Much is made today of the devastating effects of pornography in the lives of men. Articles and books have been written by the thousands outlining the emotional, financial, time and relational impact of porn addiction. I work for a ministry that deals everyday with the effects of pornography. We have learned that men are wired to respond sexually to visual stimulation—I have been told by numerous men that, try as we might, women will just never understand the power of lust and the battle they fight against their sexual desires. I believe them.
Sometimes I wonder if the damage done by pornography is felt more by the women in the lives of these men than by the men themselves. Porn gives men an unrealistic expectation of how women should look and behave. Because men tend to be visual creatures, they respond to what they see. When what they have in real life doesn’t match up to what they have trained themselves to respond to on TV or the computer screen, they turn to those images for satisfaction. The problem is that no woman meets those expectations; not even those women themselves. They are airbrushed actresses, playing a part in a fantasy that cannot come true in real life. There are few things more damaging to the self-worth and emotional well-being of a woman than to feel like her husband is more attracted and sexually connected to an image on a screen than he is to her.
What, you may ask, does this have to do with the book series Twilight? Just like men tend to be stimulated visually and crave sexual connection, women tend to be wired emotionally and crave relational connection. In the past couple of years, I have watched middle and high school girls become obsessed with this book series and its characters. Recently, I have begun watching my friends in their twenties and thirties become equally caught up in the lives of the characters on the pages. More than any other character in the series, the obsession really lies in Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire heartthrob that loves the heroine, Bella Swan. Not only is Bella the heroine, but the books are written in first person from her perspective– as you read, you become Bella. You read her thoughts, you feel her emotions, you are drawn into the story in a way that is next to impossible in a book written in the third person. Fantasy becomes your reality, and Edward is set up as the perfect gentleman—he loves Bella at first site, sacrifices himself in an attempt to protect her, gives himself up to make her happy. He becomes a Messiah figure in her life, and because you are so attached to Bella’s character, he becomes your messiah, too. Deep down, we are all wired with a desire to be saved. That’s what makes the “knight in shining armor” story stand the test of time.
There is nothing wrong with desiring a man who will exemplify the standard of sacrificial love; after all, Scripture tells us that our husbands are to love us as Christ loved the church, which means he is willing to lay down his life for his wife (Ephesians 5). But in becoming obsessed with this fictional character, are we placing a standard of fantasy perfection on the fallen, sinful men who God has called to both serve and lead us? Just like pornography sets an unrealistic visual expectation for men, is Edward setting an unrealistic emotional expectation for women, particularly teenage girls?
Don’t think I’m picking on Twilight; it’s just the latest in a long line of things I would consider emotional porn. If you aren’t sure what I mean by emotional porn, have you ever been dumped by a boyfriend or been disappointed or hurt by your husband in some way and comforted yourself on the couch with a night of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan “chick flicks”? Have you ever read a romance novel or watched a movie and thought, “If only he would treat me this way?” Have you watched The Notebook at least a dozen times and still sob like an infant, wondering if you will ever have a Noah Calhoun? The expectation has been set that men should sweep us off our feet—but then never put us back down.
And that is the crux of the issue—we are looking for a fulfillment in the creation that can only be found in the Creator (Romans 1:22-25). When a man seeks a woman who is a “real life porn star,” one who was created in the mind of a man instead of in the image of God, he is ultimately worshiping himself and his desires and he will always be disappointed. When a woman begins seeking a man who will meet her every need, satisfy her every desire, she has set herself up as an idol to be worshiped both by herself and by those around her, and she will always be disappointed. Only One is described in Scripture as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).
While fantasy and fiction are fun, when we become so caught up in them that we begin to expect our fantasy in reality, a line has been crossed. So if you’ve read Twilight, has it altered the expectations you have set for the men in your life? Do you think it has created a fair expectation? And, does that expectation line up with the expectation laid out in Scripture of a godly man?