The fight for Fifty Shades and Magic Mike.

This weekend, fabulous blogger Rachel Held Evans (RHE) stuck a link in her Sunday Superlatives post to another blogger’s Christian criticism of Fifty Shades of Grey and Magic Mike.

For the (lucky) few who aren’t familiar, Fifty Shades is an erotic novel and Magic Mike is a movie about male strippers. Both are sweeping the female half of the U.S. especially, and of that half, lots are in the church. And of the ones who are in the church, lots are now involved in the fight for Fifty Shades and Magic Mike.

Some Christ followers are detractors because the book promotes lust and the movie promotes the objectification of men. Other Christ followers are proponents because, they say, both the book and the movie “validate” female sexuality.

One woman wrote the following amid the comments on RHE’s blog, re: the fight:

“How many women live in virtually sexless, or sexually frustrated relationships because they feel they can’t talk to their partner and discussing it with female friends is out of the question? So if it’s a slightly to the left of vanilla gawd awfully written novel that starts that conversation, then it should have all our blessings. And if giggling over guys in thongs gets women to talk about what they like and don’t, then bring on the baby oil and chaps!” 

And another wrote this:

“Objectification is just disproportionately focusing on someone’s body. If we focus on both sexes’ bodies the same amount, the objectification ends! If men can see that they have hot bodies and minds, maybe they’ll realize it’s the same for women. I don’t think it’s the nudity or whatever that’s the problem… just the disproportion which breeds prejudice.”

The people who are mad at us for criticizing Fifty Shades and Magic Mike are mad because they are under the impression that erotic media marketed for females and movies that objectify men validate female sexuality and kick start important conversations women otherwise wouldn’t have.

As such, the same people are under the impression that we who criticize Fifty Shades and Magic Mike therefore promote female sexual repression, rob women of reasons to talk about sex and ultimately deny women the right to be sexual beings.

The reason Christian marriages are sexless or sexually frustrated and Christian women feel like they can’t talk about sex with their spouse or with their friends is complex. But hear this: The reason Christian marriages are sexless or sexually frustrated and women feel like they can’t talk about sex is not that women haven’t had enough exposure to erotic novels and men in thongs.  It is not because women and men historically have been unequally objectified. It is (in part) because we are in a culture that is smack dab in the middle of an era of ultimate sexual confusion.

The truth is there are two kinds of sex. One is the world’s version, which is primarily for pleasure. The other is sex as God intended it to be, which is primarily for procreation and unity and involves the unique creation of a pleasurable sexual relationship between a wife and a husband. 

And the problem is that the church generally has dropped the ball. It has said “save sex for marriage” but it doesn’t want to talk about sex.

So the only concept of sex that most people have (even among Christians) is what they learn about it on TV, in movies and in music. And the sex on TV, in movies and in music is the world’s version of sex. And when the church doesn’t differentiate between that kind of sex and sex as God designed it, the results are disastrous:

  • “Saving sex for marriage” becomes “waiting until marriage to objectify my partner.”
  • Wedding night confusion ensues when what happens in bed neither looks nor feels as good as the movies imply it should.
  • Since people only know of one kind of sex, they are alarmed by it when we who see two kinds of sex reject the only one that they know. According to us, we are rejecting the world’s sex. According to them, we are just plain rejecting sex.
And because Fifty Shades and Magic Mike align just fine with the one kind of sex they know exists, to reject the book and movie is, to them, to reject sex, too.
But there is so much more to sex. There is so much more to love. We cannot lower this bar. We cannot accept the world’s sex as the only kind worth sharing with a spouse. The church will not get closer to addressing sex like it should when part of the church is fighting for equal objectification of women and men.

As I said in my response to one of the commenters on RHE’s blog, “If we focus on both sexes’ bodies the same amount, objectification doesn’t end. It becomes mutual. Just because two people consent to being objectified by each other doesn’t mean they eliminate objectification. In fact, they perpetuate it. And as somebody who’s of the opinion that love and objectification are incompatible, I don’t think that’s a good a thing.”

And truly, it isn’t.

Lord have mercy on us.

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Edit: FYI, the commenter on RHE’s blog who wrote that objectification ends if men and women are objectified the same amount has responded to my comment: I don’t mean it quite as literally as you’re taking it. Think what Syndrome says in The Incredibles. “If everyone’s special, no one is.” (Something like that.)” And she added the following: “Yeah I don’t know if literally objectifying men the same amount as women have been objectified is THE ANSWER. I just think that, in some contexts, it could open some eyes. Also I don’t think objectification is always wrong. Situational objectification. Temporary objectification. Isn’t that what sex sometimes amounts to be? Good lord. Too many thoughts. THIS IS NUANCED PEOPLE.”