Bernard Toutounji is the Education Officer of the Life, Marriage and Family Centre in the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. The Centre issues a monthly e-newsletter, LMF News, which contains topical articles, commentary and upcoming events. To subscribe, enter details on the front page of the Centre's website, www.lifemarriagefamily.org.au
Like the plagues that afflicted the ancient Egyptians, the Advanced Medical Institute (AMI) with its "Nasal Delivery Technology" has flooded our culture with its message of libertarian sexuality. As such, it is but one example of a wider malaise.
Billboards, newspapers, TV, shop-a-dockets and a variety of radio ads play ad nauseam day and night peddling to men and women the opportunity to enjoy themselves in ways they never thought possible.
While not discounting the difficulties of those who suffer from some kind of sexual dysfunction, the AMI advertising campaign is hardly helpful to those who suffer from genuine sexual problems. Rather it is a campaign to reshape the understanding of the human person and the sexual act, while making a lot of money in the process.
From a commercial point of view the AMI campaign has been a phenomenal success because it makes men worry whether their sexual acts are deficient and women whether they are experiencing sufficient sexual pleasure. In practice the ads have little to do with health and even less with love in relationships.
We have become very used to the phrase "sex sells", and it is true. Sex sells everything from cars to toothpaste. What is happening with companies such as AMI, however, is much more duplicitous.
The reason most AMI radio ads and billboards continue to pass through the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) is because they are for the most part operating within the industry's rather brief Code of Ethics.
AMI is not using explicit sex or nudity to sell a product. Rather, it promotes a new vision of sex under the guise of medical treatment. AMI is working at a philosophical level and, unfortunately, the Code of Ethics is not.
Increasingly, we live within a legal and political system operating at a rule-based reactionary level, minus any ethical framework. Without ethics based on core principles, rules mean very little.
The fact that the AMI campaign is such a marketing success is a disappointing indicator of the priorities in modern society for it tells us something about ourselves we sometimes forget.
Deep within every heart lies a spark (we would call it a divine spark) that pushes humans to pursue what is true, good and beautiful, even if they choose the wrong means of finding it. The modern world may claim sex to be no more than a recreational activity, but this does not ring true in our own experiences.
Our maleness, our femaleness, our sexuality and its expression carry a meaning deep within them, one we cannot obscure, no matter how hard we try.
The biggest problem with the AMI ads is not their directness or even their crudeness; it is their implicit view of the human person and, following from that, their view of human sexuality which contains a view of the human person and sexuality that we call utilitarianism; a consumer-like mentality that tragically has been applied to people.
When people live with a utilitarian mindset, the human person becomes merely another object for use or abuse. We see the classical examples of this throughout history in slavery, Nazism and abortion, but each one of us must be alert for it in our own lives, especially in regards to sexuality.
Pope John Paul II wisely noted in his philosophical work Love and Responsibility that, as beautiful as the act of sexual intercourse is, there are more opportunities within the sexual relationship than in most other situations of treating a person as an object of use - sometimes without even realising it.
Love and sex in our culture are often reduced to no more than lust; in fact a billboard reading "Lust longer" might more accurately bring home some of the dangers in such a campaign as that of AMI. The act of sexual intercourse is certainly a divine gift to be treasured and shared in marriage, but the duration of one's sexual acts is not the key factor in assessing genuine love. In the end it is only love that will exist, and love that will carry us to heaven.
John Paul II reminded us that love is a virtue; it is more than an emotion and very much more than an excitement of the senses. Love can only be what it is meant to be when it is something directed to others in their entirety. Love cannot be called love when it directs itself merely to someone's "body".
In the Garden of Eden, after the fall, our first parents realised they were naked and covered themselves. It was not that it suddenly dawned on them that they were unclothed, but with sin came a new tendency to see the body before the person, and be tempted to use that body for one's own gain. The man and woman perhaps covered themselves to protect their bodies from being used in a manner disrespectful to them as human persons.
This experience of our first parents is at the heart of the Church's teaching on sexuality, morality and social justice. It is a holistic understanding that sees the beauty and value of the entire person and is not governed by any particular strength or defect of someone's body.
The Church is not simply a moral watchdog that points out where things are going wrong. Rather, she exists to point the world towards a genuine joy, a joy not to be found in drugs that promote longer lasting sex, but in a genuine commitment to selfless love.