I kissed watching The Bachelor goodbye. Yes, I have joined millions in watching many episodes over the seasons of the wildly popular show. Overall, 8.33 million viewers tune into The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, and the programs pull their highest rating share in the 18-49 year-old demographic. I laughed at the ridiculous antics of contestants to win the rose. I cringed at the lengths that some would go to in order to gain attention or a promise of affection. I hated all of the sexual innuendo and casual kisses with multiples partners in one day. I must admit I viewed the stories in this show in the same way I can’t look away from a traffic accident on the highway.
Until another story made the headlines this week – the story of an unconscious young woman raped and assaulted on the Stanford campus by a drunk 20-year-old boy after a night of participation in what his father described as “20 minutes of action” in the drinking and hookup culture of college campuses. This is a story I cannot look away from, and after listening to so many women and men in my counseling office – already in this short week – whisper terrible stories with way too many similarities, I cannot remain silent.
I am going to write some things that may cause confusion or anger, so let me preface what I write by saying that in a world that has not gone mad with substance abuse and objectified, distorted sexuality, a woman or man ought to be able to lay naked in the middle of a room of partiers and be covered and cared for.
But we don’t live in that world.
Rape and sexual assault are heinous crimes that come out of a complex mosaic of patterns and experiences that extend way beyond the boundaries of what I am concerned with as I write this post. Brock Turner is a convicted sex offender who lied about his past history of substance abuse and bad choices, and he should be sentenced to the maximum amount of time allotted for the crimes he has been convicted of. I am angry that cronyism and coverup, once again, shroud victims of sexual abuse in shame, disgrace, and secrecy.
I applaud this young woman’s bravery in telling her story unflinchingly, and I pray that in the telling she will find healing.
I have posted on my Facebook page two wonderful blogs about this subject – one from the perspective of a father (johnpavlovitz.com) who rightly replies to Brock Turner’s father’s obnoxious plea for leniency for his son by writing:
Brock is not the victim here.
His victim is the victim.
She is the wounded one.
He is the damager.
Sadly, every son does not have a father like John, willing to hold his sons accountable and model to them how to live decently in the world.
I have also posted Ann Voskamp’s blog (aholyexperience.com) on my Facebook page, and was inspired by her poignant plea to teach our sons to honor the beauty and dignity of women. I could not agree with her more:
The Stanford rape case is about having a conversation with sons about hard things and asking sons to do holy things.
Sadly, not every son or daughter has a mother like Ann to herald the truth about beauty and integrity.
This crime has a context. It is a cautionary tale about a culture that contributes to the rape culture with ideas, images, and television programs like a steady IV-drip. I am compelled to write about The Bachelor – not because I believe this show caused this horrible crime – but because I believe it represents some cultural realities that play a role in the terrible stories of sexual abuse, assault, and woundedness. I know too much to remain silent about these categories.
The Culture of Substance Abuse
On The Bachelor, young people (not much older than Brock) dress in expensive, sophisticated clothing and it is hard to find a scene where someone does not have a drink in his or her hand. There are too many scenes when the drinking gets out of control and mayhem ensues. Chad (from this season) punches his hand through a door and threatens to beat up everyone. Kaitlyn (from a past season) has sex with Nick after one date – before she’s given the other disappointed suitors a chance. The response of the cast the next morning is usually to survey the bottle-strewn “mansion” with shrugged shoulders, or to promise that everyone will get a chance to spend time with The Bachelor or Bachelorette.
This is not a judgment on drinking. Scripture says that drunkenness is a sin, but does not specifically forbid enjoying a glass of wine in the hot tub while you wear your bikini and are surrounded by shirtless men who are imbibing their favorite beverages. I’m simply suggesting that might not be safe.
- By the time adolescents reach college 1 out of 5 students is already an alcoholic.
- Young people who are under the influence are seven times more likely to have sex and twice as likely to have sex with four or more partners during a party experience.
- Almost half of 14-24 year-old victims of crime said they were drinking and/or using a substance at the time they were victimized.
- One of my clients who attended a prestigious college with an active Greek life, told me that by the end of her freshman year she and all of her friends had been raped.
