“Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” – G. K. Chesterton
It’s astounding how frequently men will risk complete compromise of their values, their marriage and their reputation to pursue a short-term enticement.
We joke that men have two heads and only enough blood to run one of them at a time but the truth is it goes a lot deeper than just physical desire. There is something captivating and bewitching about sex that can blind and blunt the conscience and common sense of men who are not whole. Like the sirens of Greek mythology who lured passing sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.
Hard wired into every man’s heart is a deep need for validation. We grow up yearning for someone with a strength greater than ours and a wisdom bigger than we posses to see us and tell us that we are enough, that we have what it takes, that we are strong and good. And we look to our fathers to do that. But they seldom do. We grow up with a desire for the transcendent, to be part of a story greater than ourselves, for meaning and purpose. And we seldom find it. We grow up longing for someone to model life for us, to show us what it means to be a man. And we seldom find that person.
Because of this most men grow up with a wound in the centre of their heart, in the place of their strength. I know because I did. As a consequence we spend the best part of our adult lives trying to prove that we do have what it takes, that we are valid and strong and good. Or we accept that we don’t and we aren’t. I know because I have. And it doesn’t matter how wealthy or successful or good looking a man with a wounded heart is he will still feel as though he is not enough. Unless he finds healing for his soul he will be driven to pursue more of whatever he thinks will validate him. And he usually carries this burden alone. We struggle as men to admit our vulnerabilities to ourselves let alone others. We can be surrounded by friends and laughter yet the deepest place of us walks alone.
Then along comes the woman. There is something about her beauty that promises to fix all of this. There’s something awe-inspiring in her femininity that offers to sweep away the pain and validate the strength and essence of our masculine soul. And so we pursue her, hoping for our hearts to find wholeness, strength and validation. But the truth is we can never find that in her. A man whose masculinity is not validated will never find validation in a woman. She can affirm his masculinity but she cannot give it to him. A man needs to offer a woman his strength not look to her for it.
A man looking to a woman for validation will either become dissatisfied with her or obsessed with her. Neither of these responses has anything to do with the woman, they have everything to do with the wound in the man’s heart. No matter how loving and lovely a woman is she cannot validate a man who has a damaged sense of masculinity. So many woman have given their all trying to rescue a wounded man only to be let down time and time again. It’s not her fault.
And no woman wants to be a man’s whole life, it will leave her deeply dissatisfied. She wants a man who has a life that she can share, and add her own life to. She needs to be invited into a bigger story by a man who is grounded in his identity and purpose.
Yet so many men look to women for validation. And for a man with wounded masculinity there is nothing more affirming than a woman giving herself to him sexually. It is a heady mix of pleasure, acceptance, vulnerability and conquest. It is a beautiful yet dangerous proxy for the transcendent. Sex promises to meet the deep yearning of the heart. But it cannot deliver. As much as it gives a brief sense of complete acceptance and validation, it’s not the validation our hearts need.
No strings attached sex can easily become a drug. And like a drug it provides a temporary feeling of euphoria and then it drops you. Yet unlike other drugs it is a drug of the soul. It reaches deep into the core of our being and touches us in the place of our identity. And so often it leaves us with a sense of shame, guilt and rejection, the very opposite of what we were looking for in the first place. Pornography has become an addiction of almost epidemic proportions. There is nothing satisfying about watching pornography. I know because at various times in my personal journey I have struggled with it. It is a drug. It is a fake of a fake; a false version of something already false. A virtual representation of sex without intimacy, commitment or love and a cheapening of feminine beauty all at the same time. Yet it’s a multi billion dollar industry. Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netfix, Amazon and Twitter combined. Something is seriously wrong.
We live in a society which has given far too much power to sex. Sex sells. We have cheapened and sexualised feminine beauty. We have photoshopped the soul of woman and projected it as an image of erotic fantasy against the backdrop of a wounded society. An image for men to pursue and women to aspire to. The truth is that the essence of a woman’s beauty is not to be found in her body but her soul.
Sex has become cheap currency. While researching for blogs and my next book I came across the Ashley Madison website which invited, no encouraged, married men and woman to have an affair. On impulse I logged on and set up a profile. What I found was both appalling and appealing in a shameful kind of way. Here the base desires of men and women were on open display. No love, just lust. A virtual world where desire matters more than depth, passion more than people. Where sex not relationship is the object. Over the brief period I exchanged messages with other members I felt a mix of repulsion and fascination. In the end what struck me most was the unwritten subtext of sadness and hunger. Hunger not so much for sex but for what it purported to offer yet never could; intimacy, love, acceptance and validation.
The problem is that sex can never provide these things if we don’t already have them.
If we don’t have a purpose bigger than ourselves,
if we aren’t grounded in our own identity,
if we are not validated within ourselves,
if we don’t esteem who we are,
if we are not whole,
we will never find this in sexual intimacy.
Sex is a beautiful expression of love. It’s the consummation of love, not its conception. It’s something that we give out of wholeness, not something that makes us whole. Sex touches us far deeper than what this culture of instant hook-ups and no-strings-attached pleasure allows us to believe. It touches us at our core, in the place of our identity. It provides a brief moment of transcendence, complete acceptance, intimacy, vulnerability, pleasure. But without love it is a counterfeit, a sad surrogate for the real thing. And without wholeness it always takes takes more than it gives.