The “Highlight Reel”

Recently I’ve been doing some investigative research into the male mind. What I’ve learned has important implications for my single readers, but it impacts married people as well. It all began a few months ago when I saw a movie with my husband in which a number of married men were discussing whether the “highlight reel” constituted cheating. I honestly wasn’t sure what they were talking about, so I brushed it off and never thought about it again.

Until last week. I was sitting in a waiting room so I picked up a magazine and began thumbing through it. I stumbled upon an article that was written by a man, explaining to women the phenomenon of the “highlight reel.” He referenced the movie that I’d seen several months prior, and he explained it like this:

The highlight reel is a series of visual memories of past intimate encounters with other women. Unfortunately, the highlight reel is most frequently used to stimulate a man when he is being intimate with his wife (or committed partner). In fact, the writer of the article (who was not a Christian) said that for most men, this practice is the rule, not the exception. And what was particularly interesting about his article is that he specified the reel’s “contents” as primarily being composed of memories from past relationships, not random visual images of women they’d seen on t.v.

After reading this article I decided to ask my own husband if this was true. Do men really do this? My husband confessed that it’s an ever-present temptation, but for men like him it is only that: a temptation. He works hard to guard against allowing those images to creep in when he is trying to focus on me alone. Even so, the temptation is there.

Having this information, I first wanted to share it with my single friends who are navigating the rough waters of physical intimacy before marriage. Until you have actually said the words “I do,” you don’t know if the person you are with is the person you will actually marry. Which means you risk featuring yourself on the highlight reel of some other person’s marriage. But even more troubling is that your physical intimacy before marriage will haunt you later on in your own marriage as well. For men, it is a constant struggle to command your thoughts and be present with your wife. For women, the memories of past physical relationships can also be a problem in the bedroom but in an entirely different way. Unlike men, who have to resist using these images to excite themselves, the memories of the past often have the reverse effect on a woman’s arousal: hitting the breaks.

So if you want to guard against the ghosts of boyfriends and girlfriends past, watch what you do now. You cannot unsee things. Once they enter your brain, they are there forever.

And in case it’s unclear why this is such a big deal, the first reason is obvious–it is extremely hurtful if your partner is mentally with someone else while you are together. But the main reason the highlight reel is so dangerous is that it hinders intimacy. Not only does it bring other people into a space that is designed for a husband and wife to share alone, but it also invites a standard of comparison. Intimacy cannot thrive if a man (or woman) is constantly comparing their spouse to past partners, even if the comparison is unintentional.

Unlike the writer of the article, who felt this phenomenon was completely natural and that us women should not be threatened by it, he is sorely mistaken, if not grossly naive. The highlight reel is just one example of why sin is so dangerous. It is not a finite action that we can tuck away and forget about when it’s over. Sin is like a virus that affects every part of your life, and though it may sometimes lie dormant for a time, it will always cause sickness and harm. So if you’re single, guard your future marriage today. And if you’re married, encourage your husband in this battle by guarding what you watch on t.v. and in movies. No matter where you are on the relationship spectrum, be the kind of sister in Christ who encourages her brothers to think only on that which is noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. (Phil. 4:8) It is a call that begins in singleness, but will continue the rest of your life.