Pornography: A Clear & Present Danger
Pornography – it’s everywhere. Soft-core pictures and text fill the covers of Glamour and Vanity Fair in the grocery checkout line. Giant-sized nearly nude women beckon from the window of Victoria’s Secret. Provocatively posed models wearing seductive looks and not much else and men in the buff on motor cycles lure browsers of underwear and clothing catalogues. It’s a staple of sex ed and “diversity” programs in our schools and institutions. Media moguls peddle it in TV shows and commercials, movies, music videos, comic books, and trash radio. Yes, we live in the United “soft-porn” States of America where salaciousness is commoner than soft ice cream and apparently goes down as easily. And soft porn’s hard-core twin waits just a mouse click away on the Internet – the vilest of the vile, including images of rape, sado-masochism, child molesting, and worse. Pornography – it’s a huge industry raking in billions of dollars a year selling women, adolescent girls and boys, and prepubescent children as meat for lustful appetites. Some call it a “victimless” crime. Others distinguish between “harmless” material and obscenity. No matter how you spin it, evidence is mounting that pornography destroys lives and endangers the culture that tolerates it.
In 1999 Fortune magazine, a respected business journal, carried a cover story, Addicted to Sex – Corporate America’s Dirty Secret. The article outlined the devastating impact of pornography, prostitution, and promiscuity on the business world. Patrick J. Carnes, clinical director of a treatment center in Arizona, considered one of the nation’s leading experts on sex addiction, was quoted saying, “Most of my patients are CEOs or doctors or attorneys or priests. They are people with a great deal of power. We have corporate America’s leadership marching through here, and they’re paying cash because they don’t want anyone to know.”1 (One wonders how much of the cash funneled into treatment centers around the country originated in the collection basket.)
Dr. Victor Cline of the University of Utah, author of Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children, calls pornography the “gateway drug to sexual addiction.”2 He describes four stages porn addicts go through from their initial exposure: 1) addiction to pornographic images, 2) escalation to more graphic and deviant material to get the same high, 3) desensitization as the taboo becomes commonplace, and 4) acting out on the images seen, e.g., exhibitionism, obscene phone calls, rape, sado-masochism, and child abuse.3
According to Cline evidence indicates that all or most sexual deviations are learned behaviors that result from “inadvertent or accidental conditioning.”4 Cline cites research by Dr. R.J. McGuire who asserts that when a man uses self-stimulation with “vivid sexual fantasy as his exclusive outlet, the pleasurable experience endows the deviant fantasy (rape, molesting children, exposing oneself, voyeurism, promiscuity, etc.) with increasing erotic value. The orgasm experienced then provides the critical reinforcing event for the conditioning of the fantasy preceding or accompanying the act.” In treating hundreds of mostly male patients Cline reached the conclusion that “Any individual who follows this conditioning pattern is at risk of becoming, in time, a sexual addict, as well as conditioning himself into having a sexual deviancy and/or disturbing a bonded relationship with a spouse or girlfriend.”5 So research confirms what the Church has always taught about the damage and sinfulness of impure thoughts and masturbation.
In 1986 the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography concluded that “Substantial exposure to sexually violent materials bears a causal [NB: not casual!] relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence and, for some subgroups, possibly to unlawful acts of sexual violence.”6 Studies of criminal sex offenders indicate that a large percentage use pornography before committing their crimes and that those who do, have less control of their actions. Will pornography lead a given individual into criminal sex abuse? Who knows? Is it a dangerous risk? Absolutely! And the porn consumer need not view violent material to increase his violent behavior. A 1995 meta-analysis of 33 studies found that “violent content although possibly magnifying the impact of the pornography, is unnecessary to producing aggressive behavior.”7 Pornography of its nature depersonalizes and objectifies its object and tempts the user to more callous and dehumanizing behavior.
This reality should be no revelation to Catholics. We were taught as children to develop habits of virtue and avoid vice. We learned that lust is one of the seven deadly sins and that protecting the eyes and ears is essential to fostering modesty and purity. While our secular culture insists there are no consequences to sexual immorality (smoking is another matter), Our Lady at Fatima warned that most souls go to hell for sins of the flesh. Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton understood the volcanic nature of the sex drive when he wrote, “All healthy men, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, know there is a certain fury in sex that we cannot afford to inflame.” Pornography unleashes the fury. Those who use it can’t be trusted – especially in relationships with women and children. Can the priest porn addict counsel on sexual morality in the confessional or from the pulpit? Can the single fail to misuse his or her sexual appetite for fornication or depravity? Can the husband playing with his paper mistress retain respect for the real woman he married?
Like Pandora, our culture has released evils it cannot now control. But Chesterton gave us a healing prescription when he wrote, “a certain mystery and awe must ever surround [sex] if we are to remain sane.” Our insane culture can be restored one holy individual at a time through cooperation with grace and the intercession of Our Lady. We cannot expect holy priests and bishops to come from contracepting families. We cannot expect holy laity to arise in parishes led by porn-addicted pastors. Each of us, clergy and laity alike, must embrace the virtues of modesty and chastity, shun the lewd and model purity. The early Christians were recognized in a vicious pagan world by the way they “loved” one another, a love that reflected the image of God. May the modern pagans come to say the same of us.
1Betsy Morris. “Addicted to Sex – Corporate America’s Dirty Secret,” Fortune Magazine, May 10, 1999.
2 V.B. Cline, Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children, New York, Morality in Media.
3Ibid, p. 3-4.
4V.B. Cline, PhD. Treatment & Healing of Pornographic and Sexual Addictions, www.ldsr.org, April, 1999.
6Final Report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, Rutledge Hill Press, Inc., Nashville, 1986.
7M. Allen, D. D’Alessio, and K. Brezgel, “A Meta-analysis Summarizing the Effects of Pornography II,” Human Communication Research, 22, p. 271