There were roughly eighty middle school kids sitting in a church that day in late June when the minister, wearing cargo shorts and a Panama hat, told us all that masturbation was wrong. “God doesn’t want you to lust,” he informed us. “Lust is a sin and you have to lust to pleasure yourself.” We stared at him, not sure how to react to an adult who had just talked about self-gratification on the mic at a church camp. There was a silence. Some campers were probably ashamed. Others may have been too busy thinking about the act to respond. It’s hard to say.
I was reminded of this long-forgotten incident from my youth as an indoctrinated evangelical when I read this article on Salon this morning. It seems that conservative Christians are concerned about rampant porn “addiction,” which they see as corrupting society.
Well, actually, more like simplistic.
First, let me mention the idea of addiction to pornography. This, it seems, might be possible. If you’re Michael Fassbender in Shame (watch it here), and you can’t pull a shift at the office without using your work computer to stream bukkake videos, you are addicted. There can’t possibly be that many of these folks running around (unless that’s to blame for the high unemployment in this country). The word “addiction” is used here to underscore the supposedly insidious nature of adult entertainment. It will ensnare you! Control you! Turn you into Ted Bundy!
That’s a red herring the nuts like to throw out, too. Shortly before his 1989 execution, serial-killer and rapist Ted Bundy told Focus on the Family’s James Dobson that porn made him a killer. Dobson trumpeted this as a major vindication of right-wing cultural values, not as the pity-me-I’m-a-victim-myth of a murderer. The rest of us aren’t out rampaging around, fired up by hardcore and fiending for blood.
But the bigger reason why this evangelical argument is bullshit? There’s nothing wrong with lust.
Let me clarify. It would be wrong to cheat on your spouse. You’re causing emotional distress, sowing seeds of distrust. That is a pretty clear-cut problem. But if, in your private moments, your mind considers various fantasies that constitute lust, where is the harm?
There are a lot of couples who watch porn together, visit strip clubs together, share their lustful fantasies with each other. That may make them different from you and your relationship, but it does not make them sinners, and it does not mark them for divorce.
In an interview on Salon today (coincidentally), sex columnist Dan Savage discusses lust quite eloquently:
I hope that there’s a more user-friendly, sophisticated attitude toward monogamy and commitment. People can acknowledge that for both of you, it’s going to be a bit of a struggle, and involve a bit of a sacrifice. And shouldn’t that be honored? Isn’t that more valuable, when you can look at a person and say, “They really want to fuck other people, but because we love each other, and because monogamy’s important to both of us, we both refrain from doing that … that’s a gift we give each other.”
The minister from my middle school summer camp would undoubtedly call Savage a hedonistic pervert (and a homosexual!) but I’ve grown enough to see through that. The real sin–assuming such a concept has any merit–is trying to shame a room full of kids for being naturally horny.