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Turning people into things: sexxx...

The ‘sexualisation of life’ has made sex into something that it is not.
Two sets of feet poking out from under the covers
Posted November 10, 2008

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Let's talk about sexxx...

I have difficulties with sex. I feel I should explain. The difficulty isn’t that I don’t like sex (sex can be a lot of fun and incredibly good)—the difficulty is in the fact that I like it too much.

You see, sex is everywhere. It’s at the movies, on the Internet, on television, in advertising, on billboards, in music, in magazines, at the local dairy, in the newspapers, and it’s even watchable on some mobile telephones.

Sex is inescapable. It fuels controversy, makes headlines, creates life, starts scandals. And, as everyone marketing anything knows—cars, cheeseburgers, clothing, deodorants and liquor—sex sells!

We’ve demystified sex. It’s lost some of its creativity, its intrigue, some of its original goodness. Sex is missing some of its mystery—some of what makes it sacred, some of what makes it holy.

Sex can be holy? Something that God is in? Something that God is pleased with? Ever thought of that?

The 'sexualisation of life'

The difficulty I have with this everydayness of sex—what some social commentators call the ‘sexualisation of life’—is that it has made sex into something that it is not.

We’ve made sex cheap. Confusing. Heartbreaking. Shameful. Disconnected from commitment, love and the pledge of a life-long partnership.

We’ve made sex into something that can be demanded, exploited, a commodity that can be bought and sold like merchandise on the market. Sex—like a new car, computer, house, MP3 player or a piece of clothing—is something that we have to have, something that we have to continually get more of and trade more in if we ever hope to be fulfilled or happy.

There is something of the logic of capitalism and consumerism in this thinking, isn’t there? But should sex be marketable and sellable like other tradable products?

We’ve made sex dirty.

Every day, everywhere, the symbolic XXX entices me to stay a little longer on the Internet, in a magazine or in front of the television, to see a lot more of what is to claimed to be free and harmless sex.

But is it free? And is it harmless? Who pays the price of our sexual thrills?

Our daughters. Sons.
Boyfriends. Girlfriends.
Brothers. Sisters.
Classmates. People at the office. Our clients.
Our Churches. Communities.
Husbands. Wives.

Or is it someone in a distant, foreign nation; someone that we never meet face to face, someone that is somehow lesser or less important than you or me?

Who pays the price of our voyeurism?

We’ve made sex into a game.

We playfully and without conscience cruelly ‘evaluate’ with a single look the sexual ‘fitness’ of others, determining within the opening and closing of our eyelids who is ‘hot’ and who is ‘not’. Consider the girly gossip and the macho talk of ‘conquests’, ‘optimum measurements’ and ‘ratings’.

Player Stats.

The language of sport, no?

Every day, everywhere, we make the sexiness, the sexuality, and the sex of someone into something. We take growing boys and girls, grown men and women, people created in the image of God, people with families, histories, feelings, hopes and dreams—somebodies—and we make them into objects. We make them into something to desire, look at, something to have. Crudely stated, we make them into something that we can fantasise touching.

It only takes a camera, a DVD player, a glossy magazine or Internet connection and, with the press of play, the click of a mouse or the ink of a laser printer, we can lessen and squeeze the incredibly complex and magical humanity of people into millions of tiny pixels on a page or screen. There is no commitment, no connection (which is exactly what we hope for in sex), no conversation, no dating, no flattery, no human contact, no promise of faithfulness, no responsibility, no sacrifice, love or security, no exchange of vows, no vulnerability—there is only the DVD, the Internet, the magazine and me with whatever sexual fantasy I can imagine seeing.

Downloadable sex.
Burned onto a compact disk or DVD.
Live sex cams. Real-time sex shows.

Explicit images that we can browse, buy, file, save, share, post on BeBo, MySpace or YouTube. And then, when we’re bored or fearing embarrassment, we can simply delete them, erase them from our hard drives, though, strangely, not from our memories. Human beings created in the image of God, naked living souls, captured on film or in cyberspace, glossy snapshots of sex that we can never get enough of and never fully enjoy.

Sex is no longer what we freely and lovingly give ourselves to, nor is it what we equally or openly share in—sex is simply something that we take.

'I-it' or 'I-thou'?

