I recently finished a book called Restless Virgins, based on a sex scandal at Milton Academy in 2005 involving a sophomore girl and multiple hockey players. The scandal was supposed to be the crux of this book, but it only took up about fifteen pages. The two writers (both graduates of Milton Academy) focused the rest of the book on the culture of sex that was prevalent at Milton in the early 2000s (and is prevalent on many campuses today).
Disclaimer: The two women writing this book did a great job writing objectively and dispassionately about a horrific and sometimes heartbreaking year in these students’ lives. I commend them for their work. That being said, this book was, at times, disgusting. 50 Shades of Grey probably wasn’t any more salacious than this book was. I ached for a long, hot shower when I was done.
The writers wrote from the points-of-view of a handful of students with whom they’d had over 200 interviews over the course of two years. The students were all seniors at the time of the scandal, and they were remarkably forthcoming about their priorities and personal lives. Most of these priorities and personal lives were based on sex, drugs, partying, and drinking. To be honest, the sexual foibles and victories all started to blend together after a while, and by the end, I had trouble keeping the characters straight, but this much I do remember clearly: there was the girl who regularly cheated on her boyfriend because “he’s ugly and doesn’t deserve me to begin with.” There was the boy who believes girls deserve to be respected and treated to nice dinners and exciting evenings…only to abandon that belief the first time he finds a girl who’s willing to debase herself for his benefit. There was the girl who was admired by everyone for her brilliance and wit, who allowed herself to be used by a “hockey god,” so that he could satisfy his lust and she could gain a little notoriety. There was the girl who was known by younger students for her sympathy and understanding but spent years jumping to meet the sexual whims of a boy who refused to call her his girlfriend or acknowledge her in public.
I understand that much of this narrative may have been exaggerated; the entire book is based on the self-disclosure of horny adolescents, and who knows how honest they were being? However, assuming they were being even mostly honest, it is a damning and heartbreaking portrayal of what seems to be a pervasive mindset among adolescents.
The way I understand these kids’ psyches, after reading over two hundred pages of their inner monologues, is this: the girls believe they are only worth the popularity of the boys who want them. Therefore, it is in their best interest to climb the social ladder as efficiently as possible, and what better way to do that than to advertise that you are open for business (so to speak)? High school guys aren’t known for their nuance or their impulse control, and it’s understandable that they would find it hard to resist such persistent – and willing – temptation.
On the other hand, the boys believe that they are only worth the number of girls they “hook up” with (whatever that term means to them at this particular moment in time) and the entertainment value of the stories they can then broadcast to their friends. Therefore, it is in their best interest to take as many girls up on their offers, and to do it as quickly, as possible. High school girls aren’t known for their self-esteem and positive body image, and it’s understandable that they would find it hard to resist such desperation for a good story.
“He chose me!” I can hear the girls thinking. “He can have anyone at this school, and he chose me! Does he – could he – love me?”
“She said yes!” I can hear the boys thinking. “She doesn’t even know me, and she said yes! I must be the man!”
It’s hard for me to be sympathetic to the boys in this portrayal, all of whom believe that a hook-up is a one way street. The girl pleasures him, and there is no expectation of reciprocation. But these boys – boys – are sympathetic. Look at them. They are so young, and they have been poisoned for who knows how many years, by who knows how many false gods, into thinking that they have the right or even the duty (to their buds, at least) to treat these girls like scum. (They even come up with a charming little nickname for these girls that involves the word scum. I’ll let you figure out the rest of it for yourself.)
The girls are just as sympathetic, although there were plenty of times I wanted to wring their necks, just to get my point across. Most of the girls who are portrayed are even younger than the boys – many are even still in middle school, and they are so deluded. They have bought into the lie – hook, line, and sinker – that they will only mean something if a guy (ideally, the right guy) says they mean something.
Here’s the problem, as far as I’m concerned: we have replaced our inherent worth as children of God with the wishy-washy worth sometimes bestowed upon us by people whose only endorsement is that they’re popular. No wonder there are so many unique kinds of addiction among humans! We humans will sell ourselves to anything, won’t we? Imagine living your whole life, believing the lie that you are responsible for creating your own worth. Wouldn’t you want to escape that pressure with some kind of addiction, too?
God wants us to know that there is nothing we can do to earn His love and there is nothing we can do to lose His love. Gave five guys blow jobs, just because they were popular? God’s got this. Drank too much and did something you never thought you’d do? God’s got this. Sold your body to the highest bidder? God’s got this. Cheated on your boyfriend a dozen times because you thought he was ugly? God’s got this. Spent your life doubting yourself, your achievements, your gifts? God’s got this. Gained sixty pounds because you can’t stop eating and you don’t believe you’re worth a healthy body? God’s got this.
Here’s the thing, though. We have to ask Him to take it.
We look at this hook-up culture stuff all wrong. The problem is not that no one takes girls seriously, or that boys are being raised to be monsters, or that girls are taught to fear their bodies, or that there aren’t enough sensitivity seminars on school campuses, or that we’re in a misogynistic and patriarchal culture, or even that teens are drinking too much (which I definitely think is a big part of the problem that we all underestimate). These are all symptoms of the problem. The problem is that we are throwing ourselves away. If we allowed ourselves to feel the full power of God’s love for us, nothing – nothing – would be able to destroy us. Yes, there would be hard days or times we would feel alone and in despair, but if we lived fully in the power that God has already given us, those days would lead us straight into His arms, instead of to the nearest boy, girl, bag of chips, bottle, empty relationship, or what have you.
Of course, this has all been said before, and in much better words than I could ever come up with. Here is a favorite example of mine:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39, emphasis mine)
Hear that? Nothing. Neither sex nor drugs, nor despair nor fear, nor sin nor hopelessness, nor rape nor violence, nor laziness nor selfishness, nor anything else you could possibly think of, can ever separate us from God and take away the value He has already given us.
But if we want to live in that value, we have to ask Him to show it to us. And then believe it when He does.