Shared Shame: Porn and Purity

I’m sure it was entirely coincidence the two articles appeared in the Washington Post on the same day.  I seriously doubt that the editors would have intentionally placed them in such close proximity to each other, even if they were in different parts of the paper.

The religion section had a discussion on the sexual purity movement, and in particular a book that discussed kissing dating goodbye and helped spawn the movement.

The Magazine section included a feature article on one individual’s recovery efforts in overcoming addiction to pornography.

Two diametrically opposed topics, it would seem. But upon reading, it occurred to me that both topics are linked by the same issue — shame.

The problem with the purity program was shame.  While setting high standards for people to follow, and without giving tools and understanding, one of the results of espousing those standards was a sense of shame for not just any acting on the desires, but in many cases for even having the feeling of wanting to act on it.  The normal response of the body to maturation through the teens and twenties, the normal curiosity, even the thinking of what if (and the resulting response) were viewed as wrong and sinful.  The solution to the problem was to deny, to lock up, to isolate.  Purity was lifted up as rules against, evilness of the body, evilness of the mind, rules of “not”….and precious little about how to respond, what to do, how to mature through this normally turbulent phase.  I get this.  In college I felt dirty and shamed by both mental thoughts and my body’s reactions, even if it was from just holding hands.  Seeds of self hate and soul desolation were sown.  I’m pretty sure some of those roots and vines still hold. A normal reaction declared unnormal and wrong.

In addiction, it is perhaps less surprising that shame plays a massive role in the problem.  No one wants to be labeled an addict, but the stigma is particularly harsh against a porn or sex addict.  If you doubt this, think of the reaction of the press and yourself to the death of River Phoenix or Prince from drugs, compared to Anthony Wiener or Tiger Woods.  Society views it, much as alcohol was viewed 80 years ago before AA, as a failure of moral character.  The use/abuse of pornography and sex brings condemnation on the person, and a feeling of shame not just for the act, but the nature of the person committing the act.

Both issues suffer from the existence, the dominance, of shame.  The person is shamed for not having the right moral character for having gotten into the situation; the person has not just acted bad, they are bad. And that occurs whether the bad was an act or a thought or a reaction.  Damned either way by high horses…and high sparrows.  There’s a reason this scene is so powerful and resonates with us.

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What is needed is to increase our capacity for grace; grace for those whose reaction is normal, grace for those whose action is addiction. While these two articles happen to be linked by sex (abstinence or addiction) and shame, there is a need for the application of grace to so much of our lives.  We spend far too much time condemning and shaming and far too little time helping and supporting.  I see it in our responses to fallen heroes, people of opposite opinions, people with whom we interact.  I see it with ourselves, too.

Grace is not easy.  It is as nearly divine as we can get.  It takes work, skill, effort….and ironically the practice of itself when we fail at it.  But whether we fail to measure up to purity, or abuse porn, or abuse ourselves, we need to practice grace, extend grace, to improve our lives.

Shared shame; porn and purity.  Both needing the abundant exercise of grace.

 

 

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One response to this post.

  1. YES. Pornography has been a hot topic lately. A woman who was incarcerated in a man’s basement for a year spoke out against it, saying it made her predicament worse. My thoughts: abusers are going to be abusers no matter what media they have access to. If anything, suppressing the natural urge to explore sexuality (consensually or through masturbation, of course) is more likely to be problematic than the exploration itself.

    Reply

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