I. THE EPIDEMIC.
He sees her often, perhaps even everyday, though he may not initially realize it, if ever at all. She is the girl, a barista, handing him his morning fix over a marble counter. She is the single mom who wears a plastered smile of confidence on her face while her heart shatters. She is the head-turner he walked by in the mall who hides behind a facade of make-up and high-fashion clothing to obscure the hideousness of what she believes herself to be…worthless.
She is many things, in many places, at many levels. Sometimes she hides from the world—the addict, the depressed, the binge-eater. Other times she embraces the lie that the world has sold to her, and she pretends she has it all in control—the cheerleader, the exotic dancer, the adult film star. He never quite knows when, where, or in what form he may see her…because he does not even recognize her.
Yet it starts with who he is, who we are—men. A culture, a mindset, and a lifestyle that has utterly and tragically failed to stay behind the
she” we pass in the mall or welcomingly exploit in our private internet searches. That girl becomes but a simple image of lust constructed in the soft, empty glow of countless pixels. She is no longer a woman, a person, a beautiful creation.
It must begin to end with us. The truth is painful, blatant, and hard to swallow, for no compromise exists with lust, no barter can appease the raging war between our selfish agendas and our lack of compassion for her well-being. We, as men, have lived prominently to serve those selfish agendas, and the concept of what we must do, what we must become, is entirely contradictory to instinct, yet vital for redefinition. We will be required to destroy our inner empires, to deconstruct the narcissists we have become right to the core. Simply, we must cease.
Aftermath. A remaining debris; smoking remnants of force that once tore through stable structure. It is imagery we associate with defeat, ruin, and surrender. Yet in aftermath, there exists an element that is often missed….hope. For in the debris of all that has fallen, pieces still remain—intricate ornaments of ourselves that survived the war, items, now cherished relics, that outlasted the storm. Each became elements that, in a moment, dramatically shifted from materialistic, external commodities to treasured, internal, personal representations of a small part of us that still remains. In the aftermath, comfort has been stripped away, normalcy has fallen, life is interrupted, and we are forced to reexamine even the most common elements of life as they rest among the devastation of a life we believe we have all but lost.
It is ours to understand that process, to fully embrace and honestly accept the truth that redefining our selfish natures and secret agendas will feel much, and for some even exist as, an absolute war. The winds of a roaring storm are never more fierce than when in the heart, and it is exactly this we must be open to; for we are working to tear the selfish nature from our very hearts, dismantle the thought processes and actions that associate and bind us as prisoners to sexual entrapment. We should expect nothing less in the hour that we as men—the soldiers, the activists, and the very life- vessels of a monstrous sexual exploitative culture—first utter the words
II. THE RESPONSE.
This breaking down is us becoming aftermath. We must seek to strip away and destroy the comfortable habits, the cultural gender norms, and the empires we have built within ourselves—addiction, regret, or whatever force it may be that has left us cold and calloused to the truth that every click of the mouse, every second glance, every drunken taxi ride home with the nameless face in the tiny black dress ends up in momentary decisions that foster life-lasting repercussions and destroys the very souls that have been entrusted to us as invaluable hearts of beauty.
