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The ‘lowest common denominator’ in relationships

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Last Thursday in FaithPoint, Father Lou DelFra wrote about the struggles many students have with pornography. Not surprising, he said, given the power of human sexuality, the easy accessibility the Internet offers, and the stresses and strains of life at a demanding university. I would like to expand on his valuable insights and offer the suggestion that part of the problem lies in our popular culture’s acceptance of public sexual norms that are only a few steps away from what we dismiss, perhaps hypocritically, as pornography.

Because our sexuality is so much a part of who we are as humans, we might not think of it immediately, but our societal obsession with physical perfection has likely provided much of the impetus for the misplaced attractions and desires that may lead people to pornography.

When the mainstream media can’t even figure out the difference between real news and what Britney Spears wears (or doesn’t wear – hey, maybe she just forgot…) to go out to the bars, it’s contributing to the “outing” of what you might call “near-pornography.” When breast implants are the latest go-to gift for girls graduating from high school – high school! – presumably given to them by their own parents, it’s all too easy to see that we’ve become a society for which the visual too often substitutes for the truly relational. Pornography is one – perhaps extreme – example of that. As Father Lou noted last week, “As intimate as the act of viewing pornography may feel in the moment … the fact remains that no truly human relationship is ever formed.” Much of what is socially acceptable (even though your mother may say, “You’re going out dressed like that?”), though it may stop short of pornography, nonetheless glorifies the “eye candy” part of our sexuality rather than the deeper, more challenging, but ultimately longer lasting and gratifying (in the best sense of the word) friendships and love relationships we long for.

Everyone who has been accepted into Notre Dame really is, as Garrison Keillor claims about all the children of Lake Wobegon, “above average.” Way above average, in fact. But guess what? You didn’t get in because you’re hot. And that won’t help you graduate, or make friends or get a job, either. So can we do better than what our popular culture holds up as admirable? As tough as it may be in the face of so much pulling us in the other direction, can we look to sources of depth and substance and courage for values worthy of our regard? Every single person reading this article has the opportunity of a lifetime – your lifetimes – to help build up the Kingdom of God, whether in your tiny little corner of the world or on a global scale. And you won’t do it just because you can dress or walk or act in a way that leaves the opposite sex staring open-mouthed in awe and wonder.

There’s no denying that we each have – or don’t have – physical attractions to each other. That’s as it should be. God gave each of us the gift of our sexuality as part of our created selves so that we would populate the world and know, through the love of another, a tiny piece of the amazing love God has waiting for us in heaven. We just can’t let too much of our relationships (or lack thereof) be determined by the merely visual, whether in the destructive trap of pornography or the quietly pervasive demands of pop culture for over-the-top, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination, “mainstream” sexuality. Get above and beyond-far beyond-our lowest common denominator society and appreciate wholeheartedly the integrity of your relationships with your dearest friends. Reach out to someone who’s lonely, or who might feel marginalized or rejected and get to know what’s great about that person.

Individually and collectively, we simply allow much too much of our own self-esteem and self-confidence to be determined by whether we think we’re physically attractive enough, and whether or not we have curves or muscles in the right places.

Now, I’m not telling anyone to abandon their showers, combs, toothbrushes or trips to the laundry; or to bypass the Rock or the RSRC and head out instead for boxes of Krispy Kremes or the Value Meal #3 at McDonald’s. But be confident in who you are and put just a little less stock in how you look as you step out of your door. Then the power and compassion of the Christian community Father Lou wrote of last week can take hold and break down the cheap grip of the superficial sexual messages that surround us.

Kate Barrett is the director of Resources and Special Projects in the Office of Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.