Friday, October 25, 2013

3 Lies Entertainment Tells Us About Sex

Why we need to unlearn the lessons from our mainstream media sex education.

We all remember those awkward “talks” with our parents or those sixth grade reproductive health lectures, but in reality, our primary source for sex ed is not our mom, dad, a local health provider, or our middle school science teacher.

Admittedly, few of us want to hear about sex from our moms, and those sixth grade sexual reproduction lectures were just too weird. So where have we regularly turned to sate our wide-eyed curiosity?

Besides listening in envious shock at the daring escapades of our bolder (and perhaps slightly exaggerating) friends, we've turned to a source less awkward than parents and science teachers: Screens.

The expectations of what sex is supposed to look like and sound like are established in our society by way of the entertainment industry.
Less awkward, perhaps, but also less reliable—the steamy footage is not designed to offer us truth on sexual intimacy. Those "love scenes" are carefully choreographed not to educate, but to entertain. Whether we realize it or not, this on-screen footage is nonetheless educational—we are learning about physical intimacy under the tutelage of cinematographers, studio execs, cameramen, paid actors and even pornographers.

The expectations of what sex is supposed to look like and sound like are established in our society by way of the entertainment industry.
For Christians anticipating (or trying to enjoy) marital sex for the long haul, considerable unlearning is required.

So what has our entertainment media been teaching us about sex? There are many lessons we could identify. We will just take a look at three:

Lesson 1: Normal People Don't Have Sex

For one, the stylized sex downloaded from the Internet or portrayed on the big screen teaches us something about who can have sex. It would be quite understandable if we assumed that sex is primarily for really hot young people. Relational intimacy between the sheets, it would seem, is reserved for people with zero body fat and photo-shopped abs.
This profile rules out most of the planet's population. If sex is only for sexy people, then most of us are in trouble.

Our entertainment culture has been effective particularly in informing us about the ideal body of female sexual partners. In her oft-quoted article on the effects of pornography, Naomi Wolfe writes that in our current mediascape, "real naked women are just bad porn."

 Lesson 2: Sex Lacks Context

Not only do we learn that normal people do not have sex; we also learn from entertainment media that sex is only suitable for rarified occasions (like after falling suddenly in love from a brief encounter) or for ridiculously unrealistic settings (like an abandoned beach or an airplane bathroom).

For most folks, sex happens in quite normal settings yet within life's complicated matrix of joys, burdens, and unresolved relational tensions. Real sex has context.

But sex with context does not amass online "hits" or sell many tickets at the box office. Our fantasies create demands cinematographers rush to satisfy, and many of us are fantasizing about decontextualized sex.

This supposedly more epic sex does not come with questions like, "Do you think the kids are asleep?" Decontextualized sex does not take into account the previous discussion in the living room over finances and the grocery list. None of the on-screen partners ever seem to have a headache or a cold. There is no alarm clock to set for the morning.

 Lesson 3: Sex is an Ending, not a Beginning

Another lesson to unlearn is that sex is the ultimate end or goal of romance. The plot of many big screen stories is held by sexual tension. Once the two protagonists finally end up clasped together in bed (or in some more exotic location), we can rejoice and the credits can roll. Sex becomes the goal of romance, or, put differently, romance is incomplete until the clothes start flying.
Not all films are this shallow and predictable, of course. And in some recent television, sex is indeed a beginning—that is, if the sex is good, then perhaps romance can then develop. But in many of the mainstream romantic comedies, the aftermath of sex (good or bad) is given little narrative attention.

In real life, sex is a "beginning" much more than an "ending"—the beginning of a deeper relational bond, or maybe the beginning of a life with regrettable relational wounds. Though Christians may eagerly await the wedding night, sex is never the point of the wedding. The marriage is the point. The goal of romance is a lifelong, sacrificial friendship, not sex.

Christianizing Fictional Sex?

There are times when on-screen sex is quite honest about the real thing. Some entertainment artists do strive to depict the multifaceted wonder and beauty of sex, along with its less inspiring realities.

