A new short film, “The Economics of Sex,” has been in the news lately, receiving both praise and criticism. When I watched it a week ago, I was struck by how easy it is for men and women to use each other when it comes to sex.
And then several things happened over the course of the week to remind me of that thought.
A friend called me with a dilemma. Should she make out with a guy she has no intention of actually dating? She was in a cycle—telling him she wasn’t interested romantically, but then assenting to hang out as friends, and then ending the night in passionate embrace, lips locked, tongues tangled.
And then my husband and I got into a fight, which in part involved me complaining that he hadn’t been affectionate enough lately, that we hadn’t made love enough that week, and that because of this my pregnant body was feeling even more fat and unattractive than it actually was. (Petty, I know…it’s embarrassing to admit that I can be so shallow and grumbly, but it’s true.)
And then, we went to a Friday night dinner party and discussion group at a friend’s house. The topic of discussion was Edward Sri’s book, Men, Women, and The Mystery of Love. Sri does a great job of taking some of John Paul II’s insights about love and making them easy to understand. The book has been very popular, even sparking a series of discussion nights led by and for young adults in New York City. Hundreds showed up each week to discuss love, sex, and marriage—and passerby would stop to peer through the gate and into the garden where they met, wondering what the excitement was and often pausing longer than intended to listen.
All that to say, this book has some really good stuff. And it just so happens to be completely relevant to “The Economics of Sex,” my friend’s dilemma, and the argument with my husband mentioned above. Sri explains that when it comes to relationships, there exists a very basic, very important guiding principle: don’t use people.
In dating, this means taking a long hard look at our motivations. Why am I kissing this person? Is it only because it feels good and makes me feel good about myself? If so, I am not treating the other person as a person, but as an object.
And those of us who are married are not off the hook. It’s easy to use one another even in marriage, as I realized when thinking back to the argument I had with my husband. I realized that I hadn’t been seeing sex as “a communication of love” but as a way to have my own needs met. As Helen put it in her recent post, “Even in a longer relationship or a marriage, it is definitely easy for sex to turn into some kind of strictly back-and-forth thing that’s just about bodies and pleasure, nothing more. ‘I can make you feel good, and you can do the same for me.’”
Given the tendency to treat people as things rather than persons—a tendency that I see in our culture and in myself—I am encouraged by Helen’s conclusion in the post I mentioned above. She says that even though it can be difficult, it is still “possible to try to make sex say – “I love you body and soul; I am yours and I want to help you understand how wonderful you are, not just at this moment, but always and every day.” Rather than mutual use, I am reminded to experience sex as a powerful expression of mutual love.
What are some ways that men and women can avoid the tendency to use one another and instead learn to love each other better?