Pop! Goes the Culture

By Jason Soucinek

182h

In case you hadn’t noticed (and how could you not?), the content, ideas, and communication of our culture is evolving at a rapid and explosive rate.

That crash you just heard? That was probably a shift in the space-time continuum as Pamela Anderson announced that pornography is slowly destroying the lives of individuals and families.

It could have been all the negative shrapnel hurling around our social media feeds as battle lines are drawn and fiercely defended during this election season.

Or, it could be as simple as Marvel vs. DC, Superman vs. Batman, or a civil war between Captain America and Ironman.

Any way you spin it, the last several months have both shocked me and made me contemplate moving to Canada.

Just joking.

Kind of.

I am consistently amazed at the pace at which our culture is moving. As someone who watches and examines what the culture does, specifically youth culture, I’ve been absolutely shocked with just how much change has occurred in such a short amount of time.

Throughout the summer Walt Mueller and I have been examining and analyzing many of the trends appearing in our culture through our podcast, Youth Culture Matters. The conversation is both heavy and insightful; I am thankful to have this space to explore some of the many things happening in our culture, including transgender issues, pornography, and self-harm.

But most people don’t have spaces like this to explore the evolving world around them. I believe this is why we find a growing frustration among people: instead of civil discourse we are feverishly defending our position while refusing to listen to the other side.

As a Christian living during these times, participating in these podcasts have made me realize three things:

First, we need to be students of scripture.

The book of Joshua declares that we should mediate on scripture day and night so that we might do what is written. When we meditate on something it becomes a part of who are and not just something we speak, but the way we live. If all we read is the angry or critical social media posts of Facebook or Twitter, this too will influence how we live and what we dwell on.

Second, we must become better at observing the world around us.

This means going further than scrolling through social media or only taking in (whether through reading or viewing) the perspective we already agree with. We must desire cultural discernment, and this is a process that takes time, humility, and critical thinking. Paul himself practiced this in Athens and Lystra so he could use elements of the culture to aid his declaration of the Gospel.

Finally, we need to recognize we are all broken.

Often I see the problem with others before I see it in me. However, when I begin to recognize that I am part of the problem it changes both my posture and my response towards a person or issue.

It also challenges me to remain in the U.S.

Q & A: Two Perspectives on OkCupid’s Sex Attitudes Study

dude with phone

Several weeks ago, The Atlantic reported on a study conducted by OkCupid detailing how attitudes towards sex (at least of the 12 million people who use the app) have changed over the last ten years.

I (Julia) and Jason decided to come up with five questions based on this article to see how our perspectives of the past decade line up, especially because I was transitioning from a teenager to an adult and Jason had just reached his 30s.

Take a look below to see our different takes on the changing attitudes about sex over the past decade:

What do you think is the biggest factor in the decline of people who reported they would sleep with someone on the first date (69% in 2005 vs. 50% in 2015)?

Jason, 40: “As the world of dating has changed people have become more aware of the danger of sleeping with someone on the first date. Most of this is due to online dating and apps like Tinder or OkCupid. Yes, some people use these apps to hook up, but many others use them to meet others in the hopes of finding a mate. Because of this, people are learning to be more cautious in the short term; individuals using such services to find committed relationships are typically more careful in the early stages.”

Julia, 25: “In general people have way more access to information about sex via the Internet. Not that sleeping with someone on the first date was ever a ‘novelty’ per se, but it seems like the idea/risk of a one-night stand became less ‘glamorous’ as people had more information about not only STDs, but now unlimited access to accounts of sex and/or pregnancy horror stories. Because this study was done by OkCupid, I believe there’s a possibility people became more aware that because of the now limitless options of partners online, it’s more established that you may not be ‘as special’ right away; your date can easily move on from you with a plethora of other partners at the touch of a button.”

888bc779f

From OKCupid’s research: “Would you need to sleep with someone before you considered marrying them?”

In 2005, what was the general attitude among your peers towards online dating?

