If your culture were selling you a lie, how would you know it? And if you assumed the lie were true — and you lived your life the way the lie told you to live — how would you know there was any other way to live?

Powerful forces in modern culture are eager to use the natural human desire for sex in order to sell us goods and services. If those forces — advertisers, entertainers and publishers, among others — can tie their products to your sexual desires and promise to satisfy those desires, they might sell you more of whatever they’re selling.

Sex sells. It sells movies, music, television shows, fashion, magazines, cosmetics, perfume, deodorant and toothpaste. Sex sells so many things today that we couldn’t possibly list them all. It’s treated as a shortcut to get your attention and make you believe you will get whatever you want from various partners — all in exchange for buying whatever some company wants you to buy.

This isn’t a puritan lament that sex is bad. This is an acknowledgment that our culture is making a mockery of something special — and it’s an assertion that this practice is seriously damaging our ability to make emotional connection with our partners.

It starts with teaching men — and young boys — to value “hot girls” above all.

Do you know why Victoria’s Secret is so successful selling underwear to women? It’s because the company projects a “hot” image — an image of shallow sexuality — for straight men to drool over. And when straight women see sexually attractive models who are desirable to the men around them, it makes them want to emulate them.

I doubt any woman consciously says to herself, “Since Caleb is attracted to Gisele Bündchen [or the model of the moment], he’ll be attracted to me if I wear the same underwear,” but the association is in her mind. Both men and women have been trained to believe that if a woman buys clothing from Victoria’s Secret, she is going to be more sexually attractive.

The people who own Limited Brands Inc. (actually L Brands Inc. now) don’t care whether Caleb is really attracted to Jennifer. They care only how many of their products they can sell. So they’re quite happy to peddle the story that this underwear will make Jennifer “hotter” to Caleb.

How do we judge the success of a man in this world? To a greater extent than we like to admit, our culture teaches us that the determining factor is whether that man has a sexually attractive woman at his service.

A few days ago, I ran across this headline on a sports website called the Sports Daily: “Samaje Perine’s Hot Wife Proves RB is Doing Well for Himself.” That’s right. Perine is doing well for himself because he has a “hot wife,” not because he’s making a good living as a running back for the Washington Redskins. He’s doing well because he has a “hot wife” — pictures are all that matter — not because this woman might be a good life partner for him. (She might be brilliant and have a great personality. She might have wonderful values. I have no idea. That’s not important to the story. She’s just “hot.”)

What I’m about to say is a violation of all that modern culture teaches you. It’s heresy. Ready?

Sex is overrated by modern culture.

That’s right. Sex is overrated. But notice exactly what I’m saying — and what I’m not saying. I’m not implying that sex is bad or something to be ashamed of. Sex is something which our Creator programmed into us. (If you don’t believe in God, call it evolution or genetics. The point is the same.)

Sex is amazing, but it’s amazing in the context of a relationship with someone you love. Sex won’t make you happy all by itself. Sex will merely act as a bonding agent for the right kind of relationship. In the wrong kind of relationship — a shallow one — sex will be merely momentary pleasure.

But our culture teaches sex without context and without boundaries. To our culture, a woman is valuable if she’s “hot.” And to make it fair in a feminist era, smart marketers have tried to sell the reverse — “hot men” to straight women and gay men. But the real money is made selling attractive women to straight men. The money is made by teaching men that they can buy certain things and have sex with the “hot” woman of their dreams. The money is made by teaching women that they can buy certain things and become that “hot” woman.

So why is this a problem?

It’s because this cultural message is messing up the minds and the expectations of both men and women. Men are taught to devalue women — to see women merely as objects to satisfy their sexual lusts and to be seen by others — and women are taught that they are not good enough unless they buy more and more and more products in an unsuccessful attempt to be that perfect “hot” woman.

Sex has become the center of relationships. It’s what we are taught to expect as the most important thing in a relationship. Will a man be a loving husband and father? Will a wife be a good mother and intelligent companion? Can these two people trust each other as partners as they pursue goals together? Those things don’t really matter — as long as the relationship is filled with a constant version of Sexual Olympics.

And as reality doesn’t measure up to the fantasy, we’re now being told we need to turn to sex robots and an ever-increasing array of sex toys. (The picture above is from a factory that makes sex dolls. That’s one of the faces you can choose.) We are being pushed so much down the road toward the cultural fantasy of “hot sex” that we’re being told to disconnect our sexual desires from real people. And the more we do that, the less we’re interested in the normal, “boring” sex with a partner who we should be able to love and trust.

Let’s be honest. Hardly any woman can measure up to the sexual fantasy standards of a Victoria’s Secret model. Hardly any man can be the sort of man to attract that kind of woman. So both people in a relationship are programmed by culture to feel like failures — both for not being good enough and for not having a partner who measures up to the fantasy.

But there’s good news.

You are not required to buy into this standard. You are not required to value shallow sexual fantasies over the real relationship you can have with a very imperfect wife or husband.

I’m far more interested in the depth of a relationship than I am in the sexual fantasy. Of course I want to be sexually attracted to the woman I marry, but that doesn’t mean I expect anything close to the “hot fantasy” of culture.

I want a woman who is smart, curious and shares my values. I want a woman who is a good mother and is willing to make our family the center of her life. I want a woman who is willing to grow together and work together to become better human beings.

If I have those things with the right woman, sex will take care of itself. That’s the way humans are designed. It won’t matter if she’s chubby or suffers any number of “problems” which my culture tells me (and her) mean that she’s not good enough. And let’s be honest, if some perfect woman existed, she would be looking for a perfect man — and that’s not me.

I know what I want. What’s more, I know the culture is lying to me. I also know that culture is lying to my future wife, so one of my jobs is to help her see herself as I see her — not through the lens of a culture that expects her to be a “hot wife.”

The culture is lying to all of us.

Sex is wonderful. Sex is important. Sex is normal and natural. It’s time for us to reclaim it for what it is — and stop believing the shallow sexual fantasy that makes it difficult for us to have meaningful emotional connections with real partners.