Yet who am I to instruct you, or identify the flaws of this man who cultivates this lifestyle of selfishness? I am like you, like him, having emerged from the same darkened corners of selfishness and shame; yet my aim is not to condemn you, nor to burden you with guilt, but to share with you the truth that I simply cannot contain, that this seemingly impossible existence for males to shower that girl with grace, love, and honor is not only achievable, but beautifully rewarding. I know well the fire that burns inside of you, the tension and desire that tightens your muscles, while you fiercely want to turn away. I know the ongoing lust for something greater, constantly chasing the next image, but utterly terrified, for fear of judgment, to admit that what you truly long for is intimacy. Your indecision, your inner conflict, not knowing how to cope or function with emotions of depression and desperation that follow your one-night encounters, your porn consumption, your longing desire to know something more. This tension exists because at your innermost level, it is not who you are, or who you long to be. Your flesh perhaps, but not YOU. I, as you, had to learn to exist separately from what I had done, and the same is for you. You are not the promises you’ve broken, the mistakes and flaws you’ve built in a past and intently labor to hide away. The addiction you’ve given into so many times, the notches on the bed post that, each time one is cut, cut deeper into your being. Your being knows these elements are not you, for they never quite settle or provide to you peace, as much as you long for them to, or pretend they do. And you are terrified at what would become of your cultural status as a male if you finally and boldly confessed that they do NOT. I’ve walked this road, addicted to pornography, constantly chasing attention and interaction with females to fulfill desires that could never be met with human interaction alone. I built my life, my joy, and ultimately, my near destruction, on chasing a lie that the world very successfully sold to me and has sold to many of us: “she” is for “me”, to pleasure “me,” to fulfill “me,” to occupy, entertain and sustain “me”. Yet this very writing, and the development behind it, exists not in spite of the fact that my story begins with brokenness, but because it does. Hear me out, friend, your shame is not your end, your aftermath is not defeat. You are to be redeemed, made to honor and be honored, to live that existence out vibrantly. You are more than the bar-hopper or lady-killer; you are man, and you can own the beautiful and amazing truth of that role. Yet it is a choice that must begin with you. I cannot describe it as simplistic, nor can I describe the immense joy in becoming a protector rather than an exploiter. Let it be said that there are no number of meaningless sexual rendezvous your friends may have that could ever even attempt to counter the true intimacy and breathtaking experience of living every single day as the arms that protect the “she” you truly love. Desire, sex, intense passion; these elements do not cease in committed, honoring relationships as we are often led to believe, but rather, they are enhanced, no longer surface expressions of what we want, but roaring, intimate bondings of who we, and they, truly are.
Your journey will not be identical to mine, though I emphasize the value and importance of the measures that were required of me to destroy the selfish being I was. Likely the most prominent initial element is to be realistic; you will not change instantaneously and possibly not entirely. It is with utmost honesty that I confess to you that I still struggle with thoughts and mentally entertain destructive processes at various times. I am not suggesting that total recovery is impossible, but given the culture that surrounds us and the real extent to which lust has functioned, even if that function is predominantly previous, we are best to aim not to rid ourselves of the desires, but develop healthy and accountable responses to them. In my walk, I found strength in community—in accountability partners I could speak to honestly and openly without fear of judgment, brothers who held me to the goals I had for myself. I also cannot negate or deny the role that faith played and continues to play in this process. The very essence and ongoing struggle of lust and cultural perversion suggests that we, as men, are pitted against something that is stronger than us. Your opinions of religion and faith may vary, but what cannot be argued is that, in a fight where we are facing a force that has time and time again conquered over our own desire and well-intentioned plans to change, having faith in your corner is not delusional. It is vital. Having God to turn to, to confess to, to spill my darkest secrets to offered me freedom, and in these moments, my heart began to truly change, even in the midst of critics. I began to see not only myself, but “she” in a different form—a new, beautiful and vibrant form. I found myself more entranced and awed by the true beauty of the female form, and I began to want to honor it rather than lust after it or measure it against the models plastered on screens.
III. TO HER.
But my walk has been long, and endurance is a necessity in this process. The initial choice to change leads to an ongoing journey that requires a constant reach for redefinition mentally, physically, spiritually and even socially. Even the language and terminology in which masculine culture encompasses women is a powerful force—something our culture finds endearing, but is equally devastating if misused or misappropriated. I was recently very moved and impacted by the story of an amazing and beautiful young woman from Washington, D.C. named Withelma Ortiz, who often goes by her nickname, ’T’. T is a breathtaking and life-changing voice for young women of this generation, speaking with relevance and truth from her own experiences. As a woman who emerged from the darkness of one of the most insidious forms of modern commercial exploitation—sex slavery—T is a powerful voice of victory in a passive, tolerant culture. In an article featured in Glamour magazine, T’s words capture the power of language and provide an unforgettable reminder of the social views and communication surrounding women and girls.
