Today we welcome the incredibly intelligent Benji Nolot, Benji is the founder Exodus Cry, an international non-profit organization that works to end sex trafficking and empower its victims. He is also a filmmaker – most recently for his new film Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution, which is INCREDIBLY EYE-OPENING, PEOPLE. Like, we are shook after watching it. You will be too!
All that being said, this conversation is no different. It is honest, authentic, and incredibly shaking. Let’s get RIGHT to it.
Before Liberated, Benji made his first documentary, Nefarious, a documentary about global sex-trafficking. “It was about a 4 year journey to make that, and we were still left haunted by the image of, not just women and children for sale, but the droves of men lining up to buy them.” He says that the documentary highlights the people that buy these women and children, which, unfortunately, is far more frequent and far more normalized than we may think.
“What we’ve come to see in our modern, civilized society,” he says, “is that male sex buyers come from every walk of life. They are doctors, lawyers, husbands, fathers…. And the demand is what is fueling the sex-trafficking industry.” This left him and his team questioning something big:
What kind of society is producing so many men willing to buy a woman or child for sex?
And that is what catapulted them into their new documentary, Liberated. Liberated covers young adult attitudes about sex, and they filmed parties during spring break on the beach over a period of 4 or 5 spring breaks. They found that, not only was the normalization of sexual violation of young women prevalent at just one of those parties, but every single one. In fact, it got worse over time, and it left them wanting – more like needing – to investigate more about this deep-rooted issue that was clearly just being scratched at the surface.
What were some things that you discovered about hookup culture, masculinity, and femininity after creating this film?
Even though this is a pretty weighty topic to cover, Benji addresses it very articulately. “What is not new, is the idea of casual sex. That is something we were given through the sexual revolution, this shift in attitude really started in the 40s with Alfred Kinsey – the father of the sexual revolution… this was framed, though, as a broad expression, a redefinition of ‘love.’ So I think that the big thing that is new is the idea of hooking up without feelings: no adoration, no affection, no emotion… The idea of just hooking up in this cannibalistic, objectified, dehumanized way. Blatant hedonism.”
He also brings up the concept of postmodernism and self-focus and self-pleasure, defining our own truth as we go along. “You put those two things together – hookup culture and a postmodern framework – and you get a toxic cocktail.”
Benji also highlights the heartbreaking, profound discovery that many young people have started to lose faith in love to the point where they don’t believe in it. “Some people would say that hookup culture has always been around, but there are new and dangerous elements: 1) the idea that love does not exist, and 2) your sexual exploration does not need to be guided by any kind of feelings for another person.”
It would be naïve to say that hookup culture doesn’t affect Christians. How do you think it does? And what do you think we can do to combat that?
Benji says that it goes back to the impact and influence of stories that we tell in our society today. “Stories have not only changed in our culture, but the way that they are being told has changed as well. And people of faith are so much more exposed to these stories that are being told.” He continues to say that stories before were passed through oral and written tradition and were embedded with values: ethics, morals, ways that we can relate to each other.
“The idea of what it is to be a normal human being is embedded in the stories we hear. What it means to be a man, or a woman, or a sexual human being… and these stories have changed so dramatically with the advent of modern media, and the role of storyteller has been filled by corporate entities who do it, not to enrich our world, but to make money and gain viewers.”
…. If you haven’t picked up on this yet, Benji is pretty wise. And VERY articulate.
He continues. “It’s relevant to people of faith because we’re exposed to all these stories. The issues that the world is facing, the church is facing in a very extreme and almost unprecedented way.”
Man. Okay. Gotta sit down.
You mentioned a lot of sexual violence in Liberated. How do you think that culture has affected the way women see themselves, how men see women, and how that affects dating?
Benji first of all brings up the women’s liberation movement. During the first wave of feminism, women were finally starting to emerge from patriarchal subjugation, empowering their voices, reclaiming their sexuality, and living not just for the pleasure of men. “But what also began to happen at the time,” Benji continues, “was the advent of widespread media at the time created a platform through which the dominant image of women in media became women who were sexualized and objectified. So along with that came this idea that empowerment is equal to looking like the hyper-sexualized women featured in the media.”
He continues, “I think the women’s liberation movement was hijacked by the this notion of empowerment that tells women ‘in order to be empowered, you need to 1) look hot, sexual, and provocative, and 2) act as such as well.”
So this is not only a history lesson, but a ridiculously eye-opening lesson as well.
Benji also brings up media outlets such as Cosmopolitan who mainly feature sexualized women versus women successful in things such as business or athletics or any other fields. “There is no platform for celebration of any other way of being in the world as a woman other than looking a certain way.”
He also highlights how difficult this can be for young girls, trying to gather together ideas from role models in media on what it means to grow into a woman, and emphasizes the great amount of pressure put on girls to fit into this mold that society has created.
But it doesn’t just affect how women see themselves. It affects how men see women as well.
“Young boys are trained to see women as sexual conquests and objects,” Benji says. He talks about how these types of magazines emphasize the importance of male pleasure, and portrays the idea that women exist for men’s sexual pleasure. “And there is no greater testament in my eyes to this idea than hookup culture,” he says. “Hookup culture is not about female sexual pleasure. It is about getting men off. And men should consume a woman’s sexuality for their own ego. Men are expected to consume, women are expected to conform, and it results in a male/female collision that ends up where women are experiencing widespread sexual violation.”
Hearing all this, how can we combat this?
Big sigh. You can hear him trying to organize all his thoughts. And it’s clear that he has a lot of them.
“As individuals, we need to learn to disrupt and redirect,” he says after thinking a while. “We need to distinguish between lies and truth, deception and reality. The work for us today is to reclaim our identity and our sexuality from the culture, and to tell a new story with it.”
He clarifies that he recognizes how much trauma there has been as a result from sexual violation in our culture. “Even having this conversation could trigger some people into a place of shame. So we need to approach it with such compassion – not just with others, but ourselves. If you have experienced sexual brokenness, you are not alone. This a part of the reality of our world today, but there is a way forward from this madness.”
Benji also says that one of the hardest things about compassion is having it with ourselves. There is a lot of self-blame, shame and confusion that comes with it, and sometimes we can re-victimize ourselves. “One way to combat that is to go back and talk to yourself as an 8-year-old child who was violated. Offer compassion to yourself at that age. And engaging in that exercise can be a helpful way of being freed from these feelings of shame we can feel.”
Kait also lets out a big sigh at this point. It’s been a lot to digest.
What is your biggest nugget of dating advice?
Benji says it’s great to understand the concept of green lighting versus focusing on the idea of “the one,” and understanding how to personalize and depersonalize during the process. “As believers we tend to spiritually bypass a lot. That plays out in dating with the idea of ‘the one’.”
”If we have a dream about someone and then read a certain Bible verse that makes us think that ‘they’re the one,’ and then we have another dream about another person, would that mean that God was wrong?” He says that spiritual confirmation can lead us to think that God is telling us one truth, but Benji brings up a good notion: God would be interfering with our free will that way.
He also says it’s important to personalize and depersonalize throughout. When hearts are awakened, we are tempted to personalize everything. “Go micro, then go macro. Personalize and depersonalize. Say, ‘Let me remove myself. What are the good things happening in my heart objectively?’ That can save a lot of people from the heartache of dating.”
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