- I’ve heard too many stories in my counseling office – from a young woman who drank a six-pack and had sex with a guy she didn’t even know; a young man who had “a few shots and a couple of beers” and walked around his college campus breaking windows and destroying school property; a young woman so desperate to be loved that she deliberately drank at the frat parties so she wouldn’t mind if a few of the guys fondled her. I have my own stories that still cower in the corners of my life because I should have known better, I shouldn’t have been drinking, and I should have never let a stranger get that close (those are the lies that keep the whole truth in the dark).
A culture that glamorizes substance abuse by putting cocktail glasses in the hands of designer-dressed young men and women lies about the dangers that lurk in this lubricated world. When we use drugs and alcohol to slip in and out of relationships, we actually become imprisoned in an experience of false intimacy, and may experience far worse.
Every time I see the antics of the men and women on The Bachelor or Bachelorette I think of a phrase I said 10,000 times to my children when they were navigating adolescence:
We need to teach our children, “You were made for more than this.”
The Culture of Objectification
Ben, a popular former contestant on The Bachelor, was recently asked how many women were vying for his affection. He proudly answered, “Twenty-eight.” I cringed at the narcissism that inevitably grows in experiences like this. It is almost a given that you don’t have to play by the same rules as others who are dating and want to find love (much like star athletes or sorority queens on college campuses):
- It’s okay to kiss and make out with someone you’ve known for a few hours, and then again with someone else.
- Sexual content is the glue in the relationship. In the most recent season of The Bachelorette the young men were asked to talk about an embarrassing sexual experience. The stories of threesomes, using the alphabet for a guide to oral sex, and forcing themselves to have sex “just to get it over with,” broke my heart. And they provide a context for the perverted, criminal actions of a young man who fingers a girl, inserts objects into her vagina, and believes she likes it.
- And then there is the fantasy suite – the night when the final four each get to spend the entire night, off camera, with The Bachelor or Bachelorette. Is their sex consensual? Absolutely. It is nothing like the young woman in this rape case experienced. However, there is a hint of similarity in the aftermath. In her letter to the Court about her experience, the young woman who was brutally raped, wrote a lot about what she didn’t know, didn’t see, couldn’t remember, and the horror of trying to make sense of it. I have watched episodes of this silly reality show where the newly engaged winner watches the season in shock as she sees her betrothed passionately kiss other women, declare his love for them, and have sex with them – all in the same days that he is doing this with her. Did she consent to that? Probably. I’m certain these contestants sign all kinds of legal waivers giving up their rights, but I’m not sure they are aware they may be giving up their hearts. They don’t consent to that.
I agree with Wendell Berry that desensitization to the human realities of intimacy, the thrill of attraction, the pursuit of knowing each other, the power of a kiss is “part of the disintegration of sex into a cold-blooded abstract procedure.”
When pornography is easily accessible on the 275 million pages online (that’s a separate page for each person in the United States), the objectification of the other is inevitable. One study found that almost 1/3 of users becomes hooked on cybersex (the act of having sex between two or more people in a chatroom or in emails, without ever hearing the voice of the other, but by simply viewing words typed on a screen).
When a young man or woman is immersed in pornography or the gaming world where you can do anything to gain an advantage and take out any threats to your glory, that world often becomes more real than the mundane world of work, school, or family.
The purpose of this post is not to detail all of the dangers of online activities, but to suggest that maybe a culture that encourages the “meat model” of sexuality, with millions of viewers watching a handsome, nice man choose his wife-to-be on the basis of externals and sexual arousal might make sense of someone treating another man or woman as if they are just a body. It doesn’t matter whether they are conscious or not. Wendell Berry describes the sexual consequences of the objectification of men and women in our culture as “a dispirited working of a sort of anatomical machinery.”
We need to teach our children that it might not be a safe community to pursue a relationship in when the goal is to act like a man or woman without having to really be one or truly get to know one.
The Culture of Distorted Sexuality
C. S. Lewis wrote this:
You can get a large audience together for a strip tease act – that is to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill the theatre by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and then slowing lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained bacon. Would you think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? We might conclude that the people in that country were either 1)starving, or 2) the natural appetite had been perverted.
