The Sexualization of Culture

In the Western world, friendship, like sex, has not been the same since Freud.

Popular versions of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories have sunk deep into what sexuality looks like in secular culture and in the Church. Whether we recognize it or not, most of us have absorbed what he spoke and wrote about sex.

Freud’s views on sexual impulse, the intensity of sexual desire, and the powerful unconscious sexual drive – all of it has powerfully shaped our views of how men and women relate in community.

It is quite easy to see how thoroughly Freud has influenced Christians. All one has to do is imagine a man and woman who are openly affectionate in public, hang out with each other when no one else is around, and share a mutually satisfying intimacy. If one automatically assumes these are exclusive preliminary signs for a man and woman on the path to sex, or on the slippery slope to infidelity, then we see how much Freud has seeped into their view of sexuality. These markers could just as easily describe the depth and intensity of a brother-sister pair pre-Freud and post-Freud.

Or, the signs could describe friendship love sans Freud.

It’s been twentysomething years since Harry told his friend Sally in the movie When Harry Met Sally: “What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”

This is the most powerful popular example of the Freudian view of friendship: it’s either get close and be swept away by sexual impulse or maintain a calculated distance and never be alone with the opposite sex for intentional friendship.

Freud paved the way for sexualizing friendship between men and women.

In the Christian community, there are two prominent narratives regarding men and women: 1) the romantic/marital story, and 2) the danger story. According to the first one, men and women are hardwired to desire sex together when they get alone. According to the second narrative, men and women are taught to segregate and steer clear from any meaningful engagement with each other for fear that our hardwiring for sex will kick in. Frankly, these two responses to Freud reveal an astonishingly shallowunderstanding of heterosexual love.

Yet, these two stories told over and over again in our churches intentionally or unintentionally sexualize relationships between men and women.

The prominence of these stories in our spiritual and sexual formation means that men and women who are not married to each other must forever practice a deep suspicion and fear of one another. If these two stories are their most prominent narratives within communities that recognize women as pastors/leaders, then men and women cannot experience the fullness of that to which Jesus is calling us.

Where are the redemptive stories of deep friendship between men and women beyond Freud?

If the Christian community is going to present an alternative, eschatological community of brothers and sisters bonded together as one in Christ, we are going to need a third story: non-romantic, intimate, spiritual friendship between men and women in community.

Dan Brennan, Author of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women