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Harvey's End: Hollywood and the culture of transactional sex

Harvey's End: Hollywood and the culture of transactional sex

By Dave Doveton
Special to Virtueonline
October 23, 2017

The consternation and frenzy of moral posturing by the elite of Hollywood has been matched only by the high-level blame game playing out on mainstream television news and social media. The Harvey Weinstein episode is not just a moral shortcoming, or a sign of 'toxic masculinity' (however reprehensible his actions are) but the logical outcome of a trend in Western culture regarding sexual activity and the body.

Western society, in abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations has adopted an increasingly utilitarian understanding of the human body. Within a culture of extreme individualism and stress on human autonomy, the body is seen merely as a subject of human desire. The popular attitude could be summarised as "My body must be used to satisfy my own desire, and anybody else can be an object of desire". The French philosopher Philippe Beneton argues that in western culture our desires are in fact effectively the basis for our rights, and these rights liberate us from what were strong social and natural constraints based on natural law and our Judeo-Christian heritage .

In the 60's, the Playboy philosophy that saturated American culture and seeped into most of the world's developed countries via film, television and other popular media, laid the foundation for physical sexual relationships outside the marriage bond. Indeed, this was seen as a good and necessary freedom. Sexual relationships were no longer restricted to a monogamous marriage relationship - thus sex was separated from the bearing of children and the creation of life. It was no longer a holy relationship sanctified by a divine ordinance in which husband and wife expressed their love by physical intimacy. Human bodies were degraded from their divine image because they were separated from the divine purpose.

Once that happened, bodies became something to be 'used', and a common way we use objects is for transactions. The widespread cultural acceptance of 'transactional sex' followed. Naturally, those with power can use their influence to 'buy' whatever they desire. Thus, a movie mogul may attempt to persuade a beautiful woman to exchange her body for a favour- a role perhaps, in a movie. David Bentley Hart summarises this nexus of desire gratification, the abolition of restrictions, and the primacy of individual choice;

"Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an ever greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice...."

In fact, I argue that any sex outside the male-female marriage bond is transactional sex. A man, for example may offer a woman a meal and companionship in exchange for a night together; even cohabitation is a form of transaction. As long as we retain the right to our own bodies, the relationship is not marriage -- this is why Paul emphasises that in marriage, our bodies belong not to ourselves, but to our spouses . The nuptial act embodies total self-giving, any other sexual partnership has as its foundation desire satisfaction and thus must be inherently selfish. It is also to be noted that in his letter to the Corinthian Church, the example Paul uses to illustrate the wrong use of bodily sexual expression is prostitution -- transactional sex .

Scripture teaches that marriage is a signifier of transcendent realities, i.e. the union of Christ and his church . Every sexual act of the body outside of the male/female marriage bond is a sin against the body because firstly, these acts do not signify the truth about transcendent reality, and secondly, they reduce the body to an object, a mere commodity -- and this is an attack on the image of God. As Roman Catholic Cardinal Caffarra has observed; "There are two pillars of creation: the human person in its irreducibility to the material universe, and the conjugal union between a man and woman, the place in which God creates new human persons "in His image and likeness"" .

Any attack on the pillars of creation are an attack on creation itself. In the light of that truth, we begin to comprehend the terrifyingly dangerous ground on which we walk when we engage in a sexually immoral relationship, and why Paul says, "Flee from sexual immorality ." For we do not 'own' our bodies, and therefore have no right to use them in transactions. We are not our own, he says, God has undertaken the ultimate transaction in redeeming us through the precious blood of his Son, thus paying the ultimate price for the ultimate purpose -- His indwelling presence in our bodies through His Holy Spirit .

Fr. Dave Doveton is a priest in the Diocese of Port Elizabeth, Anglican Church of Southern Africa

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