When it comes to discussing sexual imagery in the media, society as a whole tends to take polarised views. Emotive language is used by those on both sides of the debate – one side being labelled as narrow-minded, prudish and moralistic and the other as being decadent, indecent, and exhibitionist.
Attitude to explicit sexual imagery
Those with a more balanced perspective use more moderate language. They ask whether a relaxed attitude, towards public display of explicit sexual imagery, simply amounts to being liberal, open-minded and tolerant. But they also wonder if sexual explicitness is to do with a lack of spiritual awareness about the deeper significance of the sexual relationship. Are we pushing permissiveness too far?
Public sexual imagery has become more explicit
Whatever your view of the rights and wrongs of the situation, there is no doubt that sexual imagery is becoming increasingly overt in the western world. We have started to see the sale of sexually suggestive clothes for children. In Britain the television programmes that people have traditionally watched as family viewing, such as talent shows and soap operas, are starting to push the boundaries of acceptability by including more sexual imagery and suggestiveness.
The rapidly changing technological environment has its benefits in so many ways but has also made the seamier side of humanity inescapable. Sexual imagery showing provocative dress and intimate contact are being used not only in the content of television programmes, music videos, websites, magazines and newspapers, but also by the commercial world through advertising and marketing.
Boundaries between sexual imagery and soft porn?
There has been a blurring of boundaries between ‘adult soft porn’ material and the mainstream. More television drama and movies depict sexual intercourse as entertainment
In a sense the exercise of sexual freedom means people can be more honest about who they really are; no longer forced to pretend to want to act in certain ways. Many are exercising freedom to express what they want.
Today, those who believe that human beings are sufficiently mature to be trusted with how to live their lives — the right to make choices, not necessarily the best ones — support permissiveness. Liberals support the right to choose because they believe that it is only through having to make choices that people gain the maturity that is needed to conduct their private and public affairs.
Effect on children of sexual imagery
Although there is currently insufficient evidence to prove conclusively there is harm to children caused by an openly sexualized society, the ‘Letting Children Be Children’ Report by the Mothers Union, points out that this does not mean that no harm exists.
According to their research nearly nine out of 10 parents surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘these days children are under pressure to grow up too quickly’ with the pressure to take part in a sexualized life before they are ready to do so being a major factor. Sadly, some parent contributors even felt that there is ‘no escape’ and, for children, no ‘clear space’ where they can simply be themselves. It would seem that many mass media editors are out of touch with concerns of parents.
Attitude to sexual imagery reflects one’s view of sexual relationship
People may ask:
- Isn’t sex a basic drive that needs to be satisfied, just like hunger and thirst?
- Isn’t sexual expression one of our inherent freedoms?
- Isn’t sexuality a way of expressing our unique individuality
To answer yes to these questions may be correct but it is to miss the point, for it ignores the sense of purity, innocence, and decency with respect to a valued sexual partnership. And so how one views sex seems to go to the heart of the matter. Some would say that it is pleasurable experience that can be enjoyed in its own right. For others it is also a way of forging intimate connections. And yet others feel that it is delightful expression of love in a monogamous relationship perhaps leading to procreation.
For Swedenborg sexual union ideally mirrors what he termed ‘conjugial love’, an exclusive close relationship between a man and woman that enables love and wisdom to act together fully in their lives more so than either partner could achieve alone. And so Swedenborg recommends sexual restraint, modesty and purity of thought.
A deep desire for the success of a one to one relationship means not wanting to hurt your partner by having sexual relationships outside the partnership. According to this view, sexual pleasure can increase alongside the growth of deeper happiness if we do not permit ourselves infidelity. Also if we avoid loose sexual conduct and smutty thoughts about someone. Likewise a Buddhist precept is to avoid sexual misconduct.
Most what I call ‘sexual disorder’ involves error of judgment, human shortcoming, going astray, acting contrary to Divine order, and failing to follow spiritual principles. I believe such behaviour is associated with ignorance, or self-interest and may result in skin-deep pleasure that cannot last.
Spiritual order in moderation and self-control
The argument is that living in spiritual order is being in a better position to receive heavenly influx. It enables people to experience the depth of joy and fulfillment. There is a parallel between order at an individual level and the degree of social order within a group or community. All people ideally need to live in external order.
Brian Kingslake a student of Swedenborg’s writings once wrote:
“The Epicureans in ancient Rome, who made the search for happiness their goal and were the experts on the subject, found that permissiveness was not the solution to their problem. If they over-ate, they got indigestion; if they over-drank, they got a headache, which were far from being happy states! And if they had too much sex, sex ceased to give them pleasure. Their conclusion was that moderation and self-control were necessary if you were to enjoy life to the full.”
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems