On Playboy, Goats, and Shock Value in Sexual Culture

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Playboy recently announced that it will be scrapping its magazines of nudity. The initial response from the evangelical camp was one of joy. “Thank goodness they’ve come to their senses.”

Unfortunately, they haven’t at all, and that’s the point.

It turns out, the decision to get rid of nudity in the famous magazines was centered on the idea of shock value. The executive team has decided that moving to a platform of safe-for-work material is warranted, above all, because nudity has lost its edge. One of the key quotes from the pioneer behind this decision said this move would make their content “a little more accessible, a little more intimate.”

Playboy’s decision is actually horrifying. Our culture’s consciences have been so seared, that X-rated magazine pages or billboards are no longer gasp-worthy. Intimacy has been actually lost. These images no longer need to be carefully hidden in a secluded drawer. They’ve grown to become normalized. They’re a part of who we are. The naked body has lost its original luster. Upping the ante, our culture, immersed in the exploration of “exciting” sexuality, is no longer trying to push the envelope and see how far is too far. They’ve left nothing to be desired and lost their appeal, and now new categories need to be formed to bring shock value, sexual excitement, and ultimately, revenue, back. This is not good news. This is bad news.


Many evangelicals have spent a great deal of time sorting through the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision that acknowledges same-sex couples as legitimate married couples. Swirling in the discussion has been the questions of “what’s next?” In terms of sexuality, many have pointed to the affirmation and legalization of bestiality and pedophilia as being “the next big thing.” The problem with this view, however, is that there’s nothing next about them. Check out this excerpt from Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth:

In 2002 a play opened on Broadway to rave reviews called The Goat, or, Who Is Sylvia? featuring a successful architect who confesses to his wife that he has fallen in love with someone else. The object of his affection turns out to be a goat named Sylvia. Apparently, playwrights no longer feel that they can get enough dramatic tension out of an ordinary affair; to really create drama, they must probe the theme of bestiality. (214)

That happened thirteen years ago.

The same goes for pedophilia. A recent article posted on Salon, titled “I’m a Pedophile, but Not a Monster” chronicles the story of a Tennessee man who readily admits his sexual attraction to kids, and further, demands our affirmation that that’s okay. He serves on a forum called “Virtuous Pedophiles.” I’m sure you understand the framework for such an entity.

The fact is, these sexual issues may not be commonplace, but they are already alive and well in our communities. And, sadly, they’ve grown to become even “entertaining.” Hardee’s Super Bowl commercials are old hat. We’re talking about a book and movie like 50 Shades of Grey drawing readers, watchers and dollars by the millions, all excited to see the manipulative, objectifying, dominating nature of bondage and force in sex. We’re talking about a television show like Sister Wives, where the reality of a man with four wives is produced for our pleasure in watching the drama unfold. We’re talking about a society that has manufactured both Caitlyn and Bruce Jenner costumes for the upcoming Halloween season, in hopes that kids will learn the power and apparent “heroism” of choice and literally putting on a false identity because it’s who we want to be.

There is nothing next about such perversions of sexuality. They’re here, and they’re only growing.


What are we (Christians) to do about the shifting sexual culture in America? Are we going to wring our hands? Are we going to get in the streets with signs? Are we going to pull all our kids out of public schools to protect them from the potential dangers?

Consider Psalm 2 for a moment:

Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you, Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Secular culture has said something similar to God’s decrees. “Let’s disregard these limitations. Let’s decide what’s permissible for ourselves.” This is self-sovereignty. I talked about man’s quest for sovereignty in a recent post, which may help with context. The point is, we are wired to pursue self-governance, especially in terms of sexuality. Our senses are numbed by what was shocking twenty years ago, so we continue further down the same road, hoping to finally find intimacy fulfilled. But this intimacy, while it may feel good for a while, will only prove to fail you. Nudity has failed even Playboy.

“Shock” is a constant barometer by which our culture measures their sexual ethics. “Shock” is a default feeling every time our culture goes on the offensive and moves the chains down the field. But please understand this: “shock” is not how God reacts. There is no hand-wringing here. But why not?

The Father does not laugh at our plight. He is not laughing at the fact that a man can write an article expressing feelings of pedophilia, and said article gets shared 50,000 times online with hordes of applause (see Rom. 1:32). What he is laughing at is our pitiful confidence that we can become like God(Gen. 3:5). Science fiction has given us glimpses of this idea. The fear of Artificial Intelligence is that it will grow to an autonomous level humanity can no longer control, as is played out by various movies and books. But when we’re holding the “On/Off” switch, wouldn’t we laugh too if these machines supposed they could overthrow our decrees? The same goes for the Omnipotent, Creator God. He has a plan that cannot be thwarted.

“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” (Ps. 2:6)

The tensing of the verb “have” is significant. It is not an expectant “will,” but it is an accomplished “have.” Jesus is King. The culture will clamor in their pursuit of sexual sovereignty, but they won’t find it, and God will not be mocked. Because of this, those of us who pursue an intimacy that does not look like kissing the Son is on a fast track to judgment (Ps. 2:12), their hopes are dashed into a powdered dust (Ps. 2:9).

Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Ps. 2:12b)

The culture may send shock-waves through the land with their devolving sexual ethic. Our faith’s foundation may feel the quakes coming. But our refuge isn’t going anywhere. All the plotting and scheming and devising of the world’s loudest and strongest voices cannot overthrow the Ultimate Authority. Not only are we fully insured and firmly protected, but we areblessed. What does that word mean? It means a lot of things. Worthy. Happy. Joyful. Valuable. Fortunate. Intimate.

True intimacy lies here: Christ loves us and greets his sheep with the perfect holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12). Intimacy cannot be fulfilled in gratified sexual experience the way it can be fulfilled in the love and refuge of Christ. It is not shocking, but blameless morally. It is so sweet to not be shocked, but calmed, in the refuge of the one who conquers.

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