Michael Lucchese (“True beauty isn’t ‘sexy,’” Mar. 3) argued that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is “indecent.” His conclusion is right, but his analysis is incomplete.
Like too many critics of American sexual dysfunction, Lucchese focuses on the vices of men. It is “high school boys” and “desperate, middle-aged men” who “gawk” at women as “pieces of meat.” His one-sided criticism would seem to play into the common assumption that men’s sexual desires are more base and vulgar than women’s.
This simply isn’t true.
Yes, men objectify women’s beauty. But women do the same for men’s power, status, and wealth. Just look at the objects of female sexual fantasy. The heroes of romance novels are not kind, pudgy, middle-aged accountants who provide a steady paycheck, but handsome, muscular, and sexually ravenous firefighters, vampires, cowboys, etc. The objectified protagonist of Fifty Shades of Grey (which sold 125 million copies) is a billionaire bad boy with a taste for violent sexual domination.
Lucchese, however, frames women as innocent victims of a culture of male neanderthals who merely want to prey on their beauty. He assumes that our culture of pornography is what teaches women “to desire to have men lust after them,” as if women would not want to be lusted after. This is naive. The women who participate in making the Swimsuit Edition are not victims; they understand full well the advantages of their sexuality and the access it gives them to wealth, power, and status.
Take Kate Upton for example, an average woman in all respects but her looks. She leveraged her body into a multi-million dollar modeling career and a relationship with one of the best-paid athletes in America.
Contrary to popular belief, women are no more monogamous than men. In fact they initiate 70 percent of divorces, despite research showing men and women commit adultery at roughly the same rate. Men and women are both prone to socially destructive vices.
The problem is not that men and women treat one another as means to an end, but as means to bad ends. Civilization demands that sex aim at the creation of new life and the mutual support of spouses. Smut, for both men and women, undermines this order. It fosters envy and covetousness; promotes fantasies over actual, life-giving sex and the rearing of children; and encourages fornication, which threatens the monogamous foundation of our civilization.
Still, there is nothing wrong with men appreciating female beauty or women appreciating men’s strength and status, but like any desires these must be oriented toward what is good. We need to be wary of taking the anti-porn argument too far, to the point that we treat a man desiring a woman sexually as an evil in itself. Because the reality is that true beauty is sexy. The things men find beautiful about women are grounded in the biological requirements for creating new life.
Thin waists and wide hips signify childbearing potential and the presence of deposits of omega‑3 fats useful for brain growth in breastfeeding newborns. Long, shiny hair radiates health. Developed breasts indicate sexual maturity. Nature has hardwired men to desire these feminine features, ultimately to the benefit of their future children.
A woman’s virtue doesn’t make her beautiful. It makes her good. There is a difference. Although virtue matters immensely in selecting a spouse, it doesn’t create the spark of physical desire necessary for romance. The point is not to free ourselves from our subrational desires but to guide them.
But by ignoring the full truth about men and women’s sexual natures it makes it harder to attack destructive vices. We must confront the reality of human sexual failings as a whole, not just in part. By doing so we will make lasting love and happiness more likely.