But many of us are being shaped by a mediated vision of unmediated physical intimacy that does not sanction normal sex for normal people amidst the normalcy of life. Though many of us may indeed enjoy epic marital sex at times, we need an understanding of sexual intimacy expansive enough for imperfect bodies, clocks set on alarm, complicated contexts, women who are people rather than objects.

But many Christians seem to be responding to the entertainment media's portrayal of sex by Christianizing it, at least to some degree. Eager to avoid the label of cultural curmudgeonry and fearful of being regarded as prudish, we can be quick to assert that the world has nothing on us when it comes to enjoying epic sex. Pornography, as the logic goes, will lack power over Christians when we realize we can enjoy epic sex of the kind seen on screen…
…if only our squeamish spouses will repent of their unwarranted sexual inhibitions.

Sex and the Honest Medium of Scripture

Some of our sexual inhibitions are certainly unwarranted. But the Church cannot take its sexual cues from mainstream entertainment media. We have other media to turn to. In a world (and Church) so invested in fictive sex, we need some honesty. And few media sources are as honest about sex than Scripture.

Proposing the Bible as a reliable source for understanding sex today may seem archaic and backwards. Understandably, women might especially cringe at the proposal that ancient texts from a patriarchal society might have something to say about their sex lives.
In a world so invested in fictive sex, we need some honesty. And few media sources are as honest about sex than Scripture.
Then again, is Christian Grey much of an improvement on Solomon?
The sexual oppression of females is not just an ancient custom. It is a mainstream component of today's entertainment media—porn's brutal dehumanizing of women keeps surfacing in pop cultural outlets. E.L. James, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, has signed a movie contract.
In spite of the male-dominated milieus of antiquity, those old texts of Scripture include erotic literature promoting mutuality among both partners (Song of Songs). Even Paul, a passionate lover of his singleness, told the promiscuous Corinthians that women possess authority over their husbands bodies (1 Corinthians 7:4), as well as vice versa—a radical idea in first century Greco-Roman culture!

What I most appreciate about the Bible's depiction of sex is the stark honesty. Since our Scriptures are not beholden to profit margins, viewer ratings or online hits, there is no interest in catering to unrealistic sexual fantasies. It offers, rather, a vision of sex that is sober, practical and yet hopeful.

Is sex beautiful, fun, and worthy of celebration? Yes. Is it powerful and freighted with potential for consequences good and bad? Yes. Is it emblematic of wondrous theological realities? Yes.
The Christian Scriptures are not going to answer all our questions about you-know-what. But they offer us more honest media on sex than our entertainers.

Adapted in part from Andrew's recent book, TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age (Cascade Books, 2013).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Just read this quote and it made me cry

Just read the quote below and it made me cry for parents and teens in America.  This is why I'm in ministry.  I never thought of this effect on our children before.  - Al Menconi

" friend, Susie, made an interesting point. She confirmed that just like my daughters, hers were totally consumed with their iPhone update for several hours—first downloading the new software, then excitedly talking about it, sharing screen shots, and finally, we supposed, tweeting about it. 'It concerns me that their world seems to be all about 'what's new and improved,' Susie lamented. I nodded in agreement, but wasn't troubled until she said, 'I'm worried that our kids have lost the ability to remain enthusiastic about anything for any length of time—specifically their future spouses.' She paused. 'I feel like they're being raised in a world where it's common—no, expected—to continually 'trade up.'"

Katie D. Anderson, writing for Parade magazine, 10/7/13

Monday, October 7, 2013

How teens, parents struggle to share social media

Heather Kelly, CNN
(CNN) -- Carly and her mom are friends on Facebook, but that doesn't mean they share everything.
The 17-year-old from Marin County, California, has refined her Facebook privacy settings so that her mother can't see all the posts that fill her Timeline. Her father, meanwhile, never checks the social network.

"Right now, my mom can only see things that I post. She can't see anything I'm tagged in or anything that my friends say to me on my profile," said Carly, a high school senior who asked to be identified only by her first name. "She doesn't know that, though. I'm like, 80% sure that every other teenager has done that too."