Jason: “Online dating was still in its infancy. In fact, the most common places to meet someone were through friends, family, and church. Yes, church still played a role in helping people meet in 2005! Today that stat has all but disappeared. Most people I knew, including myself, didn’t really see online dating as a viable option. And those that did kept it a secret. I knew people who met, fell in love, and even got married, yet never told anyone the truth of how they had met (online). Online dating only recently became normalized, and these couples finally admitted how they met because they didn’t feel as judged as they might have back in 2005.”

Julia: “I was 15, so online dating had a huge stigma; only older people desperate for a relationship used online dating! So online dating was not really a thing among my peers. Our biggest online space at the time was MySpace. MySpace was not explicitly conducive for dating, but it was one of the first spaces online where you could declare your relationship status. You could also flirt back and forth with someone or your significant other in the public comments section of their profile or your profile. So in a way, 2005 marked the first time, for me, that dating became more of a public thing to be ‘judged’ in an online setting, outside of face-to-face relationships at school.”

f6cc762b4

“Is it okay for a woman to talk openly about her sexual exploits?”

In 2005, what was the cultural attitude (among your peers) towards women talking openly about their sexual exploits?

Jason: “There has been a gigantic shift when it comes to women and sex. I was always aware of some women sharing exploits with other women but never openly so all could hear. Something I find striking about this data is it is in line with the impact pornography is having on our culture. Women (and men) are being sexualized at a rate never before seen. Our thoughts on sex, the conversations we have surrounding sex, and ultimately the way we practice sex are all being shaped by a culture largely impacted by the use of pornography. In 2005 this would have only been a much smaller segment of the population; now it is the majority.”

Julia: “I was a freshman in high school, so women talking about their sexual exploits would have been, in my limited opinion, promiscuous. Especially if those women had been my own peers. Girls who talked openly about their sexual exploits at school (and I don’t recall this being frequent) were considered to be ‘easy’; not necessarily easy sexually, but easy to date because they were always willing and not usually in long-lasting relationships.”

9940490fc

“Is there such thing as having too many sexual partners?”

In 2005, what would you have qualified as the biggest cultural influence on dating? In 2015? 

Jason: “In 2005 I would have argued the media (movies, tv, and music) would be the largest cultural influence. The hook-up culture was in full swing and ‘friends with benefits’ were all the rage. Along the same line I was one of the few people speaking about how pornography was shaping a generation to think and act differently when it came to sex. Today, In 2016, we’ve visibly been able to see the impact pornography has had on our society. Yes, media still drives and influences our thoughts on sex and sexuality, but even the media’s influence has grown exponentially since 2005. This is mostly due to the birth and growth of social media where an idea or thought can become a reality within in minutes, from any source.”

Julia: “I might have to say the cellphone, because this was the year when most people my age got their first cell phone. So the fact that you could text someone outside of school, in private, was a big deal. It opened up the world to not just face-to-face, in-school conversations anymore. Dating or liking someone could now be a private thing, rather than in front of all your peers. For 2015, I would say the biggest cultural influence was still very much your cell phone, in the form of apps. Social media and dating apps suddenly put a lot of pressure on dating; no one had an excuse anymore not to be dating, or at least trying to date, because you now had so many ways to meet people. Social media also upped the pressure, in my opinion, to have the most ideal life possible, relationships included.”

4215e271b

“Would you consider sleeping with someone on the first date?”

How has the cultural opinion of sex and dating shifted in the last 10 years, from your personal experience and viewpoint? 

Jason: “There is something about this question that saddens me. I’ve been speaking on the issues of sex/sexuality/relationship for a little more than 10 years. Everything I thought we would see (and this data now shows) has become a reality. I think the only thing that is surprising to me is the data showing fewer people sleeping with each other on the first date. But even that data is in line with what I see happening around me today. Specifically, I see a lot of data that shows we are becoming both more liberal AND conservative in our views surrounding sex. Our ideas surrounding sex are all over the place!

