Culture critic and editor Ken Myers, in a recent lecture on music recounted a story of visiting a consumer electronics store with his son some years ago. They walked in the door and past the stereo equipment for sale which was blasting pop music. His teenage son stopped and asked emphatically, “Why does it have to be so loud?” Fast-forward ten years (just this past year), he walks into the same store and in the audio section is a kiosk warning customers of the dangers of hearing loss from listening to music too loud. In particular it warns that the average rock concert will damage one’s ears if they attend without proper hearing protection.
Myers then goes on to ask, “What can we say about a society in which our typical musical habits eliminate the possibility of ever hearing music again? It’s like sex that makes you impotent our food that causes you to lose your sense of taste when you eat it.” It doesn’t make any sense. Something is wrong. The rest of the lecture is very interesting, but I don’t actually want to talk about that right now.
He mentions sex in passing to contrast the point about music, but I think that we are, as a society, engaging in sex that does, in fact, lead to impotence. This is really going on right now.
Ten years ago my inbox (like yours I’m sure) was flooded with spam for cheap Viagra. For an older man trying to fight the effects of age and get his mojo back, that seems natural. It’s not too different than an old women getting a face lift to feel a bit better about her appearance, or even someone getting a hip replacement so they can continue to live an active life. In the past few years though, I’ve seen a significant shift in my spam, and even in advertising on the radio and in stores. The thing now is testosterone-boosting supplements, not for older men, but for younger men! But young guys don’t need drugs to help get it up, do they? At what point in history has anyone needed that? Dave Barry has commented that teenage girls will get pregnant simply from standing down-wind from teenage boys. They don’t need to steal grandpa’s Viagra. Why all the targeted advertising at men in their late twenties and early thirties? What on earth is their problem?
Their problem is, put simply, consuming high amounts of pornography. There’s nothing wrong with their circulatory system or their prostrate. Rather reality cannot contain the impossible desires they have cultivated. They’ve consumed so much porn that they find they can no longer become properly aroused even in the presence of unclothed women they actually have access to, be it their wives, girlfriends, or even booty-call-enabling acquaintances. Ingesting substantial amounts of pornography leads to the feeding and growth of impossible desires which frequently result in intense dissatisfaction, impotence, and despair.
The wisdom literature in scripture alludes to this on several occasions. Here is probably the best known passage:
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
(Proverbs 5:18-19, ESV)
“The wife of your youth”. That’s past tense – many years have gone by. She caught your eye when she was 22 – lively and slender and attractive in all the ways a young women naturally is to a man. But now she’s 52 and you even more so. Is she still beautiful? Is she still arousing? Of course, but in different ways. A fifty-year old women is lovely in predominantly different ways than she was at twenty – many of them not overtly sexual. You need to learn what they are by sticking with her and wanting to discover what they are. By eighty this will have changed again.
If loving a person is anything, it is learning to adapt to change. You change. She changes. Perhaps she stays in relatively good health. Perhaps she gets cancer. Maybe you are running a triathlon in your retirement. Maybe you are in a wheelchair. Hopefully both of your personalities have been softened with kindness and your immaturities, be they laziness or petty gossip, have been rooted out. Your sex life must change too. Not wanting to hop in the sack all the time is not a debilitating disease, but rather of the same sort of phenomenon as growing gray hair. It’s only defined as a disease in a world that gives its vibrancy and expression far, far too much weight.
For now I want to set aside moral questions of lust and ethical questions of the abuse of women behind the scenes of the porn industry. The former has been addressed so often that no one, not even those in the choir, are listening much anymore. The later, led by recent efforts to expose the evils of child trafficking around the world, have – I think – more potential to affect change. But forget all that for a moment.
What are we young men doing by imbibing a diet of perpetually young models prancing around on our computer screens? What are you doing by steadily arousing yourself in this way? You grow older but the girls stay young. They are trapped in a timewarp while you age. Those beauties on that Tumblr feed – they could be from a photo shoot in the eighties. Those girls could be a older than your mom by now. Darwinists love to point out that it’s completely natural to be attracted by a young fertile member of the opposite sex. True indeed. Completely natural and by design – when you yourself are a young and fertile member yourself. But tomorrow that won’t be the case. Pretending like it still is will make tomorrow increasingly frustrating.
Everywhere today you see the word “sustainable” or “sustainability”. We are often reminded that we can’t keep burning through our coal and oil reserves forever – we need a sustainable source of energy. Keep working that factory job and your fragile wrists are going to be destroyed by carpel tunnel syndrome. To stay on the job for the next decade you are going to have to find a different sort of work. A lot of us discovered in our thirties that eating 4000 calories a day isn’t sustainable either. So how does one have a sustainable sex life? Your libido must adapt. Adapt to what? To your own body and to that of your wife. And as you live closely together with your wife and grow older together, this WILL naturally happen. But consuming pornography throws a big monkey wrench into all of this. It cultivates a taste for young forbidden flesh. It reinforces notions of beauty that are either altogether false (impossibly skinny airbrushed features, surgically enhanced breasts, etc.), or at the very least not available to you anymore. That time has past.
Want to boost your love life? Don’t take the testosterone-boosting supplement and hit the singles bar. That will only barely help in the short term. Keep doing it and pretty soon it will cease to work at all. If you are poor or middle-class you’ll end up a bitter and frustrated basket-case, lashing out at those around you in various ways. If you’re lucky it will only take the form of what psychologist Larry Crabb calls “depleted foolishness”. If you happen to be rich, you are likely to implode ala Charlie Sheen. So how do you actually boost your love life? The 40-day juice cleanse won’t do it. Try the 40-day porn purge. And then follow that up with the 400-day porn purge. Turn off the TV and learn to love what you already have.
Brown eyed girl across the street
On rue Saint Divine
I thought this is the one for me
But she was already mine
You were already mine…
(from the U2 song, A Man and a Women)
Don’t eat food so hot it burns your tongue. Don’t listen to music so loud it breaks your ears. Don’t touch overblown sexual fantasy. To be healthy, your desire has to take the shape of your reality – your own body, your own age, and your own soundness. Then sexual experience remains the receiving of an acceptable gift instead of a frustrated grasping. The same goes for your other desires, be they career ambitions or even desiring the success and safety of your children. Cultivate contentment rather than grasping.
We say in our anger (or perhaps we title it “repression”) that “He has not given me the gift I wanted. I really need THAT gift over there”. But it turns out you only want that something else because you want to BE someone else. He gives us exactly what we need. It’s a perfect gift. Cursed, yes! But the curse will shortly be removed and you redeemed.