A few weeks ago I happened across Oprah’s web site and noticed that her show that day was called “Why do men do that?” I’m not a regular Oprah viewer, but I tuned in that day to see a panel of “experts” on male behavior, including Jay Leno, explain why men look at pornography, go to strip clubs, and cheat on their wives.
First of all, ladies, be assured, not all men do these things. One would have thought by watching Oprah that faithful men were extinct. Not so. But, alas, the pornographic culture has seduced a great many men. Why? All Jay Leno and his panel of friends could offer were excuses. Many of the women in the audience were visibly and audibly pained as they were told in so many words to “get over it” because “it’s no big deal.”
Why do a great many men look at pornography, go to strip clubs, and cheat on their wives? Because the human heart has been twisted by lust. God created sexual desire to be the very power to love in the divine image. This is what enabled the first man and woman to be naked without shame (see Genesis 2:25). They loved rightly, and there is no shame in loving as God loves.
But since the dawn of sin, sexual desire has become inverted, self-seeking. We cover our bodies in a fallen world not because the body is “bad,” but because the body is so very good and — when we are in touch with our own goodness — we instinctively feel the need to protect the body from the degradation of lust.
In men, inverted sexual desire tends to seek physical gratification at the expense of women. When lust takes control of a man’s heart, it seeks release in whatever outlet presents itself. This is exactly what the porn industry capitalizes on.
Why does all of this pain women so much? Because women want to be loved and cherished for who they are as persons, not for the sexual release they offer men. The opposite of love is not hatred. The opposite of love is to use someone merely as a means to an end. This is what lust leads men to do — use women rather than love them.
Women don’t simply want their husbands to direct their lusts exclusively towards them, as if this made a man “faithful.” As our late Pope John Paul II once pointed out, a husband can commit “adultery in his heart” with his own wife if he treats her as nothing but an object for his selfish pleasure.
I know it’s a cliché, but why do so many wives claim “headache” when their husbands want sex? Could it be because they feel used rather than loved? Marriage does not justify lust; it is not a ticket to treat a spouse as a means of selfish pleasure. A woman who is the object of lust soon realizes, “You don’t love me; you don’t need me. You’re only interested in a means to your own gratification, and you can get that anywhere.”
When the name of the game is self-gratification, any outlet will do. In this view, the Church’s teaching on sex seems tailor-made to “keep me from having a good time.” But when the name of the game is self-donating love, everything the Church teaches seems tailor-made to help me overcome lust and learn to love as God intended in the beginning. Bingo.
The truth of the Church’s teaching on sexual love is confirmed in the pain and heartache of those who are immersed in lust. Would that someone on Oprah’s panel could have validated women’s pain and encouraged them not to settle for men enslaved by lust.
Christopher West is a fellow of the Theology of the Body Institute.
His books and tapes on the “Theology of the Body” are available from The Catholic Exchange's online store.