Julia: “I grew from teenager to adult during this time, so my experience is based on a very specific life stage. I would say that sex seemed like something that was still very taboo to most people my age in 2005. Dating was frequent, but not necessarily because people wanted to be frequently dating. We were just high school students who didn’t know how to maintain a long-lasting relationship. Dating and sex still very much seemed to hold an element of love; those things should be experienced for the sake of experiencing love. I would say that now dating and sex are treated among the culture at large as a personal life goal, one that adds to our own unique personas and can be recounted as stories that make us seem interesting. Sex in particular has become very individualistic, especially with the drastic rise of gender fluidity, etc. Sex is about finding ourselves and determining how we form our identity.”


What do you think? How do you think the attitudes surrounding sex have changed since 2005?

Sexual Integrity Messages Must Improve as Marriage Age Increases

By Jason Soucinek 

photo-1461009209120-103a8f970745

I didn’t marry until I was 34.

To some this seems old. Others think this is the perfect age to marry. Either way, I am not alone in the trend of marrying later in life.

For the last several years the age at which people get married is getting older, and fewer individuals are getting married altogether. 

This is not because this generation doesn’t want to get married; data continues to reveal high numbers of individuals who still want to marry later in life as a capstone to other achievements like education or career. However, when you couple this information with the fact that the marriage rate is at an all time low, hovering around 50% (compared to 72% in 1960), you can begin to understand the difficulty of speaking on sexual integrity.

Delayed adulthood, cohabitation, changing attitudes about sex, and a Christian culture mostly unwilling to talk about sex and sexuality are some of the many reasons sexual integrity has become a virtually defunct practice. Even among self-identifying Christians, our views of God’s intent for sex have shifted, leaving us in a place of little clear understanding about what to do with our bodies and how to speak honestly about sex.

Sexual integrity needs to be more than just a message about keeping your pants on.

For years the church has simply responded to the culture’s definition of sex. American culture says, “Do whatever you want, with whomever you want, whenever you want.” So what has the church done? It’s responded by saying, “Just wait.” But this is only responding to the definition set forth by the culture and not giving the definition from Scripture.

The definition of sex found in Scripture is based on “oneness” with our spouse. This is seen in verses all the way from Genesis through Revelation. Sex is meant to unify. In fact, when it says in Genesis 2:24 the “two will become one flesh” it is literally saying the two will be fused together, creating this “oneness.”

Procreation, pleasure, and protection all need to be part of the conversations surrounding sex in the church.

Often we are willing to talk about the power of sex as it relates to new life. But why are we afraid to talk about the pleasure associated with it?

Pleasure is not something Scripture hides from and neither should we. Our God is a God of pleasure. We see this in the first verses in the first chapter of the first book in Scripture, Genesis 1, when God declares creation (and thus sex) was “very good.”

Scripture also reveals sex has boundaries but these boundaries exist for our own protection. Because sex has the power to create life and fuse two people together, it requires protection. That is one reason we have marriage. It acts as a crucible.

Clear and consistent dialogue, not a list of restrictions, are needed for sexual integrity to be practiced more often.

Maybe you’ve seen some of the data suggesting young adults are leaving the church in droves. Although I don’t see it quite this way I do recognize a frustration with established religion, particularly when it comes to the attitudes the church communicates regarding sex.

Recently I was listening to a podcast from the show This American Life. The episode was a discussion about collected date showing people’s mindsets changing over the course of a 20-minute conversation. The reason for the change was simple: the parties involved had vulnerable and honest dialogue.

Most of the young adults I speak with are filled with frustration because few people are willing to have difficult conversations about our culture’s view of sex and sexuality. However, I’ve found taking time to listen leads to better and more in-depth conversations, which give opportunity to reveal God’s grand design as the sex-maker.

Let’s have more vulnerable and honest dialogue and make sexual integrity a part of the culture in our churches once again.

Women Are Choosing Virtual Boyfriends Over Real Ones – And That’s a Huge Problem

By Julia Feeser

Star_Crossed_Myth_Prologue

Virtual characters from the Japanese game “Star Crossed Myth”.

Recently Vogue published a story about several women around the world who are engaged in virtual romantic relationships – meaning their boyfriends don’t actually exist.

