by Jason Evert
Q. What's wrong with looking at pornography? It's not like you are getting a girl pregnant or spreading STDs.
A. The problem with using porn is that it emasculates men, degrades women, destroys marriages, and offends the Lord.
You may be thinking: "That's going a little overboard, don't you think? I mean, what's wrong with checking out a few web sites?" Take a look at the effects of pornography, and you will see why real men don't use it.
First off, when Jesus warned that anyone who looks lustfully at a woman commits sin with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28), he spelled it out in no uncertain terms that it's not enough to avoid pregnancy or STDs. He wants us to be pure.
What does pornography do to a man? For starters, it robs him of the capacity to be a man. The essence of manhood consists in readiness to deny oneself for the good of a beloved. This is why Paul reminds husbands in his Letter to the Ephesians that their love must be like that of Christ, who allowed himself to be crucified for the sake of his beloved, the Church (Eph. 5:21-33).
Pornography defeats this calling. Ask yourself: Wouldn't it infuriate you if a guy looked at your daughter or wife in the same way he looked at pornography? Instead of denying himself for the good of the woman, a man, through the use of porn, denies the woman her dignity in order to satisfy his lust. In essence, pornography is a rejection of our calling to love as God loves. It is no wonder that those who use it are never satisfied. Only love satisfies.
Pornography gradually cripples a man's ability to love. It is impossible to love a fantasy, but living in a world of fantasy allows a guy to escape from reality and evade the demands of authentic love. In a way, the fact that pornography allows men to indulge their lust without having to worry about pregnancy or STDs is part of the problem. It encourages him to live in a world in which sexuality offers only pleasure without meaning or consequences, in which "no one gets pregnant, no one catches a disease, no one shows signs of guilt, fear, remorse, embarrassment, or distrust. No one suffers from the sexual activities of others and the men, at least, are always carefree, unrestrained . . . The priority of lovingly protecting one's partner is of little concern in pornography because no harm seems possible."1
Simply put, pornography is the renunciation of love. As the writer Christopher West said, "[Pornography] seeks to foster precisely those distortions of our sexual desires that we must struggle against in order to discover true love."2 For the person who indulges in porn, the purpose of sex becomes the satisfaction of the erotic "needs," not the communication of life and love. Pornography drives a man to value a woman only for what she gives him rather than for the person she is.
Some guys will slough this all off, saying, "Boys will be boys," or "I'm just appreciating the beauty of womanhood," or "I like the articles in the magazine." Sometimes they will realize how unconvincing these arguments are, and they'll become resentful, saying, "You want to repress sexuality and rob women of their freedom. It's unhealthy for you to have such little appreciation for women!" This resentment has found its way to the billboards and titles of the strip clubs, which advertise the establishment as a "gentleman's club" for "adult entertainment." Having the word "gentleman" or "adult" associated with a strip club is nothing less than fascinating. Why would a man feel the need to justify that his behavior is mature and gentlemanly? Can you call to mind any time where an adult needed to remind others that he was mature? Or can you think of any activity on earth where a gentleman needs to announce that he is one? Usually actions speak for themselves. Besides, a gentleman doesn't need to pay women to pretend that they like him.
So even when a man's lack of self-control makes him resemble a boy and nothing in his behavior is reconcilable with the title "gentleman," he still feels a need to identify with authentic manhood. This is because no matter how much we fall, Christ has still stamped into our being the call to love like Jesus. If only we can untwist the lies and humbly come before the Lord in all of our woundedness, he will raise us up and make us into true men.
Now what does pornography do to women? Since it trains men to think of women as objects to be used instead of persons to be loved, guys speak of them as objects and treat them as objects. When men learn their "love" from videos and magazines, they accept the idea that a woman's "no" is actually a "yes" and that she enjoys being used. This can lead to a rapist mentality.
Consider, for example, a study done in the Oklahoma City area. When 150 sexually-oriented businesses were closed, the rate of rape decreased 27 percent in five years, while the rate in the rest of the country increased 19 percent. In Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhoods with porn outlets had 500 percent more sex offenses than neighborhoods without them.3
Ted Bundy raped and killed dozens of women. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair and requested that his last interview be with Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. In that meeting, Bundy talked openly about pornography and told Dr. Dobson that his struggles all began there. He explained that all of his fellow inmates had an obsession with pornography before going to prison. Porn magazines, web sites, and videos lay at the root of innumerable rapes and murders. No one can tell the husbands, siblings, children, and fathers of those violated and deceased women that pornography is harmless. If you want to see for yourself what Bundy said, click here.
