we have done.
I’m making a very simple point: what is good is often not what we want to do. That’s why I was so surprised about asaasa1983’s response. It seemed to ignore the clear and self-evident value of seeking what is good regardless of what is natural. It wasn’t just an oversight or a half-formed idea, either. I don’t think I’m being unfair, because he chose his own examples: a porn star, an open relationship.
I guess that’s the problem with how the media typically displays courage. It’s always about people being true to themselves even when it moves against the grain of society. Sure, that can be courageous. I’m not knocking that. But a more common and perhaps more superb bravery is doing what is good even when it is not what we desire. Being loyal to your wife even during marital strife. Putting down pornography despite its appeal. That’s courageous.
What’s sad is I don’t think I’ve said anything that required much insight, and that’s disappointing as a writer. It is just a simple and identifiable truth—that looking after ourselves is not so noble as looking after each other.