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FIRST-PERSON: Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition & its effect on a 14-year-old boy

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“The 1955 Playboy centerfold was less explicit than many magazine covers of today”, observes Gene McConnell, founder of Authentic Relationships International — a ministry reaching out to a “sex-broken” culture.

Rather than a sex-saturated society, McConnell sees American culture as “marinating” in the sensuous. “There is absolutely no way to escape sexual images in this society,” he declares. Pornography, which exists only to cause sexual excitement, is now socially acceptable in America. One example of this reality is Sports Illustrated’s (SI) annual swimsuit issue.

Each February, SI produces a special edition featuring models frolicking on the world’s most exclusive beaches. They call it a “swimsuit” edition because that is what the women are supposed to be wearing. However, you will find more cotton in an aspirin bottle than in the pages of a SI swimsuit feature.

More telling than the almost-nude women in this year’s SI testament to flesh is a commentary by Rick Reilly. On the last page of the magazine, the SI senior writer shares about taking his 14-year-old son to a SI swimsuit photo shoot.

Upon arriving at the location Reilly writes, “There on an impossibly beautiful beach were impossibly gorgeous models either 1) posing with nearly nothing on, 2) getting ready to pose with nearly nothing on or 3) changing nearly nothing swimsuits behind nearly nothing towels held by, sometimes, one another.” When he glanced at his son, he observed, “His eyes [had] widened to the size of saucers.”

Reilly goes on to describe the experience as an “all-you-can-see feast,” and a “knee-buckling, life-altering, vertebrae-snapping heaven.” The last line of his commentary is the most sobering. He writes, “On the flight home I wondered if I’d ruined him for life. After all, what was he going to say to the freshman girls back at his high school? Hi, Amber. Hey how come you’re not backlit?”

Even Reilly, who professes to be a veteran of four previous swimsuit shoots, realizes the potent effect the female form has on the male imagination. Especially the hormone-assaulted mind of a teen.

To put it bluntly, SI’s swimsuit issue is nothing more than one of the many forms of socially acceptable pornography available in America today.

The insidious byproduct of all forms of pornography is that it reduces women to the sum of their body parts. They become objects rather than persons. It also creates an imaginary standard in the male mind that almost no female can ever match. Reilly is correct to wonder what his son will be thinking as he interacts with girls his own age, or of any age for that matter. Etched in his mind will be the images of the nubile, sun-tanned bodies he soaked up on the beach.

No matter how it is experienced, pornography — socially acceptable or not — leaves a lasting impression. How significantly is it affecting our culture? Like Reilly’s son, probably much more than we realize. And sadly, much more than we are willing to admit.
Boggs, whose column appears each Friday in Baptist Press, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs