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An Uncomfortable Meme in Movies

I recently watched "My Life in Ruins", the movie with Nia Vardalos (from My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame). It's actually kind of cute, and I love the ensemble cast of a bus tour group. It's so exactly like my experiences that it made me laugh the whole way through. It's not a brilliant movie, but it's not bad.

Except for one meme, which is so common in movies these days that we almost stop noticing it. But it really bugs me.

Basically, here's the situation: a woman is uptight. She's angry at the world. Slightly neurotic. And the solution? Everybody says, "she needs to have sex". Of course, they word it a little more crudely than that, but that's the general gist of it.

The worldview of our media culture is that if a woman is upset about her position in the world, most likely it's because she hasn't had an orgasm in a while. Get her to have sex, and she'll be fine.

That really, really bothers me.

You saw it in P.S. I Love You (a movie which actually made me cry, and few do). It's in so many movies these days it's hard to count them all. But it's the same idea: nameless sex will cure her many ills.

Here are my problems with this philosophy:

1. It diminishes the value of celibacy. Many of the most lovely, calm people I know are celibate. I think of some widows I know who have embraced life completely, and go out of their way to help others, embrace those who need embracing, and laugh at life. Celibacy can be a gift, and we should not denigrate it the way this philosophy does. There is nothing wrong with an unmarried person eschewing sex.

2. It ignores the harm that mindless sex can have. It seems to assume that if a woman jumps into bed with a man, she will experience fireworks and tremendous pleasure. Actually, the opposite is usually the case. In most instances of sex between virtual strangers, only the man achieves any kind of real pleasure, according to statistics. Women who are most likely to experience physical pleasure during sex are those in committed marriages, not those looking for a one-night stand to cure their psychological angst.

It reminds me of an awesome book I read a while back called "Unprotected". In it, Miriam Grossman (who originally wrote the book anonymously) tells of her experiences as a physician at a campus health clinic in California treating girls who are devastated by their sexual experiences.

It's just devastating, and so insightful. I urge every parent of teenagers to read it just to understand what messages our culture is selling our teens. And what I like about it is that it's not written by a Christian. She doesn't really use religious arguments as to why sex should be kept for marriage; she uses medical and psychological arguments. And so to those who aren't religious, it's more believable than the standard "God says it's wrong" that we often spout. It's really, really good.

But I came away from reading it feeling rather depressed. So many girls are being given this message--that sex should be easy and fun and frequent and guilt-free--instead of being told that it should be special and sacred. And in the end it tears their hearts apart.

Mindless sex is dangerous. It closes our hearts off to real love, and it closes our hearts off to God. Sex is a beautiful thing. I really enjoy it. But I'm married, and I pray that I have the privilege of only making love to one man in my entire life. I hope my husband and I have many more years together, so that I never have to think of anyone else.

3. It mistakes women's sex drives. The "she just needs to have sex" meme also makes women seem like men. We have drives just like they do, the thought goes, and we just need a physical release.

But women are hard-wired quite differently from men. For us, sex is also an emotional experience (it is for men, too, but in a different way). We bond with those we make love with in a way that men do not. We can't go around just sleeping with anybody without hurting ourselves.

But it also gives the idea that women don't need romancing; don't need relationship; don't need attention or affection. We just want sex. And that's actually not true. And the more society tries to bend us into the male mold--which is what is being done in this worldview--the more society misunderstands women. And then it perpetuates a view of our sexuality that isn't true. We start comparing ourselves to this view and think there's something wrong with US when we need snuggling, or when we'd prefer a bubble bath occasionally to sex. And men start to wonder why their wives aren't panting after them the way the media says we should be.

It's because the media is wrong, not us. It's portraying a message that is harmful to our souls, harmful to our relationships, and harmful to our husbands.

Now don't get me wrong; sex is an amazing vehicle for release of tension. But it only does that in the right context. Sex is supposed to be within a committed marriage relationship, and when it's done in that context, it does have those kinds of powers. Take it outside of the relationship, though, and there's so much more baggage that comes with it that it loses those benefits. Everything comes out as a wash.

I have a dear friend who was quite promiscuous before she was married (she wasn't a Christian then). She had sex to relieve tension. She tried everything under the sun. And she said that it did relieve stress!

But she'd also be the first to tell you that she wishes she hadn't done any of that earlier, because it's made sex in marriage so much harder. The excitement was in the novelty of everything; now that it's not novel, she finds it difficult. If she hadn't had that prior experience, she feels that sex would be much easier now. She wouldn't have flashbacks. She'd be able to concentrate on the intimacy in sex instead of just the physical aspects, because she would have trained her body in a different way.
If a single women is feeling uptight, and slightly neurotic, perhaps what she needs is to feel loved and cherished, not just to have sex. Perhaps she just needs someone to walk with her and tell her that she's important. She needs to feel connection. Sex, of course, is part of that, but it's not the whole thing. And by focusing on one, we diminish the other.

