Playboy magazine has decided that naked women are too boring. After years of social conservatives and feminists telling them their nude objectification is degrading to women, Playboy executives have yielded because they are not able to be degrading enough to keep up with the Internet. As one executive told the New York Times, the magazine can’t keep up with the online pornography market where “every sex act imaginable” is simply a click away. To stand out from the crowd, Playboy must show some restraint and concentrate on articles or art or something. This move should tell us something about our mission field.
First of all, it shouldn’t surprise us that a culture awash in graphic porn would find Playboy dull. Those with experience counseling in this area have told us for years that pornography is fueled by novelty and the “high” of the forbidden. What initially seems thrilling ultimately is mundane.
More importantly, though, this should remind us something about the nature of sexuality itself. What is it about sex that makes it so universally exciting for the human race? It’s not the thrill of the forbidden, which is gone as soon as we build walls around our calloused consciences. Any adulterer can testify to that. Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards famously dismissed tabloid reports of then-candidate Bill Clinton’s “torrid twelve-year affair” with a woman. “I’ve had torrid affairs, and I’ve had twelve-year affairs,” he said. “But there’s no such thing as a torrid twelve-year affair.”
What’s ultimately exciting about sexuality is mystery. The mysteriousness of the sexual union is found in the sense that this union transcends everyday life. That’s why today’s sexual revolutionaries want to define their very identities in terms of their sexual desires and practices. They are off the mark on that, but not totally. Sexual union gets at the core not only of who we are but also of the universe itself. The apostolic Christian faith tells us why.
Why does the Creator pronounce it “not good” that Adam should be alone (Gen 2:18)? Why is it that Elohim gives to the primeval man a woman formed from his own flesh and bone, for whom he is to leave everything to become “one flesh” (Gen 2:22-24)? Why is it that rebellion against the Creator always manifests itself in rebellion against the order of human sexuality (Gen 6:1-2; Rom 1:24)?
The Apostle Paul tells us precisely why: because human sexuality points to a grander cosmic mystery that has now been revealed in these last days of human history. Paul reveals the church at Ephesus that the “mystery” of God is now being revealed in the “summing up of all things” under the lordship of the Man from Nazareth (Eph 1:9-10). He reveals that the “mystery” of the ages is further revealed to the cosmic powers through the calling together of a Body for this Messiah–a Jew/Gentile church (Eph 3:10). And then Paul makes a stunning claim. He points to the male/female one-flesh union of Genesis and argues that human sexuality is patterned after the archetype of this mystery-the one-flesh union of Christ and his church (Eph 5:32).
This is why sexual revolutions always turn out so boring. This is why the sterile, casual, condom-clad vision of sex in our culture is so dull. This is why pornography is so numbing to the soul. It is because in the search for sexual excitement men and women are not really looking for biochemical sensations or the responses of nerve endings. And, in fact, they are not ultimately even looking for each other. They are searching desperately, not for mere sex, but for that to which sex points–something they know exists but they just can’t identify.
They are looking to be part of an all-encompassing cosmic mystery. They are looking for a love that is stronger than death. They can’t articulate it, and they would be horrified to know it, but, behind all their sexual frenzy, they are looking for a glorious Messiah, Jesus, and his glorious bride, the church.
And that’s why you will never find an image naked enough to satisfy what you’re looking for.
Our response should not be finger-wagging or head-shaking. Our response must be Christ. We should hear in the accelerating pornocracy around us a cry of desperation. And we need to show a more excellent way—in our witness, in our marriages, and in our churches.
The Sexual Revolution can not and will not ever keep its promises. Even its most thrilling pleasures eventually become old news, as the editors of Playboy now know. The trouble with a pornographic culture isn’t that its sex is too daring, too hot, too exciting. The problem is that, ultimately, it’s too boring to last.