I've been watching a newish TV show lately; I thought the concept was interesting, and liked the conflict being set up among some characters. I won't mention the name of the show, though, because it looks like its ratio of OSS to quality broadcast moments is becoming unacceptable, as so often happens with even those shows that have some artistic or literary merit.
OSS? Oh, I'm sorry: Obligatory Sex Scenes.
When Flannery O'Connor gives advice to writers in her various essays, she spends some time talking about how, as art is universal and must be true, it has to reflect the world as it is, not the world as we'd like it to be. Nice though it would be sometimes to read books, see movies, or watch TV shows during which the characters actually seem to have heard of the Sixth Commandment and even consider it relevant to their lives, the sad reality is that this is not our world. A friend of mine once commented, with a little dark humor, that when he was younger he thought that the OSS were just like the Obligatory Car Chase Scenes, or the Obligatory Gun Battle Scenes, and that in the real world people would not only not hop into bed with random barely-known others, but also wouldn't drive like maniacs through residential traffic or be shot on a regular basis without ever being seriously hurt. Sadly, he learned that the OSS really do reflect more of the world's reality; people may know better than to drive wildly or shoot randomly, but they don't seem to know better than to engage in what ought to be called the marriage act with anybody who comes along.
So I know that the OSS reflect our culture's reality for an awful lot of people. But O'Connor still wouldn't approve, because the OSS also don't reflect the whole of reality, just a carefully chosen, artificially glamorous part that reflects fantasy much more than it does reality.
Because, just like those car-chase scenes and gun battle scenes, the obligatory sex scenes don't ever have any consequences for the unrealistically attractive actors taking part in them. Venereal disease, unexpected pregnancy, emotional issues, and other things that in the real world go hand-in-hand with casual promiscuity never seem to crop up on TV; if a character does announce a pregnancy it's not a real crisis, but a ratings hook designed to keep people watching to see if she and the baby daddy are going to make a go of a long-term relationship or not. In the slick make-believe world of television, a man can spend an evening with a woman and then go back to being friends, acquaintances, co-workers, or even strangers--no strings attached, no expectation of more than a solitary physical encounter, though the bedroom door is always open to more of the same, equally without any consequence for the--well, it's presumptuous to call them a "couple," isn't it?
In the real world, though, things happen when two single people decide to engage in reproductive activity. Casual sex hurts people, physically, mentally, morally, emotionally and spiritually. Many women from high school on up have discovered that the man who swore he'd always be around loses interest once she crosses that line and becomes physically available. There was a lot of wisdom in the old saw our grandmothers knew and repeated, about not buying a cow if the milk is free; men don't, generally speaking, seek commitment and responsibility in a context where nobody's asking for either one.
The Church gets attacked a lot for trying to tell the truth about sex. The Pope came under fire in Africa for doing this, for reminding people that condoms aren't the solution to a culture where sex is treated as the encounter between two physical bodies, nothing more. What the Church knows and teaches is that sex is a physical iteration of a statement of a reality: the two people involved are "saying" to each other We are one, we are united body and soul, we have become one flesh, forever. And part of that statement is the couple's desire to bring forth "one flesh" from their two selves, in the living symbol and witness of their love called a child.
The casual sex shown on television reflects a dark and ugly reality in our culture. This dark and ugly reality is that many people engage in the physical aspects of this union under false pretenses. They are not one; they are not united in soul and are merely using each other's bodies; they can think of few horrors greater than the creation of a child with this person they've chosen to use as a vehicle for their own temporary pleasure.
And even people who like to think of themselves as "above" this sort of behavior, who would argue that their sexual encounters are more "moral" because they don't engage in casual sex with people they barely know, are telling the same lie to the person they think of as a long-term committed partner. The only commitment that means anything is the commitment called marriage; those other "committed relationships" aren't committed at all, and can be dissolved at any time by either person for any reason, despite the fact that the physical language of unity speaks of a oneness that can't be dissolved, that transcends the physical unity and involves the whole person.
Our culture is pretty attached to this particular lie. There's a reason for that; our culture has become a culture of secular materialism, a culture based on materialism's lies that there is no soul, there is no eternity, there is no reality beyond what can be empirically proved. Man is just a highly evolved animal, and his urges toward reproduction are fully animal; but since man has figured out how to enjoy the urges without having to deal with the reproductive consequences then he ought to do so whenever, wherever, and in whatever manner he personally finds pleasing. The only bars to his pleasure involve social ideas about consent, but even those are artificial--society itself is artificial, though, and the price for living in society is putting up with these minor irksome restraints on man's pursuit of what our founding fathers quaintly called "happiness." Aside from that though, men--and of course I mean both males and females, here--are perfectly free to mimic their favorite TV shows' ideas, and engage in soulless and exploitative sex with anybody who agrees to join them in this empty and meaningless activity.
Those of us who know that sex involves the soul as well as the body, who understand the meaning of the wordless speech between husbands and wives, who welcome and love the children God sends us as His highest and most precious blessing, who reject wholeheartedly the deficient and animalistic view of sex promoted by our dying culture as one of its most self-destructive lies, find ourselves turning our backs on more and more of our culture's expressions which enshrine this lie as some sort of great and higher truth. Whether we turn off the TV, stop reading the magazines, quit listening to the music, avoid the best-selling novels, or take other similar actions, we're always being challenged to be aware of how much cultural poison in the form of this particular lie is seeping into our homes, and to reject its ugly dehumanizing triviality, its attempt to turn something holy and sacred into something shallow, self-serving, ugly, empty and vain.