In the early years of teaching sexual risk avoidance education, I heard a term that really stuck with me: publicly private. Hands down the best use of an oxymoron I’d ever encountered. We encouraged young people to set boundaries, to keep their behaviors marked by the thought, “Don’t do something in private that you would be hesitant, ashamed, or horrified to do in public, or say in front of your grandmother.” Sadly, many of us have private behaviors we would never want to be known in public.
Although it has been more than two decades, I can remember so vividly the time I was hiding my private choices. I was a college sophomore and everyone knew my boyfriend wasn’t good for me, so I began to hide my interactions with him. So much so that one night in February, I waited until my mother had gone to sleep, quietly put the car in neutral, and backed it out of our parking complex until I was a safe distance away. As I turned the car on I thought to myself, I’m home free! I can go see him and be back before my mom ever knows what happened. No harm. No foul.
Cue the snow. We lived in Upstate New York, and during the winter months snow could come out of nowhere. What I thought I was keeping secret was about to have very visible results. On my way to his apartment, I ended up in a snowbank. Stuck. I had no choice but to call my mom in the wee hours of the morning. I never got to my boyfriend's place that night. The very thing I was trying to avoid (being found out) was now very apparent public information. I was totally embarrassed, but more upsetting than that was the look of disappointment on my mom’s face. It was a hard lesson but cemented what I’d heard a hundred times over “What we do in the dark, will eventually come to light.” I now had a very real visual for that.
We can all relate to hiding our private choices. Girls hiding miniskirts in their backpacks. Boys hiding magazines under their beds. I can even remember the day I found out someone I held on a ridiculous spiritual pedestal was a smoker. I had literally never seen her smoke, and I’d known her for nearly a decade. It was the first time I really contemplated in my young naïve life that there really are things we do in secret that we’d never do in public.
So when I began again to see Fifty Shades in the news for its DVD release, my heart leapt within me. I knew there would be scores of women (young to older) that would have never gone publicly to see the movie but might totally entertain watching it in the security of their homes. What we had just, a few months back, deemed too graphic to admit to viewing publicly we would now secretly view on our own and allow it into our hearts and minds.
The current level of porn saturation has led to a functional apathy about our porn habits. According to a study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, about 77 percent of Americans say they watch porn at least once a month. In contrast though, the same study found that only 29 percent actually believe watching porn is morally acceptable. I sat thinking, It’s nothing new really, is it? We are still looking for ways to do the taboo. Have we not traveled so far from those miniskirt and magazine days? Have we not learned that what is done in dark will be brought to light? Do we try to deceive ourselves to believe quiet disobedience doesn’t harm us? I had to ask myself the same questions.
It is so easy in our world today to be wooed to compromise—to think if we are keeping it to ourselves, what harm is it really doing? But stripping down, to the core, the design, pure and simple, of God’s intent for sexual intimacy isn’t yielding great results. Through inviting a steady stream of sexual images, innuendos, and false messages into our homes, we are playing right into the hands of a cultural worldview that is destroying the fabric that makes sex so beautiful in the first place. We continue to look good on the outside but allow porn and affairs into our private life.
Porn, a polar opposite of the love and sex God created, can make lasting and deep impacts on human relationships. RELEVANT Magazine shared this: “Pornography makes it more difficult for your brain to experience pleasure. A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that men and women who looked at porn were less likely to be satisfied with their partner’s appearance and their sex life as a whole.” Not surprised by this at all. We can’t allow porn into our mind in private and expect it to not have major life-altering effects.
Thinking back to those times when secrets were kept or truth was “omitted,” I can clearly remember knowing there was something not right about it. Hence, the freedom I sought (false freedom I found out) actually bound me to the very thing I was trying to escape from inviting shame to the game. Possessing the thought that this movie can be viewed in the safety and secrecy of our own homes changes nothing about the impact that diluted, disfigured messages in movies like Fifty Shades create in the hearts and minds of women. Our culture deserves more. Our friendships deserve more. Our marriages deserve more. Our husbands deserve more. And ultimately we, as women, deserve more.
So when you pass the video aisle, are tempted to click the “Add to Cart” button, or realize it’s available as the latest on demand release . . . think again. Don’t be fooled by culture’s push to give us a counterfeit version of sex, love, and intimacy. Is this movie something you would be okay letting everyone know you have seen? Are you making choices that are publically private?
Willow Sanders is a mom to two growing young men, Deyvon (20) and Levi (16). For the past 10 years she has worked for Care Net of the Treasure Coast and currently serves as the Director of Student Services for Protect the Heart, their student division. She is certified in Abstinence education and has recently become certified in Sexual Risk Avoidance Education. This has enabled her to stand alongside the finest in the field of educating people, young and old, in a growing tide of compromise.