Virtual relationship apps or games allow users to engage in pre-made storyline with a virtual character. Players develop the romantic story by interacting with their virtual character. In essence, the game offers a simulation of a romantic relationship – without real life consequences or complications.

The popularity of virtual relationships initially began in Asian countries such as Japan, but are now spreading to the states as well, through apps such as “My Virtual Boyfriend.”

“Virtual companionship, once a niche Japanese subculture, has mushroomed into a lucrative global industry. The first wildly popular virtual romance game created specifically with women in mind, called Angelique, was released in 1994 by a team of female developers at the Japanese gaming company Koei. Since then, others have been quick to capitalize. Voltage, the leading company in the Japanese market, currently offers 84 different romance apps.” – Pip Usher, Vogue

One of these women, Mook, is a 24-year-old living in Japan. She describes her experience with virtual relationships as one of escape:

“When she is not engaging with [her virtual boyfriend], she is often flirting with another of her virtual boyfriends, all of whom are available, at all times, in the palm of her hand. ‘[These apps] give me a chance to hide away from my real life, in which I don’t have a boyfriend,’ Mook says. ‘And by playing these games, it hurts nobody.’” – Pip Usher, Vogue

Depending on the app, players have the opportunity to choose a pre-made character (one that is programmed with qualities such as intimacy issues, mysterious, seducer, shy, and of course, exceptionally handsome), or create their own ideal character – one that reflects who they would like to meet in real life.

“‘[Women] dream of a guy who is handsome, controlling, and unreasonably in love with [them],’” says Marcos Daniel Arroyo, a software engineer at Cheritz who has built a career on understanding what women want from virtual relationships. The games allow women to date the kind of men they are attracted to, but without any of the hassle or heartbreak. They fulfill, says Arroyo, ‘the fantasy of a relationship that cannot occur so easily in real life.’” – Pip Usher, Vogue

From the outset, these games would appear to be a good solution to a desire for love and romance without the emotional repercussions real-life relationships can have. Women who desire the drama of romance can play this out in a way that impacts only them, thereby saving not only themselves but others from heartbreak.

Virtual relationships protect the players from experiencing very real hurt, angst, disappointment, or confusion. But they also make a real-life relationship increasingly impossible or unsatisfying because a real relationship can then never measure up to one that can be manipulated at will to fulfill the highest standards of romance and perfection.

Women who find themselves online, hoping to achieve the romance, relationship, and intrigue they desire in a real-life relationship will thus only ever be disappointed by a real person.

In our day and age, we have set impossible standards for ourselves when it comes to characteristics of a potential partner and the kind of romantic relationship we feel is both achievable and deserved.

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, author Tim Keller explains the common perspective and demand of relationships, particularly marriage, by those of marrying age today:

“Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals. Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me. But ironically, this newer version of marriage actually puts a crushing burden of expectation on marriage and spouses in a way that more traditional understandings never did. And it leaves us desperately trapped between both unrealistic longings for and terrible fears about marriage.” 

While an initial use of such simulated relationships apps may seem harmless or like a game, a steady stream of influence will eventually leave those involved longing for the same type of relationship in real life.

But real relationships don’t work this way. They cannot be put in a box, controlled, or manipulated to perfection. And if people seeking love continue to train their minds through apps such as these – or movies, or dating apps with endless choices of potential partners – they will find themselves lonely, isolated, and disappointed, unable to find contentment in a real but ultimately imperfect relationship.

Why Aggressive Rhetoric Hurts Real Dialogue

By Jason Soucinek 

SONY DSC

I debated whether or not to write this post.

I’ve sat on it for some time. However, the further I think about the ramifications of this political cycle on the dialogue we have with one another the more I feel compelled to share.

I am worried that we’ve lost the ability to have civil dialogue.

And why do I care about this as someone whose profession is to share a message of sexual integrity? Because I’ve seen this same thing happen around the topic of sex education. One person shouts their view and then the other shouts their opposing view even louder.

A barking dog only attracts more barking dogs.

