Sex is one of the most beautiful, powerful, and natural aspects of our humanity. But like any power, it can be used in cheap and sleazy ways that don’t truly honor its awesomeness. So I have a question for you: Does your personal trainer or fitness coach have to be hyper-sexualized in order to motivate you?

These days—if the Internet is any indication—it’s not enough to be strong, intelligent, healthy, educated, and a great coach. You must also be smokin’ hot. Like so hot I can’t even focus on the exercise I’m currently doing (which seems counterproductive, but whatever).

In fact if you’re hot enough (on the superficial level at least), then I don’t even care how much you lack in those other qualities. Just make me sweat!

Do you subscribe to this way of thinking, whether you realize it or not? That’s what it seems like these days. And I’m guilty of it too.

Sure, everyone from large corporations like Equinox to personal fitness brands have been using the “look better naked” approach to selling fitness for a long time. And sometimes it’s been done in more “tasteful”—or at least more interesting—ways than others.

But with the advent of Jen Selter booty fitness madness, it seems like the pornification of fitness has taken on a whole new level of superficiality. Oh, and if you prefer a dash of “spiritual materialism” with your fitness porn, there are no shortage of skinny yoga girls doing show-your-vaginasana poses in string bikini thongs.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love the female form and find it profoundly inspiring and empowering. I just think we all have to acknowledge that with that awesome power comes the need for great responsibility. (And yes, the emphasis of this post is on the pornification of women in fitness, but this trend includes men as well.) After all, a knife is powerful but neutral. It all depends on who’s holding it—a murderer or a surgeon perhaps—and their skill level.

Soft-Core or Fitness?

#Fitspiration has turned into full-blown, soft-core porn workout videos of girl after girl deadlifting in bootie shorts. These videos clearly inspire more calories burned from fast wrists moving than any other part of the body. You can’t actually work out to them, as they quickly cut from one shot of a girl doing a handstand in a thong to another girl bouncing up and down doing jumping jacks in a bikini.

How did we go from fetishizing waif-like, anorexic models right to brawny fitness chicks? I’m almost tempted to say this is a step in the right direction—at least these women look like they could kick some ass and not just look pretty. But I know better than that. Maybe.

There’s also the “Hottest Trainers in America” lists, which I’m guilty of being on, but if you follow my posts, you know I don’t hyper-sexualize my content to sell fitness.

Where do we draw the line between a healthy expression of our sexual power and using sex to sell fitness?

Why We Like Passive Consumption

Do people actually want to develop their own power, or are they happy to just passively consume someone else’s? We both love being associated with these beautiful people and secretly hate ourselves for not being more like them. This is passive consumption at its worst.

Health and fitness is an active pursuit. I don’t have clients. Hairdressers have clients—people who passively receive something—a haircut. I have students who want to learn what I know.

Your fitness can never be outsourced to a hot trainer, doctor, or pill. It’s you that must do it, from the inside out. It’s the very nature of the beast. That is why “the source of all power comes from within” is one of the core principles of TrainDeep. Saying “you do it for me, I’ll pay extra” just doesn’t work when it comes to organic systems and nature. Here we can experience the definitive limits of trying to monetize the natural and spiritual realms.

Of course a great trainer must lead by example. Maybe leading by example means loving yourself for who you are instead of trying to fit into a socially constructed standard of beauty.

For women, that standard has now “evolved” from the “waif-like, anorexic” standard of beauty to the “strong and bootylicious”
standard of beauty. For men, it’s still the “just don’t look weak, you pansy” standard.

But these so-called standards and expectations are ridiculous. Some of the best gynecologists in the world are men, some of the best chefs are skinny, and some of the most inspiring Olympic athletes have unique bodies that don’t fit into our media-driven beauty standards. So WTF? Are we practicing a form of self-sabotage and self-hatred when we consume these manicured images of sexual power? We’re chasing a dream that isn’t ours—and can never be ours—because it doesn’t come from within ourselves.

The Pornification of Mass Media

The pornification of fitness is just a small trend within a much larger cultural pathology: the pornification of mass media.

That news reporter better be hot and her sweater better be tight when she tells me about that horrible bus accident. And I don’t want to listen to a pop song unless it involves graphic sexual references and a specific booty-shaking dance to match. And then there’s explicit porn, which the Internet has enabled us to consume at an astounding rate.

Could it be that we’re trying to superficially satisfy a much deeper human need? Just to be known, seen, touched, experience our own power, and be intimate with another, perhaps?

It’s strange and funny that most of us preoccupy ourselves with the superficial symbol of that which we yearn for—the healthy, powerful human body—instead of diving deep into the essence and source of what that symbol represents. It just scares us way too much. And I think it’s time we all admit it. I’m not up here admonishing you, I’m right there in the same boat as everyone else.

The Origins of This Trend

Where is all this coming from? Why is there such a large general trend toward thepornification of culture in this country?

I think it stems from being starved of physical intimacy, touch, and the opportunity to see the human body in all of its glorious forms. The media constantly barrages us with a narrow range of human bodies, and on a subconscious level, we accept that to be the height of beauty.

Isn’t it strange that this cultural pathology affects us all in very predictable ways and at the same time convinces us that we are different? The shame that goes along with that “being different” keeps us isolated from one another.

Could it be that our Judeo-Christian and puritanical conditioning is still repressing the natural expression of our sexual power? And could that repression cause this natural urge—this beautiful thing that makes us so powerful yet so vulnerable—to express itself in perverse ways?

We’ve become afraid of our own bodies and their natural power and afraid of intimacy. A decade or two of institutionalized education that over-emphasizes the left-brain-directed skills while systematically avoiding our feelings certainly doesn’t help. These days there are schools where kids aren’t even allowed to high five!

We’ve become so afraid of each other that intimacy of any kind is just too threatening. How many kids are being systematically starved of touch and social interaction, making them ripe for social anxiety disorders, low emotional intelligence, and a massive porn addiction later?

The Nudity Reset Button

As someone who has been to Burning Man (the massively beautiful and wildly creative arts festival held in the desert of Nevada each summer) many times, I’ve experienced a very interesting pattern when encountering the naked human body, which is being strutted about in every shape, size, and way all over the natural landscape.

The first couple of days, there is so much excitement at seeing the human body in all its naked glory! Boobies, ahhhhh! The little boy in me is going ballistic.

But after those first couple of days, the sensitivity to that which normally remains hidden wears off. You stop noticing body parts and start noticing whole human beings. It’s a fascinating shift in perspective, and it gives me pause. I’m not saying we should do away with clothes. I’m saying it’s time for us to stop being afraid of our own bodies and how other people judge them. And one way to do that is to stop hiding.

The thing about porn is that it is “safe.” There are no emotional risks, no intimacy, no other live-in-the-flesh human being staring at you, mirroring your own actions back to you.

Humans need humans to survive. It’s our evolutionary advantage over all other beings and the reason we developed language and complex emotions: to work together to strive and survive.

So how do we stop interacting with symbols and directly experience that things the symbol represents? I honestly don’t know, but I think it takes real courage and the willingness to give up our digital addictions and human robot tendencies that have been programmed into us by the media. It’s the only way we can start living real lives of our own.

This post was written by Jonathan Angelilli and originally published on TrainDeep. Jonathan is many things: recovered addict, peaceful warrior, celebrity trainer, elite athlete, successful writer, humble teacher, loving student, and a hopeful contestant on American Ninja Warrior. Above all, he is an Exercise Alchemist™, someone who is passionate about the power of holistic exercise to transform you into the best version of yourself, and to transform the entire world.