In Japan, there is a very strange institution known as a "Host Club." I watched an hour-long documentary about some "hosts" the other day which was an eye-opening experience. My only experience prior to watching this documentary was learning about a famous Japanese cartoon/comic called "Ouran High School Host Club" [pictured below]. I wasn't even convinced, prior to the documentary, that such places really existed!
A host club is a place, usually a bar, where women go to be entertained and be provided company by attractive men, who serve as their "hosts," pretending to be in love with them. We might want to describe the men as "gigilos" except that their job only peripherally includes sexual services. In fact, as the video explained to me, the hosts don't want to do anything sexual, as that would end their business relationship with the women and stop the women from buying more of their services.
What do they claim to provide?
The host club owner answered with one word: dreams.
The host lies about loving their clients so that the girls will get them tips and buy expensive drinks in the bar. They make the girls think that they are in love with them by pretending to have long-term relationships and giving them their cellphone numbers. They spend years with clients, milking them for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A single host can make over $700,000 a year. The hosts sell "romances." As one host put it, "depending how you define it, money can buy love."
But the host creates an entirely fake persona to do it. They have no other social life other than the club. They themselves, in the backstage interviews, are all self-confessed emotionally, psychologically, and morally damaged goods. One claimed that he has a psychological impossibility in trusting anybody, but desperately wants to find the right girl and marry - but can't. Another says he feels constantly schizophrenic because of the lying and doesn't know what's real anymore. They live in a dream of fantasy. All try to rationalize their behavior - they have to see it as a good thing to keep going - and go on living in self-imposed delusions. Lots of their backstage time is spent discussing why what they do is worthwhile and trying to engage in communal apologetics for their behavior.
And, maybe surprisingly, most of their clients are prostitutes. They can't feel loved in the physical intimacy they get in their prostitution, so they look for it in the hosts. They are exactly as messed up as the hosts, seeking intimacy in dreams rather than reality. They know it's all fake, but live in a dream world. They make millions of dollars as high-price hookers, and they spend it all the next day on host clubs.
If you have ever met anyone involved in prostitution, pornography, or even watched a documentary on the "Bunny Ranch" in Nevada or a biography of Hugh Hefner of Playboy, you see exactly the same pattern. It is the vice of lust in the most obvious expression of its consequences.
Lust is never about sex itself, but about fantasy. Somebody once said, rightly I think, that the primary sex organ is the imagination. People are caught up in a fantasy of someone or something other than what they have. They are looking for intimacy, not just physical release. But, really, sex is like money - an instrumental good. We think people are twisted when they love money for its own end. What people actually want is something like power, or love, or security - and, ultimately, happiness - which they think money can get them. The sad part is that it can't. At most, money is a means for other material goods and maybe material security/comfort. We can easily see that a life obsessed about money is a life lived for precisely the wrong end. It's like trying to squeeze blood from a stone - no amount of dollars, by themselves, get anything, let alone happiness.
Sex is just the same; it's only instrumental. What's sex an instrument for? The hosts recognize what it's for: intimacy, love, friendship - cut it however you like. What's screwed up about these hosts and their clients is that they are trying to find that fulfillment in the sex itself or to create all the external trappings of a relationship. It's like little kids making a rocket out of cardboard and expecting it to go to the moon.
A host club is cargo-cult sympathetic magic. Cargo cults were what happened when some tribal societies encountered western technology in the 40s, when US bases were built on very isolated tribal islands. The islanders were distraught when the allies left at the end of the war - all of the supplies that had come in for the allies by carrier planes were no longer coming. The islanders started making fake tarmaks, with fake air-traffic towers, and fake airplanes. They even today hold fake military drills on the fake airstrips. All in a hope to get the cargo again. The host club is just the same. The clients and hosts go through all the physical motions of what they think real intimacy looks like: complimenting the other person, spending time with them, and even challenging them to become better people. But it lacks any reality. They think that by making the motions, they can get the cargo - true intimacy and love. But, sadly, they can't.
All lust is a cargo cult. Sex is an instrument of communication, like money. Money, as we know in modern economics, is a communication device - it transmits implicit information about supply and demand so that people immediately make decisions based on the cost transmitted to them by the price. Sex communicates something else - love, intimacy, unity, and desire to make a home and bring new life into the world. The acts themselves and how they are done reflect very much what they communicate. They are performative - the act itself is a message. Lust is all about wanting the "fulfillment" of the communication in the true relationship, but lying to get it. A person sinning by lust performs a sexual act or engages in a fantasy because they want intimacy or love. They are just trying to get it in the wrong ways. So, instead, they are lying - trying to perform an act that communicates intimacy with a person or image of a person that they never had to build up a real relationship with. They want the rewards without the effort.
It's the same delusion as a cargo cult.
And, like any lying, it distorts our personality. We become morally dead, psychologically divided, and emotionally schizophrenic. We no longer have a real identity. Our lives become sex without meaning - our lives become a lie.
The Church's moral teaching on sex is just this: don't live sex to be a lie, or you will become a lie yourself. Contraception, pornography, masturbation, adultery, sex before marriage, and on and on - all of these are lies when compared to what true sexuality is about. The Church points to the true ends of sex, achieved only in Christian marriage: it achieves love and harmony between spouses, and brings forth new life into their home. Of course there are social implications too (it's hard to raise children as single parents, etc.), but it's primarily about living the truth - the truth about our eternal relationship with God, who is Love Himself. But it's not like marriage alone is an end in itself either - any good married couple knows that. It's lived for a greater goal, which is precisely why marriage is oriented, at least immediately, toward children. It's other-centered. And Christian marriage looks ultimately even beyond children - it finds its ultimate Other in God Himself. That's why the Church has always seen consecrated chastity as a special sign of precisely the point that, through the witness of certain people who can live happy and holy lives "giving up" physical intimacy for love of God alone, our lives are ultimately for Love and not for sex.
Lust, on the other hand, makes our lives about sex, rather than making sex about our lives.
True sexuality is about living the truth of who and what we are, made in the image of God Himself:
we are more than sex because we are more than just cargo.