Since the inception of “13 Reasons Why,” which we learned this week sparked a nearly 30 percent spike in suicide among 10-17 year olds in the month following its premiere, it’s become increasingly clear Netflix is not just an entertainment provider, but also a vehicle to advance social change.
The streaming service boasts two new shows, “Bonding” and “Special.” The former normalizes abuse by romanticizing and poking fun at BDSM while the latter reclassifies prostitution as a laudable career field called “sex work.”
There’s one scene in “Bonding” that really condenses the message of the entire series into about 40 seconds. Mistress May (Zoe Levin) explains to her best friend and assistant, Pete (Brendan Scannell), that BDSM is about “liberation from shame” because “masculinity is inherently constricting.”
“Once the sexual patriarchy dies, then all genders will be equal,” May tells Pete. “[E]veryone thinks dom work is just about sex work. It’s really just liberation from shame. As the daughter of born again Christians, I can preach that.”
And in “Special,” in the third episode, Kim (Punam Patel) explains to the show’s main character, Ryan (Ryan O’Connell), who is a gay virgin and has cerebral palsy, that her friends hire prostitutes — whom she calls “sex workers” — “all the time.”
“It’s not that complicated,” Kim explains to Ryan, who is reluctant to hire a prostitute. “If you have clogged pipes, you call a plumber. … The point is, if you need to have sex, there are people who can help you have sex.”
Several weeks ago, a pastor I interviewed for an unrelated story told me the only rule our society has these days when it comes to sexuality and sexual expression is consent. That might on its face sound a little inflammatory, but it’s proving to be an increasingly accurate cultural prognosis.
Laila Mickelwait, director of abolition for Exodus Cry, a nonprofit dedicated to abolishing sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry, told Faithwire in March that it’s “truly diabolical” to call prostitution “sex work.”
“There’s this cover narrative over prostitution, porn that says it’s empowering, that it’s the ‘oldest profession,’ when it’s truly the oldest oppression,” she explained. “It’s anything but empowering for those who are in it.”
Despite what society preaches, the sole purpose of sexual expression and intimacy is not pleasure. Just because two people consent to any given sexual activity doesn’t make that expression moral or permissible. Christian blogger Tim Challies wrote a few years ago that sex has three distinct, biblically ordained purposes: intimacy, procreation, and gratitude.
Above all else, sex is intended to glorify God. In Romans 11:36, the apostle Paul wrote, “For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory.”
Biblical studies professor Denny Burk described it this way: “Sex, gender, marriage, manhood, womanhood — all of it — exist ultimately for the glory of God. The glory of God as the ultimate purpose of sex is not merely a theological deduction. It is the explicit teaching of Scripture.”
But when the only rule for sexual expression is consent, everything outside personal pleasure is discounted. Sex, like Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 6, becomes nothing more than an impulse to be indulged, much like food for the stomach. He said, “You can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies.”
Shows like “Bonding” and “Special” take what is sacrosanct and designed by God to be a rich expression reserved for a marriage between one man and one woman and reduces it to nothing more than a product to be purchased like a cheap burger on the McDonald’s dollar menu.
Both those who become the product — May in “Bonding” and the prostitute in “Special” — and those who purchase it have become victims of a culture that has twisted and perverted sexual expression. And now Netflix is trying to normalize all of it.