I just finished reading an incredibly interesting article from one of my favorite investigative journalistic sites, HuffPost’s Highline. Despite the typically liberal slant of the organization, I was happy to find that they did a rather balanced examination of the material related to Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Larry Nassar, and other exposed predators from the #MeToo movement. By that I mean, rather than simply label all the perpetrators as terrible humans who deserve to rot, Emily Yaffe, the author, researched the roots beneath the abuses.
An investigation like this leads rather quickly to the notion of sexual fetishes and the desire for a very pointed and specific outlet for sexual desires. Research in the article claims that if someone possesses a unique sexual fetish, it is rooted in something that happens in their lives before puberty hits, typically between the ages of 6 and 8.
The author cited examples of men (the number of men with sexual fetishes is roughly four times higher than the number of women) who had a ‘rubber fetish’ due to watching a babysitter wash the dishes with rubber gloves on. Others reported fantasies of acting out scenes from movies or shows they watched frequently as children, even harmless material such as The Andy Griffith Show.
The piece then painfully moved onto the story of a man referred to as Michael. He is a man who is listed as a sexual predator in California. The only difference between him and the ilk of Weinstein is that Michael did not have the same level of power. Michael was arrested eight times for exposing himself on public transport, but the story behind the actions is what is really heart-wrenching.
Michael grew up in the Midwest, a Native American-Black blend in a school full of white children. He entered high school with the full knowledge that no girl wanted to date him because of his heritage. His one ‘sensual’ outlet as a teenager was going to a friend’s house where the mother would walk around scantily clad. And because he enjoyed it so much, he assumed girls would enjoy seeing him like that an equal amount. From there, his propensity toward exhibitionism sprouted until it was a daily routine.
As I read that story, I began to see Michael as more than just a ‘sexual deviant,’ and more as a wayward child seeking intimacy in a twisted way. To be clear: I am not condoning or applauding the behavior of sexual predators or abusers. However, examining the roots of their…(what is the right term now? It changes by the week) psychopathology is fascinating in terms of regarding these men. It helps us see them as fellow fallen humans rather than beasts.
The notion of a fetish is in and of itself a fascinating entity. As stated above, they develop early in life and anyone familiar with elementary psychology knows that things carried over from childhood are very deep indeed. I’ll be frank with you and say that, as I read that article, I kept wondering if I have any sexual fetishes. To the best of my knowledge, the answer is no. In my years as a porn addict, the thing I continually sought more than a specific physical element was simple intimacy. Emotional (and yes, physical) nearness to another person.
To be [really] personal, I still remember a dream I had when I was probably in first or second grade. In the dream, I was at recess at my school and was sitting on the playground next to a girl in my class. I remember the feeling of intimacy toward her, and feel that that longing is something which has followed me for decades. Of course, that desire in and of itself is a good and healthy longing, but the way I go about satisfying that desire can quickly become polluted when pursued down the wrong avenues.
Happy as I am that I personally don’t have any fetishes I’d be embarrassed telling others about, I can certainly sympathize with the notion of bearing the weight of an uncontrollable desire. I’d wager that most of us are familiar with this to some degree, and that’s the part that probably scares us about the entire #MeToo movement. We may think thoughts such as If I had as much power as Harvey, would I have done the same thing? Am I privately acting out in some way, just with less luxurious access?
A song by my favorite metal band, August Burns Red, puts it so perfectly:
I’m just as much the problem as the man behind bars
He did with his business what I do in my heart
The reason the #MeToo offenders can be easily categorized as men with fetishes rather than some other form of sexual dalliance is simple: With the amount of money they had, they could have easily gotten a high-end prostitute or escort to satisfy their whims. But evidently, that wasn’t enough. There was not enough edge or risk of being caught. The acts had to be personal and to the point that the woman could say no, thus presenting an element of risk rather than mere purchase.
Louis C.K., for instance, repeatedly masturbated in front of female coworkers, or simply exposed himself to them. In retrospect, he acknowledged it was wrong, yet could not explain why he had to do it, rather than simply move it to an environment where that type of behavior is societally acceptable.
These sexual drives, fetishized or otherwise, are all-consuming and intense. In the heat of the moment, they feel unbearable. Lust seems to come to us, offering a release for the pressure, yet once the deed is done (whatever it is), shame and guilt rush in, which in turn create more of a desire to return to our perversions. It’s a brutal cycle, familiar to addicts of every stripe.
Perhaps you read this as someone with a fetish and are nervous for the coming condemnation. Well, fear not. One thing I have learned about Jesus is that He can handle our desires. He is capable of understanding them. We need to remember that we do not worship a God who is distant or unfamiliar with our deep longings. We worship a God who desperately longs for all of mankind to return to Him.
For comparison, think about the last time you had your heart broken and how desperately you longed for that person to return to you and reciprocate your feelings. Now multiply that by the number of humans who have ever lived.
No, our God is not unfamiliar with our deep desires. He was there when those things were planted in us. He lived through my second-grade dream with me, and he was there when that other man initiated his ‘rubber fetish.’
I remember being at a church in Chicago and was so beaten down by the weight of my lustful desire that I went forward during communion to pray with a deacon. I told him what I was experiencing and very gently, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know you can hand those to Jesus, right? He is able to hold your desires. Are you willing to trust Him with them?” As he said it, he motioned holding an invisible egg before his chest, then offering it over to Jesus. “He is big enough to hold your desires if you are able to let Him.”
It’s not easy, giving up our deep-seated desires to an invisible and often-quiet God. And as Christians, I don’t think it’s healthy to pretend that we do not have them. In fact, bottling them up and keeping them a secret from our trusted brothers and sisters may only result in more damage later on, just as it did with the now-ashamed men of MeToo. Rather than pretending they don’t exist or acting them out, can we be people who offer them to the Lord, knowing that He is gentle and good?
This is done through prayer and silence as well as fellowship with other believers we can trust. And it is certainly not easy. But I believe it will be fruitful in the end.
May we be Christians who don’t ignore these awkward and uncomfortable things, sweeping them away and pretending they don’t exist. Rather, may we address them, both in ourselves and in those close to us in ways which are gentle, true and full of grace. And may we always remember that Christ, who is full of strong desires Himself, knows and understands our lusts and longings.