Beach Struggles, Hugh Hefner, and Teaching Our Kids to Navigate a Sex-Saturated World

This past week, Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy enterprise, died.  May God have mercy on his soul and on all the souls who have been hurt by his legacy.

Though I don’t dare suggest I know Hugh Hefner’s motives, I found it surprising that some people have tried to raise this man up as a sort of hero.  Are you kidding me?  Please somebody tell me any good that has come from Hugh Hefner and the pornography industry?

Porn isn’t about helping people — it’s about enslaving people for selfish gain.  Men, women, and children are being bought and sold as commodities to feed the insatiable thirst it creates in the hearts of those who partake of it’s poison.

There is no denying that pornograhy is highly addictive, and like any addiction, it supports a highly self-centered view of the world.

Just think about it, if we took the amount of money spent on pornography each year, we could eliminate world hunger, three times over!   We’re talking 97 billion dollars each year.  How can the porn industry justify that?  How can anybody spending money on porn justify it?

A person can have their opinions on the effects of pornography on a soul — but research has made it pretty clear that it leads to violence, the objectification of women, and a real lessening of satisfaction with sex, love and marriage in the real world.

Marriages ruined.  Vocations lost. Children forever scarred.  Porn isn’t doing anybody any favors.

Okay, rant officially done. But it brings to mind one of the dilemmas we faced as a Catholic family wanting to hit the beaches of Spain:  the dreaded topless sun-bathers. (Insert blood-curdling scream here).

Okay, it could have been worse, but we hadn’t quite prepared our kids for the Spanish beach scene.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Um, what’s the big deal?”  or maybe, “Oh boy, another puritanical Catholic whose afraid of the body and thinks it’s evil” or perhaps even, “Topless sun-bathers? Get thee, behind me, Satan!”.

Wherever you are on this particular issue, there is a greater issue at stake for a family:  how to present a proper understanding of the Theology of the Body (TOB) to your kids, and when is the best time to begin?

It’s a hard world for our kids to live in.  We’re going to have to equip them to face the many challenges that they are going to be up against.

The rampant rise of pornography and the ease of access makes these sort of questions really important ones — and something as simple as the possibility of topless sun-bathers was an opportunity to talk with our kids about far more important things.

So, John and I decided to prep our kids for the Spanish beach scene and use it as a teaching moment in the Theology of the Body.

But then, life happened and the darkness of Barcelona overtook us and we sort of forgot about the whole issue — until we were literally getting ready to walk out of our apartment door and hit the beach.

Not the best time to start a Theology of the Body discussion, but heck, might as well.  I’ve said it before, but raising kids is a bit of a crap shoot, and this was one of those times.

I think I began with something along the lines of, “Um, guys, I forgot to tell you that there might be topless sun-bathers.  It’s sort of the culture here, so I realize that might be weird, but let’s just remember that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and the body is good, and it is holy, and we want to dress in a way that highlights the whole person — not just a collection of body parts — but culturally, there are different standards for what that means, and the goal for us is to keep focus on the whole person and to respect their God-given dignity.” (Perhaps the longest run-on Theology of the Body sentence ever!…)

John finished it off with a “Okay, boys, let’s practice custody of the eyes here and remember to look people in the eyes and give them the respect of looking away if they’re topless”.

Well, so much for our in-depth approach.  Like I said, we just rolled the dice and there you have it:  our Theology of the Body (TOB) in a nutshell.  I’ll let you know in 10 years or so, how it all turned out.

So after our well thought-out talk happened 🙁 , we proceeded to walk out into the beach. At first, I didn’t see any topless sun-bathers to speak of.  I thought we had dodged a bullet.

About 10 yards in, though, I began to notice the bodies of topless sun-bathers popping up everywhere.  “Well”, I thought, “now we’re in it.  No going back.”

I felt a bit like the guy they send out to find the land-mines — I led the way, dodging the more obvious pockets of topless people — and tried my best to navigate our family to the water.  It was at this point in time that I really began missing the beaches of Malaysia.

Haven’t seen the beaches of Malaysia?  They look something like this:

I was missing these burkas right about now…
This couple was about to jump on a jet ski…

Even now, I am laughing as I write this because sometimes my life is so ridiculous.  Anyway, here’s the positives of the experience.  A number of the topless people were really young or older — like “old-lady” older — and so you didn’t feel like you were on the set of a sports illustrated shoot.  Plus, most people put tops on to go to the water.  We stayed close to the water, so that helped a bit.

I think it was a good thing that at least my kids were encountering real people, with real bodies — not the airbrushed versions that you are likely to find on the internet.  There’s something I find good about that.

And my kids know what “those things are for” because they have all seen me breastfeeding my little ones throughout the years.

Sure, “those things” also differentiate women from men and add to the beauty of the female form — but you can’t deny that form and function go hand in hand and a woman’s breasts are meant to feed and nourish her little ones in a beautiful and bonding way.

With all of these bare-breasted women walking around, I thought for sure there’d be more babies to play with…

So, when do you begin with teaching your kids a Theology of the Body?  How about on day one, when you breastfeed your baby for the first time?  Let’s start there.  Not a judgement on non-breastfeeding moms, but nursing a baby is a naturally organic way to begin to teach our kids a Theology of the Body.

If you don’t have little kids or choose not to breastfeed, well just hang out in Catholic circles and they’re likely to get the picture pretty quickly.

Or find some religious art of Mary breast-feeding Jesus and hang it on a wall somewhere in your house — or maybe not.

I just knew that Jesus and Mary were redheads!

The body is beautifully and wonderfully made — it’s amazing really.  Scott Hahn perhaps puts it most beautifully when he says that creation grew in dignity and form as the days of creation progressed — and woman, last to be created, was God’s ultimate masterpiece.  Share that little nugget with your kids.

Perhaps that’s why the devil so desires to degrade and objectify women — she is the ultimate “life-bearer” in this world and he hates life.

Women carry life to the world in a way that men just can’t.  And this difference goes all the way down to the soul, which explains why spiritual motherhood is something all women can participate in.

Which brings me to Mary, the God-Bearer.   Don’t underestimate the power that consecrating yourselves to Mary can have in the battle to treat people with the dignity that they deserve.  She is one of the best antidotes for the poison of pornography and the temptation to objectify others.

Beyond that, how about making a concerted effort to show real affection to your family members?  This one can be harder for us introverted souls — but we need to get out of our comfort zones and hug and kiss and smile at our family — every day.  Introverts unite.  We can do this!

Hey, none of us want our kids to have an unhealthy approach to the body.  We don’t want them to develop fetishes.  We just want them to treat others with love and respect.  Hopefully, our experience of the Spanish beach scene was just one more way that they saw their parents try to do just that.

I don’t know what else to say about it, except for the fact that when I looked up at Jesus looking out over the crowds of sun-bathers, I felt the prayer rise up out of me, “Lord grant my kids purity of heart”.  Perhaps that’s the best way to end that.  Make that your prayer.

Ask God to lead you to have the conversations that you need to be having with your kids.  He wants to help you.  He needs you to equip your kids to go out into this world and testify to the goodness, the holiness of the human body.

Honestly, the only bad conversation is the one you never have with your kids.  If we don’t share the beauty of human sexuality, then the world is going to be only to happy to step in and fill that void.  Good luck and Godspeed!

P.S.  If you would like to know more about Theology of the Body, this site is a great place to start.


Linking up with Kelly.

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