What does pornography do to marriages? To be blunt, pornography is the perfect way to shoot your future marriage in the head. Imagine that a young man has a habit of using pornography, and he does not reveal this to his fiancée. He hopes that once he is married, the desires for illicit sexual arousal will subside. But what becomes of his lust once he marries her? It does not disappear, it is foisted upon his wife. The pornography has trained him to react to the sexual value of a woman, and nothing else. He has trained himself to believe that women should be physically flawless and constantly sexually accessible. Even if he rejects this intellectually, the fact remains that his attractions and responses have been conditioned and shaped by warped, pornography-inspired fantasies.
Provided his wife is a life-size Barbie doll with a squad of make-up artists and hairdressers that follow her around the house, things might run smoothly for a time. But when reality confronts fantasy, the man will be left disillusioned and the woman's self image will suffer. His disordered desires and fantasies can never be fulfilled by any real-life woman. They focus solely upon self-centered gratification rather than mutual self-giving and joy in pleasing one's spouse. One woman explained that if a man's real-life partner is not always as available sexually and willing to do whatever he wishes as the women he has fantasized about, he may accuse her of being a prude. If she looks normal, and unlike the models he has come to adore, he may accuse her of being fat. If she has needs, unlike the passive images in the magazines, then she may seem too demanding for him.4
In other words, he'll be quick to blame his disorder on her; his fantasies will have robbed him of the ability to be truly intimate with his wife. One reason he is unable to have healthy intimacy with his wife is because intimacy is not an escape from reality, but the capacity to see the beauty of the other. The presence of lust in the heart of the man blocks his ability to view the woman as a person. He has reduced her to an object and ignored her value as person. When this happens, he forfeits love. True intimacy is impossible.
This is why part of the problem with pornography is not simply that it shows too much, but that it shows too little. It reduces a woman to nothing more than her body. Thus, a man will assume that the greater the body, the greater the value of the woman. With this mindset, men not only expect their future wives to look no less perfect than Miss September, they also do not appreciate a woman's most beautiful and precious qualities, since a centerfold display fails to highlight these. This drives men to look elsewhere in an impossible quest to satisfy their disordered appetites. After all, pornography fosters the false mentality that casual, uncommitted sex is the most fulfilling and enjoyable. Who does not want to be fulfilled?
One all-too-common response to the marital dissatisfaction often caused by pornography habits is to actually bring pornography into the bedroom. This is a vain effort on the part of the man to have the illicit excitement that he has formed an attachment to. The poor wife may allow this, but the joy of loving has escaped the man, who no longer sees the value of the person and the need to give himself for her. Married couples who use pornography find that their marital problems only worsen. If a husband needs to pretend that his wife is someone else in order for him to be excited, then he will become less and less drawn to her. Instead of making love to her, he is destroying love between them.
Because the effects of pornography are so severe, Christian men have an obligation to rid their own lives of it. According to Pope John Paul II, "[God] has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman."5 When we act in a way that is contrary to the dignity of women, we act contrary to our own dignity and vocation as men.
Even if pornography had no adverse affects on people, we must never forget that sin is not simply a social matter. We owe it to our neighbor to love him, but we also owe it to God to honor the Lord in all our actions and thoughts. To lust after his daughters is a grave sin, even if no one becomes pregnant as a result of another's imagination. "So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:22).
1. Wetzel, Sexual Wisdom, 72.
2. West, Good News About Sex and Marriage, 84.
3. U.S. Department of Justice. Child Pornography, Obscenity, and Organized Crime. Washington, D.C., February 1988.
4. Laurie Hall, "When Fantasy Meets Reality" (www.pureintimacy.org).
5. Pope John Paul II, general audience, 24 November 1982. As quoted by Theology of the Body, 346.
Jason Evert earned a master's degree in Theology, and undergraduate degrees in Counseling and Theology, with a minor in Philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is the author of If You Really Loved Me, Pure Manhood, Answering Jehovah's Witnesses, Love, Sex, and Babies, Teen Relationships And Sexual Pressure, and Pure Love, which challenges young people to embrace the virtue of chastity. Jason speaks at seminars, participates in debates, and responds to thousands of questions about Catholicism from people around the world.
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