Oprah and the “Evils of Lust”

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I recently watched an episode of Oprah that surprised me, and prompted me to pick up my pen. Oprah is often spot-on in her evaluations of people and situations, and she frequently presents a unique perspective. She also influences North American women, just as she reflects their sentiments. But on a recent show, the underlying thrust of the message confounded and distressed me.

This show was segmented into several mini therapy sessions, the first of which was the story of a 30-something, urban woman, married for about five years, who was having great difficulty forgiving her husband for a “transgression” that occurred prior to their wedding. She was clearly stuck in her emotions, her trust of her husband was woefully lacking, and she admitted that her feelings about the issue were negatively affecting the marriage.

The story got my interest, but I was non-plussed when I learned the details of the husband’s trangression. It seems that before their wedding, the groom’s friends threw him a surprise bachelor party at which strippers performed. They danced and flirted, and one of the entertainers treated the groom to a lap dance.

Some time later, after the wedding, the bride began to ruminate about what might have happened at that party, and she snooped into her husband’s things to locate the video. (No mention was made about this snooping or its implications… but I digress.) She found and watched the tape, and from that point on felt imperiously righteous about demeaning and punishing her husband for defiling the “sacred” nature of their marriage. (It was notable to me that “sacred”’ was a word much bandied about during the segment.) The husband insisted he had not even touched the dancer, and though the tape proved him truthful, the bride insisted it didn’t matter because his mere attendance at such a disgraceful event desecrated their union.

At this point I felt confident that Oprah, along with her expert, would point out the flaws in this woman’s argument. The expert was a woman named E. Jean, whose credentials included writing a column for a women’s magazine and authoring several books for the same audience. No educational accomplishments were mentioned.

It rapidly became apparent that E. Jean’s position was horror at this “male chauvinist’s” behaviour. According to her, he was guilty of lustful feelings and of disrespect toward his wife. When she announced that the sacrament of the next night’s marital bed had been defiled by his wanton behaviour, the audience cheered.

I had not expected this. I thought the audience (and certainly the ‘expert’) would reassure the woman that her doubts could be calmed by reflecting on the loving manner with which her husband treated her daily. I thought they might advise her that the somewhat juvenile ritual of the bachelor party was in fact a farewell to casual sex and a celebration of abundant marital lovemaking. I thought American women were more progressive, more savvy, more hip.

This poor guy, up on stage before millions of viewers didn’t have a chance. He weakly protested that he’d not even touched the stripper, nor had he known about the party. This didn’t matter. He had lusted in his heart. His punishment? Well, that was interesting. Columnist E. Jean suggested he could find redemption if he funded a day at the spa for his bride and a group of her friends! They would receive facials, manicures, massages, and champagne, and would end the day toasting the sanctity of the couple’s marriage. Oprah nodded and the audience applauded. I was flummoxed:

Why is a day of her sensual pleasuring atonement for an evening of his sexual fantasy? Talk about a double standard!

Why did we forsake the thrill of erotic anticipation and replace it with humdrum ownership rituals? When did we forget the power we earned during the sexual revolution of the sixties when, for the first time ever, we became free to say ‘yes’ to sex devoid of the consequence of pregnancy or judgment?

My initial reaction to Oprah’s show was disbelief, followed by anger, followed in turn by an abiding sadness. Faithfulness is far more an attitude than a behaviour. Lust isn’t our enemy. Indeed, we need it as our friend.