With teenagers and their parents (grandparents, even) increasingly active on social networks, both generations are joined in a delicate dance over privacy, safety and freedom of expression online.
Interviews with a handful of teens and adults suggest that some teens seek out corners of social media where they can communicate with their friends and peers away from the watchful eye, or embarrassing comments, of their parents.

Facebook is the most commonly used social network for both parents and teen-agers, although many teens increasingly are elsewhere.

Parents, meanwhile, are grappling with how to monitor their kids' online activity and keep them safe without being stifling or intrusive. And both are seeking ways to coexist peacefully on the few social networks they do share.

Reputation is everything

Today's teenagers are social media natives. They've grown up putting their personal information online and are comfortable sharing photos and videos of themselves, updating relationship statuses and checking into locations.

What they don't share their parents' level of concern about privacy and worries about companies or the government abusing their data. According to a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, only 9% of teens reported being "very concerned" about third parties accessing their data.
That doesn't mean they're reckless with their personal information, according to Pew research. Most teens exert careful control over what information is seen by whom, but more because they are acutely aware of how each nugget of posted information, even the number of likes it can get, shapes how they are perceived by peers.

I really try to not have any pictures of me from any parties or any captions/comments with swear words ...
Carly, age 17

Pew found that teens have developed a variety of ways to control their privacy. They are comfortable navigating Facebook's notoriously complicated privacy settings, and only 14% have public-facing Facebook profiles. They also edit what appears on their profile, deleting posts, comments and unwanted tags.

For teens looking to hide social-media activity from adults, elaborate privacy settings can sometimes be unnecessary. Fifty-eight percent of teens said they posted updates that were inside jokes or coded messages that only certain friends would understand.

Seeking out new online homes

Many teens are learning how to compartmentalize the different parts of their lives online. Facebook is the most popular site for both teens and parents, according to Pew, but teens reported "waning enthusiasm" in the site in Pew focus groups. They cited the colonization of the site by adults and excessive amounts of "drama."

Some teens use Facebook for public posts but message each other on lesser-known social platforms that their parents aren't aware of or haven't signed up for.

Many teens are also on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine and Pinterest -- sites where they report feeling less social pressure and more freedom to express themselves. Twitter has seen rapid growth among young users, while Vine, with its looping six-second videos, is a creative form of messaging for a visually oriented generation.

Even straight-laced LinkedIn is courting teenagers. Earlier this month the social media site for professionals lowered its minimum age to 14 from 18 and announced special new pages for universities, hoping to edge into the college-selection process.

If teenagers really don't want something to be seen, they'll retreat to more private messaging tools such as Kik, WhatsApp or Snapchat, which can be used to send private messages to groups of friends. SnapChat is a mobile app which lets users share photos or videos that disappear after a few seconds. For that reason, it's gained a reputation for promoting the exchange of risqué images.

"On Snapchat ... anything goes!" said Carly, the Bay Area teen. "Snapchat gets a little crazier because it's supposed to be 'erased' after 10 seconds or less. Not sure if that's actually true, but there's definitely a different sense of security with Snapchat than Facebook or Instagram."

Making peace with parents

Some kids and parents say they have worked out ways to share social networks harmoniously.
According to the recent Pew study, only 5% of teens reported setting up filters for their parents, and the majority (70%) are friends with their parents on Facebook.

Julie LaRue and her 16-year-old daughter are both mainly on Facebook, but the two have agreed on some boundaries.

"Her ground rule for me is to not comment on her friends' comments unless they are directed to me, and not to tag her in photos without her consent," said LaRue, who lives in Baldwinsville, New York.
LaRue also stays off of her daughter's other social networks, including Tumblr, Twitter and DeviantArt. In exchange, her daughter is heeding her warnings against sharing personal information online and has promised not to post any photos she wouldn't be comfortable showing her parents.
Along the same lines, Carly's mom will tag her daughter in photos and like her posts, but she doesn't comment much because she knows it's embarrassing to her daughter.

Carly, for her part, tries to keep it clean.

"I really try to not have any pictures of me from any parties or any captions/comments with swear words ... but it's hard to be 100% clean when your entire life is online," she said.