Monday, February 14, 2005

sex - heaven or hell?

Sex - Heaven or Hell? - Johann Christoph Arnold

We live in a society that is constantly talking about sex, but we remain deeply impoverished in our understanding of what it can mean. And it's not just the pharmaceutical industry that plays off our obsession. TV producers and radio hosts, plastic surgeons, film directors, and publishers - all of them play off an unprecedented public appetite for more. The obvious result of all this has been the wholesale commercialization of sex. But it has also meant the gradual disappearance of true intimacy and the degradation of the erotic into the crude and banal. In the space of a half-century, attitudes that were once unthinkable have become commonplace, and what was once classed as perversion is now said to be natural and normal. Yesterday's porn, as the saying goes, is today's advertising.

Some people insist that negative attitudes have merely become healthier; and it is true that much of what our grandparents saw as sin, our own generation sees as freedom. But for many of today's teens, neither view holds true. They regard sexual activity neither as a sin nor as a source of liberation, but as a quick fix for loneliness and boredom. "Sometimes I think the whole world is focused on sex," says Jake, a fifteen-year-old, with a world-weary sigh. "There are nights when I'm locked away in my girlfriend's bedroom while her parents are out…and sometimes I think, maybe we could really be out doing something else besides this." And even those who boast about their exploits often live in quiet fear of diseases like AIDS.

We are leaving our children a world where the very dimension of human experience that was once regarded as the most sacred and heavenly may turn out to be the most hellish. Robbed of the chance to discover sex as innocents, they have little idea of its mysterious capacity to satisfy not only bodily cravings, but the mind and spirit as well. To them,reverence is a meaningless, old-fashioned word; lust something to indulge; a condom the only necessary precaution. But the price is often high: anxiety, self-hatred, confusion, and despair.

How can we rediscover sex as the wondrous, divinely created gift it is? How can we be delivered from experiencing it as misery? There are no simple answers; after all, the sexual sphere is always precariously balanced between grief and joy, fulfillment and frustration - between heaven and hell. But that should not discourage us. Rather than leading us to treat sex as a problem to be solved by moralists and prudes, we ought to grapple with its challenges and enlarge our understanding of it.


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