Stripping Sex of its Sexiness

As Nudity Becomes Commonplace, Sex Becomes Cheapened

Pop star Pink caused a stir recently when she took to Twitter to call out parental exploitation of their teens’ budding sexuality on the Internet.

Specifically, Pink pointed to the YouTube and Instagram sensation Piper Rockelle, a recently turned 14-year-old “Actress/Dancer/Singer” (as her Insta bio reads), who regularly appears on social media in bikinis and crop tops, making kissy faces at the camera with one hip popped suggestively to the side. “How many kids like Piper Rockelle are being exploited by their parents?” Pink asks. “And at what point do the rest of us say, ‘this isn’t okay for a 13 yr old to be posing in a bikini whilst her MOTHER takes the photo?!?!’”

Piper—or, perhaps, Piper’s mother, agent, or other family member—responded promptly. “I don’t think Pink has ever seen one of my YouTube videos because if she did, she’d see it’s just my friends and me having fun and acting like ourselves,” she told TODAY parents. “There’s nothing wrong with being in a bikini. . . . Why do we shame people for that? Pictures of teenagers in bikinis having fun are not sexual. They’re only sexual if you view us that way.”

The defense here is a common one, that I’ve actually seen from many mothers protesting, for example, school uniforms or dress codes (specifically for girls) that prohibit crop tops or too-short shorts. “How dare you sexualize my daughter?” goes the line. According to this logic, the actual clothing item itself—and even the body that it graces—is void of any inherent “sexuality.” Any sexual attraction or even attention is the fault of the viewer, who distorts the innocence of the bikini-clad 14-year-old girl by daring to suggest that her appearance is, well, suggestive. According to this line of reasoning, Piper Rockelle may pose (as she does in one photo) in a particularly skimpy string bikini, hands running through her hair, hip popped to the side, and tongue out; because she is a child, somehow the viewer is not supposed to see “sexy” when he/she looks at her. (Interestingly, YouTube actually seems to have found at least some of Rockelle’s content a bit inappropriate. The video streaming platform recently removed three of her video thumbnail images for violating “child safety policy.”)

The problem with debates about modesty, as I wrote in another recent blog post for SALVO, is that too often such debates reduce modesty to arguments about specific naughty items of clothing, or how much skin is showing on a particular body. When we argue in such terms we are doomed to lose, because we have already lost the bigger war that such battles stem from.

I mean here the war surrounding sex itself. In the biblical understanding, the sex act was part of a much bigger, and more profound, picture. Sex was connected to love, marriage, protection of man and woman alike; it was a mystery, because it also partook of the divine. In the procreative act, man and woman mirrored the creative nature of God—when the two became one flesh, God allowed them to partake in the creation of future generations of humanity. Marriage and sex were profound because Christ Himself used such terms to describe the relationship between Himself, the bridegroom, and the Church, His bride. The Church awaits the Second Coming of Christ like the bride awaits the coming of her bridegroom—with excitement, anticipation, and longing.

But beginning in the last two centuries in particular, our secular society has lost this mystical, powerful understanding of sex. Sex is now a series of acts, stripped of all connection to relationship, and whose only goal is physical pleasure. To be rather blunt, sex is now almost simultaneous with orgasm.

This new, cheapened understanding of sex has actually left us undersexed. In a recent essay for The American Conservative, Matt Purple compares our current hedonistic society with that of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which even children enjoy the sexual act with no guilt, no relationship, no consequences. Purple writes that as much as Huxley got right, he still got one thing terribly wrong. The characters in Brave New World still enjoyed and sought sex—enthusiastically. Whereas today, America and many other developed, porn-saturated countries are actually experiencing a “sex recession.” Purple writes,

"By turning sex into just another 10 for $1 Tupperware sale at Stop and Shop, you strip it of the mystique that makes it so alluring. You replace intimacy with cold utility, passion with “don’t catch the feelz.” That isn’t to say we’re going to kill off sex entirely, of course. But we’ve still fundamentally dulled what it ought to be, even as we imagine that we’re unshackling ourselves."

As a society, Americans are now undersexed, because our culture is so saturated with a cheap and thoroughly wrong view of the power of sex. So, too, with female modesty. As Robin Phillips wrote for SALVO,

The anecdotal evidence clearly shows that men whose environment is saturated with immodest women (either because of the company they keep or the images they view) are generally not oversexed, as one might suppose, but just the opposite. In Denmark, where pornography is unrestricted, men are often quoted as saying that sex has become boring.

Modern American culture is so oversaturated with sex, so full of images of female nudity, that Instagram pictures of 14-year-old pubescent girls in string bikinis are defended as “non-sexual.” And in some ways, they are, because modern America has almost completely succeeded in disconnecting nudity from sex. We are ever vigilant in sexualizing even the youngest of children (take a look at any sex-ed curriculum in most public schools). Sex and nudity are now so common that they are even becoming less successful in marketing, as Phillips points out.

And yet, Pink (and thousands of her followers on Twitter) rightly cringe at the sight of Piper Rockelle in a bathing suit on the Internet, because deep down, we are still created in the image of God. Men in particular are biologically wired to respond to female nudity, as much as we have distorted that wiring. And we still recognize power and beauty in the female form, and understand that we are somehow misusing that form when we strip down a teenage girl for all to see.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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