I’ve learned over time and mostly from my own mistakes yelling louder doesn’t make our message more accessible. In fact, it usually misses the very people we are trying to reach.

I’ve watched both up close and from afar how those in the same field as myself, on both sides of the sex education issue, spend more time fighting one another than helping the students they want to aid. They spend more time telling others what they are against. I for one am tired of this. I’ve always believed telling people what we are for works much better.

A year ago I had the opportunity to sit down with several people around the country who opposed the work and the message I share on sexual integrity. However, I was not met with hate filled dialogue. Why? Because I was willing to listen and engage the points they shared. I sat side-by-side and built relationship.

My posture dictated the nature of the conversation.

In 2000 the Boston Globe conducted a “public conversations project” where they asked three pro-life and three pro-choice leaders to sit down and have conversations around the issue of abortion. This conversation grew out of a need to deescalate the rhetoric which had grown to a fever pitch after a shooting of an abortion doctor in the area.

The amazing reality of these meetings is that they worked! Posture changed what was said and how it was shared. Everyone who sat at the table learned to treat each other with dignity and respect. In fact, genuine friendships formed.

I find this radical compared to the world we live in at the moment.

Violence through our speech and especially through our action should never be acceptable. If we are going to contribute to a more civil dialogue we need to be willing to model it.

As a follower of Christ, I want my work to contribute to a more civil and compassionate society. This does not mean I have to compromise on my beliefs. In fact, the individuals who participated in the public conversations project grew more convinced of their own worldview, not less.

Our love for another should not be dependent on our affirmation of their worldview.

I don’t want to be another barking dog when it comes to sex education, nor politics for that matter. However, I do want to stay true to my convictions. I think both are possible and without violent rhetoric or action. But we must be willing to listen and sometimes that requires sitting side by side rather than going toe to toe.

 

“Give Me Sex Jesus” Debuts on Vimeo

By Julia Feeser

give me sex jesus

Patrick and Bonnie, a married couple who appear in the film and saved their first kiss for marriage.

A few weeks ago, a documentary was released on Vimeo called Give Me Sex Jesus. 

Give Me Sex Jesus is a fascinating look at the rise of purity culture during the 80’s and 90’s and how this movement impacted young people growing up during that time. The film highlights the stories of several different people, all ranging in age, relationship status, sexual identity, and sexual orientation.

In popular culture, the lingering effects of the purity movement are just now coming to light as those who were teens during that time are now adults navigating their sexuality. I find myself reading article after article (mostly by women) describing how the purity movement negatively impacted their views of sex, caused a confusing amount of shame, and often didn’t accomplish the intended outcome of waiting until marriage.

I was someone who had some exposure to purity movements through a conference I attended with my youth group at 15 years old. During the conference (which included a lot of flashing lights and popular movie clips) I learned from an energetic twentysomething about why waiting for marriage to experience sex was the best choice I could make and would keep my “purity” in tact. After the conference, I received a silver ring I could wear as a reminder of the promise I had made to wait.

I ended up wearing my ring for a few years, finally taking it off my junior year of college. It wasn’t that I had decided not to wait anymore, but I realized the ring was really just a ring, and the promise I was making had grown into a deeper purpose rooted in obedience to Christ.

Even though I wore a purity ring, I always struggled with the idea of “purity” itself. The rules and ideas surrounding purity felt cheesy and naive, and not at all practical for real dating relationships. To me, to be pure meant my virginity was in tact and I would inexplicably be overwhelmed with the desire to run through a field of wildflowers wearing a white dress, not caring about boys in the slightest bit (but I cared about boys, a lot).

While I have experienced first-hand the struggles created by purity movements (both in my own life and the lives of others), I truly believe that the idea behind purity movements came from a Christ-centered place and somehow became less about honoring the beauty of sex and more about an attempt to manage sexual sin in the lives of others.

Give Me Sex Jesus highlights one movement in particular; True Love Waits. 

True Love Waits was an abstinence-based movement founded in 1993 that promoted sexual purity, which they defined as abstaining from sex, sexual thoughts, sexual touching, pornography, and actions thought to lead to sexual arousal. The main component of their program was the signing of abstinece pledges by teens as a symbol of commitment to remain “pure” until marriage.

