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Stranger Things, like any good science fiction story, first hints, and then slowly reveals there is far more going on than meets the eye in the natural realm.

I love that plot device. I love the mystery and the process of discovering what’s really happening behind the scenes.

But within the first moments of episode three of season one, my Stranger Things journey came to an end, because I discovered something else was happening behind the scenes. Something far more sinister than the Demogorgon.

It’s not a monster exclusive to Stranger Things, mind you. Indeed, this evil is more pervasive than the Mind Flayer, appearing out in the open throughout a multitude of other films and television shows.

But I believe its more subtle presence in Stranger Things makes it more far more dangerous.

The evil of which I speak is: sexual grooming.

Grooming is what a sexual predator does in order to manipulate their victim into accepting an inappropriate  relationship. It starts with a friendly smile and innocent gestures which become more physical and intimate and eventually sexual.

Among other things, sexual grooming sets out to accomplish two objectives:

  1. Emotional: It turns sexual interaction which would normally have seemed uncomfortable or offensive – even frightening – into something familiar and acceptable – even enticing.
  2. Intellectual: It serves as sex education, teaching the victim how to act and react like the predator wishes.

In its essence, grooming takes the beautiful vulnerability of sexual intimacy and turns it upside down, into a perverse imitation of the precious gift God created it to be.

More often than not, to accomplish these two objectives, a predator will expose their victim to sexual explicit material, just a little bit at a time, gradually increasing the graphic intensity. And that is precisely what I observed  within the first three episodes of Stranger Things.

First we watch Steve Harrington and Nancy Wheeler in a school restroom going after each other like cats in heat. Then, a little later in the same episode, they’re already in Nancy’s bedroom where Steve attempts to unbutton her collar. Along with the rest of her buttons.

It appears to be an unsuccessful attempt, of course.

But is it really?

The truth is, even though her top remains mostly buttoned, the screenwriter has succeeded in baiting the victim – I mean the viewer. We’re supposed to feel disappointed. It increases the sexual tension.

But before the end of episode two, her shirt is off. Still, we have to wait until the next episode before we get to watch Steve and Nancy really go after it.

And even more strategic, the director opens that episode by cutting back and forth between shots of our grooming lesson with Steve and Nancy, and shots of Nancy’s friend, Barb, being attacked by the Demogorgan. This accomplishes at least three more things:

  1. It makes it impossible to simply look away from or fast-forward through the “teenage dream” stuff without missing critical plot points. The writers knew this. They knew we’d want to know what was going to happen to Barb and – forget about Barb – let’s get a better look at the Demogorgan.
  2. The nightmare of what’s happening to Barb doubles the adrenaline rush we’re already getting from watching Steve and Nancy “playing house.” So the excitement of what’s going on in bed is heightened artificially. Again, the makers of Stranger Things know what they’re doing.
  3. This mashup of horror and hook up produces in the viewer both fear and sexual arousal at the same time, subconsciously imprinting the sexual experience with a negative association of danger. I don’t necessarily believe those behind Stranger Things were trying to do this intentionally, but that doesn’t change the effect.

Again, as I’ve said multiple times, I understand this is tame imagery for our hyper-sexualized culture, but can you see how the subtlety and “restraint” exercised makes it easier for us to tolerate and even excuse what we might otherwise be ashamed of or offended by.

And again…

I’m not trying to judge anyone! I’m trying to warn people; particularly young people who are weary of struggling with lust and sexual fantasy on a daily (or hourly) basis.

Wise individual, there is a connection between what you watch and how you think! Not merely some connection I’m trying to make, but one Jesus makes (in Luke 11)! And it’s a connection you must understand if you’re ever going to learn to control your sex drive, instead of being controlled by it.

Consider this: what if all the Steve-and-Nancy hook up scenes were played back to back with no break. Wouldn’t you be just a little embarrassed to say you watched (and listened to) the whole sequence all the way through?

But that’s not how sexual grooming works. Because the sexual predator doesn’t want you to feel embarrassed or ashamed. They want you to feel like everything’s normal. It’s all good. They want you to think, “It wasn’t that much. It wasn’t that bad. And there was so much more to enjoy.”

But, my dear reader…

What does God want for your sex life?

I believe He wants so much more than compromises, which may seem insignificant to you right now, but over time (and with exposure to more sexual input) will reap a harvest. A harvest you will not like.

I speak of this, because of the harvest I reaped. Yes, some from porn, but mostly from sexual material almost identical to what I saw in Stranger Things.

I let myself be groomed without realizing it. I know it now all to well.

So what do think? Is it possible you are allowing yourself to be groomed? (Before you answer, remember: sexual grooming should be undetectable to the victim. That’s why it works.)

And if you suspect you might be the victim of grooming by our hyper-sexualized media, what do you think you should do about it?

One thing I pray you’ll consider, is exposing yourself to other media about sexuality, truth about sexuality which can empower you to understand and master your sexual urges, instead of being mastered by them. A good place to begin: Our Hot Topic page dedicated to understanding God’s gift of sex.

Date Night Advice (DNA) series: Sexual Things
Episode 9: Darker than the Demogorgon
Click here to read the first post in the series.

DNA: It’s What’s For Dating

Dug this weekend’s DNA? Be a good friend and share with your friends on the social media platform of choice: Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, or Twitter.

The LoveEd discipleship series, Beyond Sex & Salvation, will empower you to prepare for relational success when it counts: BEFORE you fall in love!

It’s NOT for couples, but for any wise individual who thinks they might want to get married sometime before they die. And would like to learn how to better build healthy relationships in the meantime.

Check out all three study guides in our store. You can walk through them on your own, but it’s more fun with friends (that and it kinda makes sense to grow in relational success in actual relationships with others), so consider putting together an FMU LoveEd small group study.

Even better? And ask a rock star married couple you respect to lead it!