“Stripping is a sacred dance of pagan origins,” Camille Paglia, the renowned academic and critic of modern feminism, once told a reporter for Penthouse magazine as they toured New York’s best-known strip clubs. Paglia continues to critique how sex and sexuality are conceived of in popular culture. Most recently, she derided the “exhibitionism” of celebrities posting “unsexy” but revealing pictures of themselves on Instagram—mostly bare-butt close-ups.
Paglia’s main problem with ‘surprisingly unsexy Instagram’ is based on the fact that “hypersexualized self-advertisement” puts “men in the driver’s seat for careless hit-and-run hookups.” She is concerned, as is virtually everyone, about the “devaluation of women” and preventing sexual assault. “The line between the public and private realms must be redrawn,” she writes.
Yet in the same article, Paglia proudly declares she is a “staunch admirer of strip clubs” and a “veteran defender of pornography.” She takes this stance because she sees it as a display of woman’s power over man, of “woman as goddess,” as she detailed in her Penthouse interview. It is the same power that enchanted the Bible’s King Solomon to sing of his beloved’s breasts as “twin fawns of a gazelle,” the same power that led Samson to let Delilah steal his strength.
I Want Part of My Ideology’s Effects, But Not Others
Posting naked butt pictures and the general skimpification of women’s clothing has the cumulative effect of “devaluing” women in the public realm due to an excess of sexual power. It’s thrown away “on empty display.” Paglia would like us all to believe that pornography and strip clubs are okay because they are designated realms for erotica, but the same on Instagram is not okay, because it’s a public place.
Yet these unsexy exhibits are the natural progression of the sexually “liberated” culture Paglia fought for, that attaches no shame or stigma to public sexual displays—that is, displays that are open for viewing by people not party to the action, including strip clubs and pornography. Sexual libertinism leads to a saturation of overtly sexual displays, which leads to increasingly extreme examples to stand out. Instagrammers turn to shock value over the quiet sizzle of a low-cut top and a bitten lip.
In her cry for more public decency, Paglia hangs onto reality by her fingernails, weighed down by sexual liberation ideology and paganism. “Strip clubs are pagan temples, pagan shrines,” she observed, lauding how strippers get men to worship them. To her, paganism is the healthy understanding of sex. Strip clubs are “the ultimate reality,” and in her Penthouse interview, she shuns Judeo-Christian values for never having “fully dealt with the power of woman’s sexuality.”
It is a shame she has a pagan view of nature and such a poor understanding of Christianity, because Christianity provides a lucid framework for understanding and dealing with feminine power: namely, the covenant relationship between a husband and wife, which mirrors God’s covenant with his people. Paglia’s commentary is incoherent and only marginally helpful at best because she won’t acknowledge that overt and explicit sexual displays are meant for committed, exclusive relationships, and that going back to that understanding would greatly mitigate Unsexy Instagram and a host of other social problems.
Sex Is Meant to Be Fully Exclusive
Through the prophets, God repeatedly judges Israel for “whoring after other Gods.” These passages reveal the root of the problem with prostitution, pornography, and stripping: these all mean forsaking a covenant relationship of marriage. They break the promise to belong only to the being or person with whom you make such a covenant.
When Jesus said you cannot “serve both God and money,” he was employing the same principle: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
In the same way, you can’t honor and yes, serve, your covenantal partner (your spouse) while also serving others sexually. Even if a woman is single, she is facilitating adultery in performing for the countless married men who come through the club doors, and if your profession is largely about enabling others to do wrong by their loved ones, that can’t be good for your mental and spiritual health, including any relationship you might establish in the future.
The real debate here about public sexuality is not about whether women are being degraded by men or putting men “in the driver’s’ seat,” or whether they are “visually illiterate” about erotica. The real problems are twofold: that women who engage in public erotic displays are abusing their power and setting themselves up as idols, and that humans were designed to belong in exclusive covenantal relationships.
We thrive in those kind of relationships. As a general rule, that is when we are most fulfilled, financially and emotionally secure, and possibly even more valuable workers. It is also the most stable and healthy place to raise children.
Whenever we, as women, use our sexuality outside marriage, we degrade ourselves by distorting the imago dei, the image of God in which he made us. Overt sexual expression is designed for intimacy. It is designed to bond, to invigorate, and to create life. It is a power too great to wield outside that intimate, covenantal setting.
Setting People Up to Worship Sex Instead of God
Feminists of all stripes can argue whether strip clubs and pimps exploit women. I think they do, but regardless of one’s stance on that, the truth is that women who engage in public erotic displays are abusing their power over men by inviting their worship. Like Paglia, many men and women have an intuitive understanding of this fact and embrace it. In the song “God Is a Woman,” Ariana Grande croons, “Baby lay me down and let’s pray…When all is said and done/ you’ll believe God is a woman.”
Or as Hozier put it in “Take Me to Church:” “I should’ve worshipped her sooner/ if the heavens ever did speak/ she’s the last true mouthpiece” and, “I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies/ I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife.”
Men entranced by beautiful women explicitly displaying their sexuality are often helpless and in awe. “All sexual entertainment…is oriented around the supreme fact of woman as goddess,” as Paglia understood it.
Of course, women are not gods, and if man is worshipping woman, he isn’t worshipping the true God. He is being kept from the relationship he is meant to have with his Creator because the “goddess” is filling a space rightly reserved for God. As one of Scottish novelist Bruce Marshall’s protagonists, a Catholic priest, said, “Sex is a substitute for religion…The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”
Men at the strip club are experiencing something sacred and glorious, only out of its proper context. Many women want this power, this adoration, and not just from one man, but from a multitude. Extreme exhibitionism on the internet may well be an ill-conceived attempt to get it.
Paglia is a “staunch admirer” of strip clubs because she sees women empowered and sees men worshipping, being dominated by, rather than degrading, these women. She wants to see women always in control, not just over themselves, but over men.
Selling Sex Merely Monetizes Adultery
But women have no right to dominate men, just as men don’t have the right to dominate women. Not only is a stripper or sex worker elevating herself to a goddess-like position, soliciting worship (idolatry), she is indulging the extramarital lust of countless men—which is facilitating adultery.
Many men who visit prostitutes and strippers have girlfriends and wives. Sex profiteers draw men’s sexual imaginations outside the covenantal context of sex, and in so doing cause them to become adulterers. For single men, such women are a crutch for loneliness or insecurity, an escape into a fantasy-world, a black hole for their time and money. She elicits their lust, and they let the lust dominate them instead of building real, sincere relationships (of all kinds, not just romantic) and working to improve their reality.
Women have no right to dominate men, just as men don’t have the right to dominate women.
Instead of seeking the one true God, men at strip clubs, watching pornography, or scrolling erotic Instagram often seek to be awe-inspired, to be enchanted, by sexual theater. These behaviors are, at least for many, driven by more than just basic physical urges, otherwise Grande and Hozier wouldn’t be singing about how women deserve worship.
Women are meant to be admired and cherished, yes, but insisting on their worship neither helps prevent sexual assault nor curtails the growth of exhibitionism like that found in Unsexy Instagram. The distasteful naked pictures Paglia loathes are the natural outgrowth of a “sexually liberated” popular culture, and the so-called “devaluation” of women is exactly what one should expect when Judeo-Christian precepts are energetically swept out away in favor of encouraging women not just to know their sexual power and enjoy using it in a marital context, but to abuse it and relish in misplaced worship from men.
If Paglia, Grande, Hozier, and other like-minded influencers would exchange their goddess-worship for a covenantal understanding of sex, we’d make a lot of progress toward sexual health in our culture.