True Love Waits came under criticism for a couple reasons.

First, a 2003 study of the results of this program found that 6 out of 10 college students who had taken the pledge had broken it. Second, True Love Waits (whether inadvertantly or not) created a culture of rigid sexual rules that reinforced that all sexual activity was deeply sinful and devalued the person engaging in this sexual activity.

However, even though True Love Waits has received a lot of flack over the years (some of it justifiable and some not), I truly believe that the original intention for True Love Waits and similar purity movements came from a desire to give young people the means to experience sex in the best and safest way possible: marriage.

Looking back on movements like True Love Waits, we now have the opportunity to grow from where they faltered; leaning into conversations surrounded waiting not through a set of rules or pledges, but purpose in Christ.

It is not about signing a paper card, hoping this signature will still be relevant to us through the years and relationships we encounter.

It is not about adhering to strict rules regarding physicality, but rather understanding ourselves and the holiness God has declared already exists within our desire to be physical.

It is not about a fear of what we may do wrong, but rather a freedom in knowing waiting for sex isn’t really about waiting for sex and more about obeying God’s design for sex because we know He made it good, and we long for what He has declared to be good.

You can watch the full documentary below:

How Playboy Can Shape Our Conversations in Church

By Jason Soucinek

101229_hugh_hefner_ap_328

Last week Playboy announced that it would no longer show nude photos of women. Apparently nude no longer sells.

And that is a big deal. Why? Because in our sex-craved culture, nude is not enough!

I’ve heard some rejoicing for this decision and I can understand why. These voices believe Playboy disappearing means the demand for pornographic magazines is changing. In some ways they may be right, but not for the reasons we might think.

As our culture continues to be exposed to more graphic and salacious images, Playboy just doesn’t fit the script any longer. What we are now exposed to on a daily basis is the same or worse than what just a decade ago people were hiding under our beds, away from the eyes of parents. We now live in a 24/7 porn-saturated culture. Whatever your passions could possibly desire we can now find online instantly.

Playboy themselves acknowledged this fact by admitting they have been overtaken by the changes the magazine itself brought to mainstream culture. “That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

Sadly, he is right. They have won and are winning.

In fact, Playboy reported an increase in online readership when they choose to remove nudity from their website last August. As a result the average age of Playboy’s reader dropped from 47 to just over 30, and its web traffic jumped from four million users per month to 16 million per month. 

I think the reason for this increase lies in our desire to reignite the imagination many have lost. Think about it: most porn today leaves little or nothing to the imagination. Today’s porn is raw, in your face, and incredibly unrealistic. Don’t believe me? Check out the multiple studies found here and here.

We are so over stimulated with pornographic images that when we are asked to use our imaginations once more, the rush and excitement feels new again.

Research is showing we are becoming more and more radical in our pornographic addictions. At some point our brain becomes numb to raw, little-left-to-the-imagination images. Playboy has figured this out and wants to once more entice an audience by showing less skin, leaving the reader to use their imagination once again.

Porn is not the same as it was. It has changed. And so must our conversations surrounding this topic.

We must be bold, in the church and outside of it, because if we don’t we are going to lose some great opportunities to bring light into the darkness of so many stories. The church, better than anyone, has the ability through the work of the Holy Spirit to spark the imagination of the human brain as it relates to sex in powerful and new ways.

But this can only happen if we are willing to talk about the difficult stories (including pornography use) that often come as we talk about our sexual brokenness. The only way someone trapped in the cycle of habitual porn watching will hear the good news of the Gospel is if we are willing to talk about this bad news in their life.

While Playboy is adapting to show less skin, we need to be more raw, open, and transparent in our conversations about pornography and sexuality. In order to heal, we need to expose our struggles in ways we might not have ever thought necessary (or possible) a few short years ago. It is only through bringing our own weaknesses to light that we fight off the darkness.

We can be the ones winning, if we only start the conversation.