Intro: This was the first paper assigned for my Theology of Marriage course. We talk about some pretty serious and relevant stuff in the course. Yes, our first class was about porn. It was about how porn ISN’T love. We read a chapter by a radical feminist (not an opinion, it’s the identification used by the author) book. Intense stuff.
Prompt: Using both Jean-Luc Marion and Dietrich von Hildebrand, describe why Christian marriage could be healing of the pornographic gaze described by Dines. You do not have to use Dines in this essay but may simply describe the problems with pornography that we discussed in class.
Sex, Intimacy, and Commitment: Partners or Enemies
In her book, Pornland, Gail Dines exposes the pornification of contemporary culture and its adverse effects. Even those who have not watched porn have experienced its effects through media representations of relationship norms from advertisements to sitcoms. Dines demonstrates how these effects can be devastating for both men and women who unknowingly accept porn culture, becoming emasculated by an unrealistic fantasy or blinded by the false empowerment of objectification. In their work on love and marriage, authors Dietrich von Hildebrand and Jean-Luc Marion offer Christian perspectives on the relationship, perspectives that could offer healing to individuals who reject this phenomenon. Christian marriage heals society’s pornographic gaze and rescues individuality by rejoining sex and emotion in the expression of committed love.
Why is healing needed?
Porn culture wounds a person by devaluing his or her individuality. Today’s media emphasizes the segregation of sex and intimacy. The prominence of “meaningless sex” as a phrase supports Dines’s claim that society has been “trained by porn culture to see sex as disconnected from intimacy,” (Dines 92). Here, “intimacy” is defined by emotional closeness to a person. Today, “sex” is seen as a social accomplishment, a physical stimulation, and an unemotional, animal instinct. In response, men and women have been pressured into accepting shallow sexual encounters, assimilating to a culture promoting loneliness and vulnerability simultaneously. Hildebrand rejects “biological reductionism,” which is the idea that humans can be reduced to animals in terms of their sexual desire. Commitment to one other is unimportant, and, in fact, discouraged. The pornification of culture objectifies individuals, reducing them to an aggregate number of unemotional sexual encounters to boast. This can emotionally damage a person. These cultural practices exploit a person’s vulnerability, stealing a person’s confidence, self-esteem, and individuality, while Christian perspectives on relationships cherish the individual.
How is healing achieved? Sex and emotion.
Christian perspectives on marriage defend sex and emotion as interconnected expressions of love. Written in 1929, Hildebrand’s book offers today’s society a “new” definition of sex as an expression of conjugal love, “a unique, mutual giving of oneself.” Here, the definition of love joins physical and emotional giving of oneself. Sex, an act inherently requiring vulnerability, is an expression of love through intimacy and trust between partners. Some interpret sex and love as separate even in Christianity. There is a myth that sex in a Christian marriage is an act for only procreation, excluding a purposeful expression of love. Hildebrand argues for sex as the “closest of all unions,” which aims to “realiz[e] the sublime communion of love in which, according to the words of Our Savior, ‘They shall be two in flesh,’” (Hildebrand 26). If love is giving oneself emotionally and physically, sex should require emotion.
How is healing achieved? Sex, emotion, and commitment.
Furthermore, intimacy requires a choice to be close with another, specific individual. We defined intimacy as emotional closeness, which is found in the interaction of two people. Marion describes the most authentic intimacy as the crossing of the gazes, in which two people look into each other’s eyes, highly aware of the fact that they are two emotional individuals experiencing another, specific emotional individual. For example, Patrick is not just looking at a person, he’s looking at Katie, and Katie is looking at him. Patrick cannot look at both Katie and Mary at the same time. To experience Marion’s authentic intimacy with Katie, he must choose her over all others. Commitment to an individual is more than just choosing one person, but choosing an individual. Marion warns of the dangers of falling in “love” with the feeling of being in a relationship, in which case, “[Patrick] see[s] not her but the sum of lived experiences, for which she is only the accidental cause and of which [his] consciousness has the real measure,” (Marion 77). If Patrick stays in the relationship because he likes the attention and likes the security of being in a relationship, he does not love Katie. However, authentic intimacy is found in appreciation of Katie’s particularities, her thisness, everything that makes her Katie and everything that distinguishes Katie from everyone else. This is the opposite of porn culture, which reduces all individuals to bodies, as described earlier. Christian marriage heals through commitment to intimacy with one individual, proving a value that grows exponentially over time as the commitment sustains.
While porn culture reduces individualism, intimacy is an emotional interaction of individuals. Marion argues, “if I want truly to gaze on the other, I attach myself neither to her silhouette, however pleasing it might be, nor to some voluntary or involuntary sign that her bearing might reveal, but to her face,” (81). He describes the body as a silhouette, a distraction. He implies that two bodies do not achieve authentic intimacy, but two individuals achieve authentic intimacy. If segregating sex and intimacy emotionally wounds the individual, the required interconnection of sex and committed intimacy in an ideal Christian marriage can heal a person’s perception of sex and of his or her self.