When over 8 million viewers tune in for 2-4 hours every week to watch men or women compete for “love” by using sex as the means to win their future spouse, I think we might conclude that we live in a country where people are either 1)starving, or 2) our natural appetite for intimacy has been perverted.
We need to teach our children that our private parts are connected to our hearts.
When we engage in “casual sex,” we fuse our hearts to the other’s heart, and then when that hookup is over, we tear off a piece of our hearts. Fuse and tear. Fuse and tear. Over time or sometimes just with one experience of our bodies being sexually aroused or violated, we can decide to harden our hearts so we don’t feel the connection between the two. The result is the more we get naked physically, the less we are emotionally. And that is tragic.
Sexual intimacy is intended for the covenant of marriage where we surrender our nakedness, our differences, and our humanness to another. Unlike the carefully scripted and rehearsed scenes on television, real sex is full of human mistakes, smells, and sounds. God did not intend sex to be the perfect passionate moment, complete with a bed of rose petals. He intended sex to be the place where we lovingly cover one another. Sex becomes a way for two people to not only engage and honor one another’s strengths, but one another’s weaknesses. Sexual intimacy is meant to represent a daily intimacy that forgives, accepts, and offers grace to each other. That kind of intimacy is a bit different from competing for a kiss by having the sexiest body or being willing to surrender your nakedness and differences to someone you barely know in front of 8 million people.
SEXUALITY IS NOT WHAT WE DO. IT IS WHO WE ARE.
What does The Bachelor or The Bachelorette say about who we are? What does the Stanford tragedy say about who we are? They certainly reveal some troubling realities that cannot be labeled cause and effect, but they are related. And that is why I cannot watch The Bachelor anymore.
I do not need to watch this reality show to know that there is no other reality that reveals our failures and foibles, our goodness and our brokenness, our passion and our self-interest, our vulnerability and our capacity to become a predator like intimacy. I think we’ve all been so deeply affected by the Stanford story because we know – at a cellular level – we have our own stories when our bodies were at times out of control, when we entered into relationships foolishly and got out of them foolishly as well. We hurt people and we have been hurt. We have been naked when we shouldn’t be, and we hide when we shouldn’t.
And we desperately long for someone to heal us from all this sexual brokenness. Healing does not come from getting a rose. Sex is a deeply spiritual issue. It is a joining of our private parts, connected to our hearts to another’s private parts connected to their hearts. It is an expression of our deep desire to be known, accepted, and loved forever. Sex is a taste in human relationships of a banquet we will eat in Heaven with the perfect Lover of our souls – the One who knows us fully, accepts us unconditionally, and loves us eternally. Scripture calls this banquet a marriage supper when we will be joined to our Groom, Jesus.
I am sorry, so sorry for the young woman brutally raped on the Stanford campus. There was no banquet of being known, accepted, and loved. And I am sad, so sad for Brock Turner and all of the lies that continue to tell him that his 20 minutes of action was no big deal.
Do you see why God is so continually concerned with sexuality? And do you see why Satan continually tries to desecrate it? Because it is God’s premier reference to His relationship with us – His delight in us, how He enters us, gives us the seed of His Word, bears fruit through us, and has communion with us in the sanctuary of the eternal covenant of grace.
The Enemy has been brilliant at using the culture to distort this reference point so that if we think sex and sexual behavior is no big deal, then maybe we’ll think that an intimate, passionate relationship with Jesus is no big deal either. Satan wants to take our broken, difficult, disappointing, even abusive relationships and turn them into the reference point so that we may believe our relationship with God will be broken, difficult, disappointing, and even abusive.
Reorienting the Categories
We have to look at the context of this tragic crime on the Stanford campus and take substance abuse, objectification of others, and distorted sexuality seriously. We have seen how much is at stake. When we reorient our hearts and minds in these categories we will want to develop intimate relationships that reflect passionate physical, emotional, and spiritual connection, and the way we do that is by developing an intimate relationship with Jesus – so that He becomes more real than the disappointment, sadness, fear, and heartache that we experience in relationships.
Reorientation, for me, means there will be no more rose ceremonies.
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