“They need something from you: your respect, your compassion, and your patience. Treat a survivor as a person like any other, with potential and goodness. They are not, and should never be, referred to as ‘hos,’ ‘prostitutes,’ ‘whores,’ ‘streetwalkers,’ etc. Remember that the things done to them are separate from who they actually are.” (Pettigrew, 2013,
T’s words are not only reserved for young women emerging from the sex industry; the themes remain applicable across the board. Surely no woman or young girl has ever found hope or a lasting motivation to become stronger, to become a conqueror of their own circumstances, by being titled with offensive names, by being labeled by her sexual promiscuity. An exotic dancer may finally abandon the stage from fear of being labeled a “stripper,” but she departs in shame, not in victory. A “porn star” may remove herself from the industry physically to avoid the notoriety, but that departure will not radically liberate her from the imprisonment of a culture that amounts the totality of her being to the sex acts she performed for the pleasure of mass consumerism.
The most problematic aspect of how our culture, and we as men, define women is that the names we arrogantly staple them with are degrading, and above that, simply untrue. At her core, this “she” is not a “whore,” a “stripper,” a “porn star,” or any of the other demeaning and false titles our culture tolerates. Those names are what we choose to categorize her as because it evades us from responsibility. How much the tables would turn if we recognized her, not for the title a culture has given her in response to what she has done, but in understanding for who she is. A desperate, broken daughter calling out for help in so many distorted and misguided manners that her voice will never be heard. A victim to a world culture that has specifically developed and blueprinted in full intention that her needs will never be recognized, and response never given. Meanwhile, pleasure and profit builds the filthy thrones of those who propagate these monstrous ideologies. We turn our eyes because as long as she is the one destroying herself, we think we hold no responsibility or obligation to help her find restoration.
But we do.
Each and every moment we stay silent or submit to the warped trends of this culture, we are watching oppression and exploitation thrive at the expense of precious daughters. We are watching a sexually exploitative and tolerant culture shove the barrels of their guns right to the heads of these beautiful creations. And what are we doing?
Pulling the trigger.
How? By our lack of response.
Words I once heard from the A21 Campaign, an organization abolishing human trafficking around the globe, describe it best:
“No one can do everything. But everyone can do something.”
And for however minimalistic or insignificant that something may seem, it is still ours to do. It is a choice to place this beautiful “she” over the insatiable “me.” Perhaps the first step for you is to take a few very real steps away from the computer screen when the fire begins to burn, or perhaps it is for you to avoid television in the late hours of the night; perhaps it is simply to stop using your silver tongue to toy with her heart. Regardless of what your something is, the journey to breaking free of this exploitative culture begins with your choice to honor her in all capacities, instead of shrinking to the task of sacrificing our own selfish pleasures.
It is when we recognize the honor in honoring these daughters that we see the next chapter of the aftermath: bringing beauty from ashes, embracing a starting point for rebuilding. In the debris and shattered remnants, feet and hands clamor through, grabbing for a remaining piece of hope—a vision, a promise, a belief that because there once was, there can be again. Yet the hands that begin rebuilding do so to protect from the recurrence of a similar issue. Thus, the hands that rebuild lay newer, stronger foundations, they establish a secure framework, they set the fires of innovation and discovery, and they rekindle the hope of imagination. These hands unite a society wandering in aftermath in one common goal: to build something greater than what was before.
IV. BY US.
Our process is the same. We seek to rebuild, yet not the men we were prior—men, we realize as we stare at the reflection of our shattered selves, that we are capable of becoming—men who harness a love, a degree of responsibility, and a commitment to shower this “she” with absolute honor. And that journey of rebuilding begins with each and every daily choice we make until we are able to boldly declare in our hearts that we are victors, and that when the moments of lust and cultural influences come roaring at the doors, we can stand firm and not give in. For some, and I suspect many, of us, we’ve always longed for it somewhere deep inside, under the facades of drunken bar jokes with our friends and the male stereotypes that have cut and chipped off pieces of our own sense of romance and respect. We’ve longed to be free to abandon ourselves, to destroy the former and begin something new. Our destruction becomes our new foundation, because now, we can inhale life for the first time without the pollution of lust and addiction. We can move, free from the chains of regret and insecurity, and we can fully and vibrantly bond, for more than a moment, or in a physical sense, but instead in a lasting permanence where true affection, intimacy, and human connection are breathtakingly real. We can exist as a roaring declaration into the lives of that “she”, and into the lives of our brothers, that we are vulnerable, limited, and simply human. Yet within these elements we can see sensibility, compassion, relation, and love grow. And it is within these elements that our world can be shifted and challenged dynamically.
