In case you’ve been fasting from television and social media the past few days, here’s a brief summary of Miley Cyrus’s performance at Sunday’s VMA awards: She stripped down to her underwear and twerked and gyrated before a live audience full of celebrities with their mouths on the floor. At one point, she stomped around the stage aimlessly as if she was looking for anyone or anyTHING to have sex with. Crass, I know, but there really is no other way to describe it. Facebook and Twitter were in a frenzy, and talking media heads were using words like “gross, perverse, sad, and shocking.” It certainly was all of those things, except one: I don’t know how anyone could be shocked. When it comes to sex, our culture becomes more saturated with poison by the day. Are we really acting surprised that someone got sick? For so many people, this story seems to be about another ex-Disney star breaking bad. For me, this is a symptom of something much, much deeper.
Our culture celebrates sexual perversion. It’s used by advertisers to sell just about everything, sung about on the radio, and used as a punch line for the most popular comedians. Pornography is an acceptable form of entertainment, and it’s normal to go to strip clubs the night before you get married. It’s probably the biggest reason Dan and I don’t plan to have kids any time soon. We can’t stand the thought of bringing a daughter into a world like this. She’ll have to stand in the grocery store line and look at headlines about how long it took the next Kim Kardashian to lose her baby weight. Some boy will inevitably ask her to send him a picture of herself in her underwear over social media. She’ll be bombarded with images on billboards of what she should look like. She, like any other young woman in our culture, will grow up worrying that she’s not enough. I can’t stand the thought. If I have a son, he’ll start receiving pop-ups while he’s on the internet in elementary school. He’ll be bombarded with those same billboard images as my would-be daughter, shaping his expectations in a way that no real woman can really satisfy. Sex in our culture is about performance. It’s not about intimacy.
Miley Cyrus’ demonstration of this wasn’t very subtle, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary either. Every year during my unit on Human Sexuality, I ask students to bring magazine ads that use sex to sell their products. Here are just a couple that students have brought in in the past, mostly out of men’s magazines.
Warning: graphic images ahead.
We are literally using gang rape in advertising now. I challenge my students to count the number of commercials, bill boards, and magazine ads that use sex to sell in a subtle or obvious way, and the answer I get is always, “Almost every single one.”
Part of my job is to teach the young women in my classes that they’re worth so much more than this…and to convince the boys not to see women in this way. Last week during an event on campus, I attempted to give our seniors some good, innocent fun by renting a big waterslide. I told them all to wear dark shorts and t-shirts: Church of Christers, you would have been proud! A collection of neighborhood boys started to form near the site, and they started shouting degrading sexual messages at our young ladies. Security had to run them off several times. I watched as a couple of the girls ran across the street, looking nervously over at the boys who were shouting at them. I’ve walked with my female students through their neighborhoods before, and watched them quickly pick up speed as a car full of men slows down beside them. It’s an instinct: a product of the reality they live in every day. I’m overwhelmed with deep sadness every time I look out over my classroom and see all of the beautiful young girls who are so desperately trying to get the sexual attention they’ve been taught to expect.
Miley Cyrus is no different. She’s trying to get the kind of attention her culture tells her she should get. The poison has desensitized us. It’s everywhere…in forms we recognize and in forms we don’t. It’s hurting all of us. It’s giving us false expectations, it’s making us feel insecure, and it’s creating the worst kind of disease: the kind that keeps getting worse because you don’t know you have it.
Regardless of how you feel about the sanctity of Scripture or the concept of sin, it’s hard to deny the wisdom in these words from 1 Corinthians 6: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” That’s why we were all so disturbed by Miley’s performance. We were watching her essentially commit a sin against her own body. She was disrespecting herself in front of millions of people…something most of us only do in secret.
It discourages me to see so many religious people up in arms about things like gay marriage and Obamacare while this poison spreads like wildfire. If you’re going to be upset about anything, it should be this. I’m not sure there’s anything we should be more worried about for current or future generations.