Chapter 5: Pornography: Rehearsing Being a Lousy Lover

This is post six in a twelve-part series reviewing and critiquing Dan Boone's book, Human Sexuality. Read more: Intro / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 

This chapter gets one major thing right: Objectification is a problem.

In fact, I would be so bold to say that objectification is the problem. Remember back to the discussion of chapter 2, when Dr. Boone delineates the various kinds of hurts that unhealthy sexual relationships can cause. At the core of all of these issues is not sex, but objectification—disrespect, selfishness, un-love. All these things are caused by an underlying denial of another person’s personhood. A “warped desire,” as Boone puts it, that doesn’t seek the good of the other but rather only cares about what that other can do for me.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and, as Boone points out, “If we refuse to take destructive liberties with our own body, why not extend the same regard to other bodies?” (66) So then, maybe it’s not the kind of sex we have that renders it problematic, but how we relate to the person we’re having sex with—whether we’re approaching them with respect and selflessness and love, and whether they are experiencing the relationship in that same way. This will come in to play next chapter, when we’ll discuss how the problem of objectification isn’t escaped simply by only engaging in heterosexual, married sex. This leads me to conclude then, that if different kinds of sex can be sinful—because they are demonstrating un-love—then perhaps different kinds of sex can also be sanctified. Sanctification is not a new legalism, but a perfect love of God and neighbor.

Loving our neighbor means respecting their personhood and subjectivity, regardless of whether they are a potential sexual partner. However, Boone’s warning against objectification of the other takes its point of departure from a binary that firmly establishes women as objects and men as subjects.

Boone says that the first woman is given to the man—she is a “gift.” A gift is necessarily an object. Only an object can be given. Men are set up as the subjects: they are the ones acting and using women. Women are only seen as subjects, it seems, when they decide to “dress seductively,” and in doing so, women “trade their dignity” (65). This is a typical hetero-Christian understanding, but problematic nonetheless. A woman enacting her agency by choosing how to dress herself is not necessarily self-debasing. In fact, it’s the opposite: it’s expecting, indeed demanding, to be treated as a subject, because she is making choices based on her subjectivity, not based on how she will be received or used by men. In her decision to dress how she wants regardless of male perceptions, a woman celebrates her subjectivity and her body by denying men leverage to dictate her life in an area as mundane as what she pulls out of her closet. Further, if we truly view our neighbor as a person, it shouldn’t matter what they’re wearing anyway. Another person’s actions never warrant our objectification of them.

This chapter makes some good points, but I would challenge Boone and his readers to explore other nuances of objectification like the one mentioned above. There are many ways that we can make people objects. But there are just as many ways to preserve people’s subjectivity. Keeping this at the forefront of our minds will prove most valuable in our consideration of what might constitute a healthy understanding of human sexuality