So next time you're watching a movie or a TV show and that comment is thrown out there--she just needs sex--remember it's a lie. Sex is too precious to treat so lightly. And I so wish that the world would understand that a little bit better.


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At 7:51 AM , Anonymous Michy Kant said…

Hello Sheila,
great article, I agree with your worries, these days is very easy to talk about sex, and a lot of shows are telling youngs just like me that is ok to have frequent sex.

I have never heard of "Unprotected", I will definitely have a look at it.

God bless


At 7:53 AM , Blogger Brooke McGlothlin said…

I agree with you wholeheartedly Sheila. It infuriates me that this is what we've come to. I'm praying now that my sons will be protected from this notion so that they can protect the women they encounter along the way. Thank you!


At 10:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Great article.

And while I'm not a feminist in the modern sense of the word, this meme that threads through modern movies also gives another message: women need men to be complete/satisfied.

And that's just not true.

I love my husband with all my heart and pray that God sees fit for us to grow old together - but the fact is: if you're not a complete person by yourself, you won't be a complete couple when you're with someone - casually or not.

Just a thought...


At 10:33 AM , Blogger Shana said…

This is so very true. I had many experiences before I was married. SOme out of my control. This made it so hard on me and being married and sacred to my husband. He was fairly inexperienced and that made me feel guilty but we have done ok. We have been together 15 years now. But I think the message young girls get is so destructive to them. By the way, I love the movie P.S. I Love You.


At 11:03 AM , Blogger Courtney said…

I agree completetly with this article. Our society is all about "me" and "now." Never mind what kinds of consequences our actions may have. I experienced something similar to this before I was married...mindless sex causes emotional scars that take much prayer and time to heal. I try to stress that to young girls that I know who are experiencing lifes trials. I pray diligently for my young son and the future that he is destined to encounter. It's a scary world...and only getting worse by the day. Thanks for your alwasy open and honest opinions. Love it!


At 12:23 PM , Blogger Valerie aka Mamalovelock said…

Love this post! I agree with everything you just said.


At 1:08 PM , Blogger momishome2 said…

True, true! I also get very irked when the media portrays the solution to all of women's problems being a man. Give me a break! Obviously, the writers must be guys!!

Thanks for stopping by my blog & leaving such generous comments about my WriteShop review.

~ Bethany LeBedz


At 3:25 PM , Blogger Tessa said…

I read this article and a thought that has been in the back of my mind came up again. How do we, as Christians, set ourselves apart? I watched this movie too and thought it was a cute movie. I listen to country music, I watch sitcoms and love pretty much any romantic comedy. They're pretty much all about premarital sex. As much as I want to fill my mind with pure thoughts and images, it's incredibly difficult to find a way to do that!
And some of the comments mentioned being complete without a man and I truly believe that when you feel complete with just you and the Lord, the right man comes along. I came to that point and my husband walked into my life. Then when we were married I had to come to that point again and, once I did, our relationship blossomed even more.
I don't think it's fair of women to put all that pressure on a man to fulfill her every need. But that's what we're taught to do and it's a hard cycle to get away from.


At 4:27 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Thanks all for your comments!

Interesting, but I never really picked up on the "she needs a man" thing. I was thinking about it more purely in terms of sex, but as many of you mentioned, it was also saying that she couldn't meet her main needs with God, either.

And that's definitely not right!

Tessa's raised an excellent question: how do we focus on the positive things in life, especially if we do enjoy cute little movies like this one? I loved The Proposal, too, with Sandra Bullock, but it had the same sort of joke ("you haven't had sex in 18 months?!?!").

Do we stop watching movies altogether? Stop listening to popular music? I find that a little drastic. Maybe the answer is to make sure that we pay closer attention to spending time in Scripture, and with God, too.

More on that tomorrow!


At 5:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

This makes me so afraid for my 2 daughters. The idea that they will unwittingly receive the message that they need to be sexual in order to be fulfilled is something that I battle, and they aren't even teens yet. It's sad when kids' shows also reinforce these ideas. TV is rarely used in our house anymore because of it.


At 6:52 PM , Anonymous Kristine McGuire said…

A truer and better word has not been spoken...or blogged. Well said.


At 1:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Right on Sheila. I've posted it on my FB wall for my friends to read. Are you coming back to Wesley Acres second Family Camp this year? My daughter and I would love to attend your talks if you are and, personally, I think the men should be invited too! :)


At 3:59 PM , Blogger Tobias Mann said…

Good sense of humour


At 4:00 PM , Blogger Tobias Mann said…

Keep up the great work. Love this content. And don't miss a chance to get cheap cigarettes online. Also nice place.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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