Play with fire and you get burned

One New York governor resigns because it was discovered he was involved with prostitutes; his replacement admits to numerous past extramarital affairs, and his wife says she was unfaithful as well; a former New Jersey governor claims he and his wife were involved in sexual threesomes with his male aide; the mayor of Detroit is involved in a sex-and-corruption scandal.

And who knows what news next week will bring?

What’s going on? Nothing new under the sun, according to the Book of Ecclesiastes.

I know that some of my more conservative pals think we may live in a uniquely debauched age, but far from it. Infamous and profoundly destructive sex scandals ultimately impacting whole nations and history itself? Check out King David, Solomon, Samson — and, boy, does that biblical list go on!

What may be different now is that on the one hand some folks who aren’t participating in such things openly wonder what they are missing. That according to The New York Times, in which Frank Bruni wrote this week, in response to the spate of public sexual misbehavior, “are the rest of us idling in the sexual slow lane? Come to think of it, are we even traveling the same highway” as these high flyers?

His piece was tongue in cheek, but he recounts conversations with several people who in the wake of recent events are clearly a little jealous of the people in the fast lane. People like Bruni’s friend, who recounted an office conversation with a young woman who wondered why she was giving away sex for free when men like Eliot Spitzer might pay her $3,000 for it. (Well, OK, why is she?)

But if the recent sexcapades aren’t inspiring “jealousy,” they are inspiring in others a sort of “I would never do that” righteousness. Such folks might want to think again. The wise ones, like a pastor friend of mine, pray every morning that they will be faithful to their spouse that day.

Sexual sin seems to be uniquely powerful, even blinding, because sex is meant to be powerful: Like fire, it can be used for wonderful good (in marriage) or terrible destructiveness when engaged in outside of its rightful boundaries.

But our culture does everything possible to deny that truth. We foolishly trivialize, cheapen and denigrate sex — we encourage people to play with “fire” — which means we leave a lot of people at risk for getting badly burned.

Far from congratulating ourselves for being “open” about sex in our culture, the truth is we don’t respect sex nearly enough.

Is “fornication” even a word anymore?

We’ve convinced people, especially our young, that it’s wrong to feel “shame” about anything, especially anything sexual and that’s, well, a shame — because “shame” can be an incredibly protective thing when dealing with something as wonderful or destructive as sex.

Yes, the men and women involved in the recent sexcapades are entirely responsible for their own choices.

In the case of the New York governor, if the affairs are in the past as he maintains and he and his wife have moved on and forgiven each other, I give them credit precisely because such behavior is so hard to overcome when it gets a grip on a person.

But it’s still true that we live in a culture that, far from supposedly “appreciating” sex, doesn’t esteem it nearly enough. This is just as destructive as cultures, be they ancient, medieval or modern, which see sex as inherently ugly.

And to the extent we play with such fire in our own culture, we should never be surprised to find out what next week will bring, or who else got “burned.”

(Betsy Hart hosts the “It Takes a Parent” radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through