Teen Vogue’s anti-theology of the body

If your daughter has a subscription to Teen Vogue, I would strongly urge you to cancel it. Immediately.

The magazine recently featured a how-to article about a particular sexual act that I will leave unnamed. (Let’s just say that, aside from its myriad other risks, it would leave these girls particularly prone to hemorrhoids.)

I initially didn’t read the article, to avoid giving them clicks, and also not particularly wanting that information in my head. But writing about it, I thought I should know what it said. So I skimmed it.

And now I want to throw up.

Lest you wonder if this was merely a cautionary piece — well, it was not. It was, in fact, a full-fledged endorsement. The phrase “feels awesome” appeared at least three times. Throw in a few “delightfuls,” some “perfectly normal” and the reassurance that people have been doing this since the beginning of time, and you’ll start to get the idea.

These people are not interested in what is best for your daughters.

I brought it up on Facebook, and naturally my timeline is exploding with concerned mothers. Panicked mothers.

I don’t blame them.

What’s a parent supposed to do in a situation like this — in world like this? Do you really need to sit your kid down and have a long talk about each and every sexual variant that crosses their path? Do you have to research the risks, explain in great detail why it isn’t “awesome”?

Do we have to inflict all of this darkness onto our kids?

In a word, no.

In the 30 years I have been speaking on chastity, I have found that leading with warnings — about diseases, risks, pregnancy, even sin — is not particularly effective. It’s negative. It’s dark. And teens, whose neurological capacity to assess risk isn’t even fully developed, tend not to believe us anyway.

So what do we do instead?

We inspire them.

When I was a senior in college, I heard a series of talks on the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage, based in the Theology of the Body. I was completely blown away. It was beautiful. It was about real love — the deepest desire of my heart. It was about the God who loves me, and about the incredible plan He designed for our bodies and our relationships. It uplifted me. It inspired me. It made me want beauty and goodness and truth in my life.

And it helped me to see all of these other counterfeits for exactly what they were. Abuses. The misuse and distortion of something profoundly good.

I am a big fan of crowding out the ugly with the beautiful.

Once teens have a context — once they appreciate the beauty of God’s plan for sex and love — the other discussions get a lot easier. Sin? Easy to understand — taking his plan out of context does damage to ourselves and others, so of course God doesn’t want us to do it. Physical and emotional risks? Same thing.

Most importantly, if they fully understand that sex speaks the language of marriage, they will won’t be so inclined to “experiment.”

Obviously I can’t give you that entire teaching in the 600 words I have here. But I wrote a book that does that. It’s called Real Love, and you can find it on Amazon.

Even if your kids aren’t reading Teen Vogue, kids around them probably are. You need to be proactive.

Get lots of good information into their brains and their hearts. So that when they see the dark stuff, they will recognize it for what it is.

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.