Panel: ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon ruinous

FORT WORTH—As “Fifty Shades of Grey” surpasses even Harry Potter as the fastest-selling paperback of all time, curiosity is prompting many women to discover what the fuss is all about—even if it takes them down a path they never intended to go.

“It’s surprising how many Christian women will read this type of literature and say ‘it spices up my marriage.’ That will put you on a road that will not bring fulfillment,” warned Susie Hawkins, a minister’s wife and author from Dallas who shared a panel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with counselors Mindy May of Fort Worth and June Hunt of Dallas.

“We’ve taken something that God said was so very good and made it into a lustful activity, stripped of its beauty,” said May, who said she sees the damage done to young women who have grown up in a sexualized culture.

Just as the Potter series revived children’s literature, the fascination that led to the sale of over 40 million copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” has increased demand for similar books in the category of erotic writing.

Hunt sees another parallel that leads to unintended consequences.

“We love a good love story,” Hunt said, explaining the attraction to what is perceived as a romantic story. “After the Harry Potter series there was an immense focus on the occult and specifically on witchcraft. People became so exposed to it and very knowledgeable about it.”

Similarly, she said, most people are unacquainted with concepts of bondage, dominance and sadomasochism that are prevalent features of the plot in erotic fiction. “It captures your imagination then moves from hearing it to seeing it to acting out and performing it,” she said, describing a classic effect of viewing pornography.

“This is not a fun fantasy to be sexually used or dominated,” she added. “The attraction is in something I don’t know a lot about and can read on my Kindle or a book in the privacy of my own home where it’s safe,” Hunt explained. “Well, it’s not safe.”

May told of counseling young girls who had been in literal bondage through human trafficking. “We say we’re against human trafficking but we turn a blind eye to pornography. One feeds the other,” she explained. “The Internet has provided an underground world of sexual sin and pornography that makes it easy to get away with.”

Speaking to the flippant acceptance of perversity found in books like “Fifty Shades,” May said, “There are huge implications there if we’re adopting this as OK as entertainment. We’re in for a world of devastation as far as sexuality in our culture today.” She encouraged the women-only crowd of 100 students preparing for ministry to check their own thought lives.  

“There is a lot that is coming into our minds that we need to be guarding and protecting against,” May added.

Even though the panelists had not read the book, they all had studied it enough to be familiar with the plot and to equip the women in attendance to respond to conversations and counseling opportunities with those captivated by the content.

“This is our time to dialogue and figure out what is the truth about sexual purity as it relates to pornography,” explained Women’s Programs Dean Terri Stovall. “If you’re going into ministry either on your own or as a partner with your husband, I guarantee it will cross your path.”

All of the women featured on the panel have been involved in equipping women for ministry. Hawkins teaches student wives at Southwestern Seminary and contributes to a blog for minister’s wives hosted by the North American Mission Board at flourish.me. Hunt founded Hope for the Heart, hosting an interactive teaching radio broadcast and call-in counseling program. May is completing her doctorate in counseling, teaches adjunctively and serves at the Hulen Street Baptist Church counseling ministry.

Regarding “Fifty Shades,” Hunt said, “We’re talking about a story that is not realistic. It’s about a 27-year-old billionaire and a college student,” she explained, lightly summarizing the attraction the young girl discovers while interviewing the handsome Christian Grey, who first shows concern for the young girl’s welfare, but eventually demonstrates his need to control her sexually. “She acts out his fantasy, but it is terribly degrading.”

“We know enough about the book to know we don’t need to be reading it,” Hawkins said, recalling the warnings of 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 against introducing another party into a marriage.

“Women gravitate toward a type of fantasy that makes them feel loved and cherished,” explained Hawkins as she addressed the tendency to justify reading romance novels, even those that cross the line into erotica. “Eventually you ask, ‘Why can’t my husband be like that?’ But it will not bring what you’re looking for long term,” she added. “It always ends in dissatisfaction rather than fulfillment.”

An Amazon synopsis of the plot states: “The Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.”

Taken more seriously than a mere marketing ploy, that’s a concern that Hunt said is rooted in science. “After a period of time lust creates a rut and there is an involuntary desire for more and more,” she said, describing the way graphic images can be recalled for years after viewing or reading such content.

“Internet porn is designed to take you deeper,” May added. “The United States is the hub of the billion-dollar industry and it’s so accessible and easy,” she said, describing it as “an open black pool of opportunity for people to get involved and erase the history like nothing ever happened. There are chat rooms, the buying and selling of people on Craig’s list, and so many things that really hurt.”

Every temptation to sin comes down to a choice to be made, she reminded. “Will I coddle that image and go with it sexually or say I refuse to think on that and do whatever it takes to be conformed to the character of Christ?” In counseling men and women who struggle with sexual addiction, she asks them repeatedly to plan the right course of action in advance of the temptation.

“Just because there’s a temptation doesn’t mean you have sinned,” Hunt added. “That allows for huge victory in your life.”

Hawkins and May agreed with one student’s conclusion that the appeal from feminists to “level the playing field” has led to an attitude that pornography should also be accessible to women.

“Sure it is,” Hawkins answered. “‘Sex in the City’ is all about sexual promiscuity with some really great clothes and great shoes,” she remarked. “With women it’s couched in all these things we love.”

“It’s also an entitlement issue,” May added. “I’m entitled to explore this, to promote myself and my body however I want to.”

She offered as an example the shift toward presenting a promiscuous image in the senior photographs of high school girls. “It’s gone from looking wholesome and pure to ‘I’m going to look as sexy as possible,’” she said.

May encouraged moving beyond teaching “do’s and don’ts” to explaining God’s creation of man and woman as sexual beings. “What does that look like as a female seeking to honor the Lord?”

“There’s got to be strong teaching on the theology of sexuality,” Hawkins agreed, encouraging parents and youth leaders to put the discussion in the context of a healthy emotional and spiritual walk with Christ.

With puberty occurring at an even younger age, parents must have conversations earlier to provide the tools for a child to guard his or her purity, May said.

Hunt drew from her book “How to Defeat Harmful Habits” to remind women that everyone is created with the need for love, significance and security. “A sexual addiction or inappropriate sex is an attempt to get one of those three needs illegitimately.”

She encouraged women to get serious about discovering a new purpose in displaying Christ’s character, a new priority in aligning one’s thoughts to those of God’s, and a new plan that relies on Christ’s power to change.

“If you’re going to have a transformed life, you have a new mind and you cannot indulge sexual fantasy.”

When a wife struggles with a temptation in any area, she should ask her husband to pray with her to work through it, Hawkins advised. “It needs to be something that is discussed in the marriage relationship, but I don’t know that you would ever need to do so with someone else.”

Hunt cautioned against sharing details of a transgression when confessing sin to a spouse. “You don’t just empty the whole dump truck and say, ‘Now I’m free,’” she warned. “Be careful to protect the mind of the other person. It can put those mental images in his mind and he doesn’t need to hear the details.”

She encouraged women to seek the help of a trained Christian counselor who deals with sexual issues by consulting the American Association of Christian Counselors. Hope for the Heart offers spiritual guidance, prayer, resources and connections to skilled Christian counselors by calling 1-800-488-HOPE.

Reminding women that there is no Garden of Eden even within the Christian world, Hawkins said the best prevention against sexual sin is unbelievably simplistic.

“Be on your face every day and say, ‘Lord, I am your girl, your woman. I beg you to give me discernment if I’m going down a road or doing something that is not helpful. I pray I’ll see the truth.’”

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