Our mornings begin to appear differently. We smile at her, the barista, as she sets down our coffee, and though the marble countertop we lift it from is as cold as before, there’s something in her smile that is not. This time it’s more genuine, no longer a forced nicety, and perhaps for just a moment, she is at ease and truly happy. Perhaps it is because, some time ago, an abusive man she loved dearly blackened her eyes and shattered her youthful dreams. Perhaps she’s never again trusted a man. Perhaps the hands that were meant to protect her bruised her. But in this moment, as you appreciate her gentle smile and thank her, a man’s hands have regarded and honored her.
The three kids are still as loud as before, yet this time when you walk past them on the way to your own life, you don’t question “why can’t that woman keep her kids quiet?” This time, this day, you stop by as she struggles to load the bags of groceries into the back of her car and simultaneously keep her children from running in the way of traffic. You grab bags and hoist them up into her back seat. And in the same moment, the simple act of kindness births something new in her heart—something she left for dead long ago when the man who promised her forever left her and his own children. The foundation that had promised to stand with her, but instead it abandoned her. But in this moment, you’ve supported her.
The glow still illuminates the room. The sights and sounds are as clear and forceful as ever. Her eyes, her face, her expression—they all scream desire and reckless sexual abandonment. Yet, here and now, you slam the computer lid closed and fall to the floor, broken, shattered, hurting. You begin to tackle the questions that haunt you—questions that you can’t even begin to understand—yet they rush in all the same. What is your true name? What are your dreams? Who were you before they sold you a lie that said this is all you could ever hope to be? Did someone hurt you? Was it a man? Was he…like me? Was I…one of them? And as tears fall from your eyes, prayers lift from you because this once nameless face now has a name—a name that would entirely change your perception of her: innocent. The world that is promising to make her is destroying her. And in this moment, you’ve forfeited your hand and begun the steps of grieving and redefining your understanding of her—a redefinition that seems minimal at first light, but if adapted by a majority of the male consumer culture, would abolish the demand for her role in the given industry, and set “she”, the innocent,
This is the reason for our end, the motive for breaking free of our former selves and ridding our lives of the foundations and elements that have gone into building monstrous, exploitive empires, both internal and external. As T’s words echoed: the things that were done to us, as well as the things we have done, are separate from who we are; and your approach to freedom begins in living out that truth. The choice is not light, and it’s certainly not easy. One does not arrive instantaneously, but through ongoing application and strength. It is a culture that must be willing, when the world would turn away, to embrace; where resentment would roar, to forgive; where desire would pulsate, to honor. It must be done through love, patience, willingness, a community of accountability, and most of all, through faith. Do not be confused; this is not a call to stand on a soapbox and publicly rage against the culture surrounding this issue. This does not exist as an exhortation to take all your skin mags and torch them in a public display of protest or to post angry messages on social media. This is not about calling everyone else out or even condemning them. On the contrary, it is a call to love and honor—a call to redefine yourself. And once you make that choice, you will begin to function as an example and leader for others who are entrapped. Calling your buddies and blasting them with condemnation will lose you some friends and respect. Modeling honor may also lose you friends and their respect, but you will have respect for yourself, and mostly, for the beautiful hearts of girls and women surrounding you. As for the friends you lose, you left them with truth, and it will always be their choice to embrace it or not. That is not your war. What is your war is the daily fight to share this truth in your choices and lifestyle and model the truth that we, as men, can truly set ourselves and others free, existing as a declaration for others—that the beautiful “she” we see each day is a wonderful creation who deserves honor. Let’s show her that today is a new day—for her, for us, and for the generations to come. We are flawed, yet growing; bruised, yet withstanding. We are not heroes, but men who are simply humbled and honored to fight for truth that relentlessly lives in our hearts.
We are aftermath.