I was still in elementary school the first time I saw pornographic magazine: a schoolmate had discovered his fathers stash of them in his basement. It would not be the last time. As I got older, I discovered pornography not only in magazines, but on tv (in mainstream movies and more and more tv shows) and online as well. I also discovered that the consumption of pornography got ahold of me, and although I knew it was wrong (because I was taking my faith seriously), I couldn’t stop seeking it out. I was addicted. And although, by God’s grace it no longer has that hold on me, I know that (like any recovering addict) I will need to be persistent in prayer and vigilant so that it does not get ahold of me again.
Working in youth ministry, I have discovered I am not alone in this battle. I have met young people and coworkers in ministry who have had their shares of victories and defeats with this addiction. Confession has been a refuge for us all, the accountability of friends a strength, and websites like The Chastity Project, Fight the New Drug (the Porn Kills Love shirt above is one of theirs), and The Porn Effect have provided encouragement, resources, and support. I wish to add my voice to theirs with a simple reflection on why pornography is so dangerous.
The Genesis account of creation speaks of the creation of the human person (male and female) in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27.) It also makes clear that The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25) It was in SEEING Eve that Adam recognized the one who completed Him. His body made sense in the way it related to hers, and he couldn’t have fathomed doing anything but loving the whole person, body and soul, that God had given Him as His wife (and vice versa.) So they were naked and unashamed. Unashamed, that is, until they sinned in Genesis 3, hid themselves because they noticed they were naked, and eventually sowed themselves fig leaves to cover their nakedness. The question is… why? Why hide and cover up? You have to look at the nature of their first sin (eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.) Although God had given them everything, they decided there was something more, so they reached out and took something more. In selfishness, they chose to take and hurt the one they loved. Their newfound knowledge made them afraid of one another- to the point they were afraid of how the other might look upon their naked body. They might no longer see the partner that they love and they were afraid of being used and objectified by the other. So they hid, and they covered up.
If you think about it, a child is born with an innocence about their bodies, not afraid to run into a room on their way to a bath completely naked. They are comfortable with their bodies and trusting of those who love then until they are taught otherwise (either out of prudence, or tragically by having that trust violated.)
As a couple grow in love and trust, the desire to remove the fig leaves and give oneself to the other grows as well. And in the safety of the Sacrament of Marriage, two can become one, returning bit by bit to that original relationship of trust Adam and Eve had in the beginning… and so a couple can be naked and unashamed with one another, because they trust that the other does not and would not knowingly use them or objectify them in any way.
From this perspective, the problem of pornography isn’t what you’d think. It isn’t about the fact that someone has ‘bared all’ for the world to see, or that a couple has somehow shared with everyone their most intimate gift of self… the problem is that images and recordings can never transmit the whole person or a whole relationship. It reduces a person to an object who is then objectified by a complete stranger who does not know this person: her likes, dislikes, her family, her hobbies; he just sees her as someTHING to satiate one of his desires. And then he compares every woman he ever enters into relationship with to this “perfect” stranger who has never demanded love or sacrifice in return. She will never live up to this illusion of perfection, because she was not created simply to satiate his desires. He will likely struggle greatly with chastity: being faithful to his vocation as a single, married or ordained man. God made her so he could love her (and she him), as St. Paul writes: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
Pornography is damaging for all involved, as the the Catechism says:
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. (CCC 2354)
By the way, “grave offense” is the language the Church uses when talking about serious – or mortal – sins. I’ve talked about how damaging pornography is to the person who uses it, how damaging it can be to the wife he loves (or hopes to love), and the Church also reflects on the damage it does to the person who is the ‘object’ of pornography. It is grave because that fleeting, illicit moment of satistfaction is gained at the cost of genuine love. Jesus’ words during the sermon on the mount explain how seriously He considers pornography:
But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
Reflecting on this passage, Pope John Paul II explained that not only is Jesus telling us not to look at women – the ones we see nor the ones who are the object of pornography – with lust in our hearts, but also that as Christian men, we need to do one better: “(Jesus) assigns as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.” (General Audience, November 24, 1982)
Pornography is a problem. It is a multi-billion dollar problem that according to some, makes as much money annually as the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association combined. But the profits this industry reaps pales in comparison to the damage that broken men enslaved by it do to their wives and families. We need to take a stand- get past the addiction – and fulfill our duty to guard the dignity of every woman: our sisters, friends, wives, daughters – and the strangers we don’t know.
But first, we need to let God win the battle in our own hearts. When Jesus says “Blessed are the pyre in heart, for they shall see God,” one of the implications is that closeness to God is adversely affected by this type of sin. Some of the best resources I’ve come across can be found at mikeisthird.com/apersonfirst2018 -with some more thoughts and practical tips on how to overcome porn addiction. Bob Rice also wrote an excellent series on sexual purity which I’ve reposted here: mikeisthird.com/sexual-purity-whatever/