I have a confession to make. I’ve gained some of these insights into sex and sexualisation through painful personal experience. I’m guilty of entrenching and flirting with this selfish and cruel practice of sex. I’m guilty of looking at people incorrectly. I’m guilty of not seeing the image of God that is in people and sadly, to my shame, because of this, the ‘inhospitality of my sight’, I’m guilty of treating people inhumanely.

I know, I should explain.

‘A hospitality of sight’ is concerned with learning to see people through the grace-full eyes of Jesus (which implies that our own eyes and ways of seeing might be in need of healing).

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber coined a couple of phrases to describe how people in everyday life adopted different attitudes in the way they ‘looked at’ each other and treated each other.5 He divided people into two camps: the ‘I-its’ and the ‘I-thous’.

The ‘I-its’ dehumanise others, looking at them like they were somehow ‘less-than-human’. They look at people like they are ‘objects’ (what Martin Buber called ‘objectification’) and treat them like they are ‘things’ to control, get, have, manipulate, or possess.

The ‘I-thous’ dignify others, looking at them like they are equals, fellow humans. They look at people like they are ‘subjects’ (what Martin Buber called ‘subjectification’) and treat them like they are gifts of God, carriers of the same image of God, sacred—someone they can learn from and partner with.

There is a massive difference here, isn’t there?





fellow humans
learn from
partner with

There is enough cultural, historical and personal evidence to suggest that the ‘looking’ and thinking of the ‘I-its’ have dominated how we interact with people every day and everywhere.

It’s in our churches, our homes, in our government, at the office, on the Internet, in our music, in our playgrounds, on the television, in our schools and in our shops. It’s in our failure to connect and identify meaningfully with the human stories we ‘see’ on the evening news; it’s in our failure to interact equally and trade fairly with people who are somehow ‘different’, ‘foreign’ or ‘distant’. It’s what has fueled my own personal struggle with pornography. Sadly, it’s what continues to shape how we see and think of each other sexually—and that is not good.

Buber’s argument is that the I-thou relationship between us and God is the foundation for all other relationships. An authentic I-thou relationship with God stimulates an I-thou (not I-it) relationship with the world. That’s because God can guide our attitudes and ways of looking at others. Questioning how we ‘look’ at others in terms of I-thou instead of I-it becomes a helpful ethical check.

Hell on Earth

The ‘I-its’ create hell on earth.

Hell on earth. The darkest, deadliest, loneliest and most oppressive place where God is not felt or seen and from which there seems to be no escape.

The ‘dehumanization’ of people—this every day and everywhere ‘objectification’ of humans—the seeing and treating of people like they’re somehow ‘discardable’, less than human (even inhuman), like they’re only ‘things’, this is why there is:

  • a profitable global sex industry trafficking children and women
  • slavery, including sexual slavery
  • abortions of convenience
  • child abuse
  • unwanted pregnancies
  • gender inequalities
  • domestic violence
  • prostituted men and women
  • rape

Surely this is hell on earth? Do you see the connection between a distorted image of sex and these horror stories? These hellish issues stem from:

  • our degrading of humanity and our devaluing of humans
  • the domination of ‘I-its’ in how we interact with people
  • how every day and everywhere we make people into inhuman sex ‘objects’
  • how we squeeze people into pornographic pixels
  • how we mistakenly think of sex

Reduce the Demand.

Personally. You, me, everyday, everywhere.

Stop the demand:

  • it’s what happens when we stop ignoring the divine image of God that the Scriptures say is in everyone (see Genesis chapters one to three)
  • it’s what happens when we stop interacting with others like they’re somehow ‘less-than-human’, somehow ‘sub-human’, somehow of lesser importance than you and me
  • it’s what happens when we stop treating people like they’re objects, like they’re something to have, control or use.

Stop the demand:

  • it’s what happens when we stop purchasing clothing, coffee, chocolate, shoes, technological toys or jewellery that is made with exploited labour_­­­unfair labour traps people in poverty and can drive them to prostitution
  • it’s what happens when we stop defining ourselves and others by how we look, by what we’ve got on, by where we live or by what we own
  • it’s what happens when we stop flirting with cheap sex and the cheaper sexual thrills, the kind of ‘sexual fix’ we get from playing with the pornographic pixels on the Internet or the printed page.

Stop the demand.


Exactly where you’re at.

Starting today.

Stop depreciating sex. Stop paying for sex. Stop purchasing sexual fantasies.

Stop spelling sex XXX.