Editorial: Pornography's perils

A story this week (Page 4) explores the issue of pornography from the angle of state legislators beginning to recognize its impacts on public health. One striking aspect of this issue is how arguments against pornography have become less about religion and sexual morality and more about the risks that viewing porn pose to the human person. Thanks to increasing research, parents and faith communities are beginning to find allies in the fight against pornography from secular camps. Last year alone, seemingly unlikely celebrities such as Terry Crews, Pamela Anderson and Russell Brand all spoke out about the dangers of pornography’s pervasiveness and normalization in our culture.

Meanwhile, groups and websites that support people grappling with the effects of porn in their lives — such as Fight the New Drug (fightthenewdrug.org) — speak of pornography in the same language as drug addiction. In doing so, they highlight the neurological impacts of habitual porn use, as well as its negative impact on relationships.

For Pope Francis, pornography is part of a larger group of vices and distractions that prevent us from becoming who we are called to be. “Yes, there are dirty things, from various degrees of pornography, to empty and valueless shows, such as relativistic, hedonistic, consumerist ones, which foment these things,” he said on his return flight from Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2015. “We know that consumerism is a cancer on society, that relativism is a cancer on society.”

It’s also telling that he sees the circumstances that engender a porn habit — mindless hours of screen time — as a part of the whole. He elaborated on his vision of the far better ways young people could be living their lives at World Youth Day Krakow in July 2016: “The times we live in do not call for young ‘couch potatoes’ but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history, because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark. History today calls us to defend our dignity and not to let others decide our future.”

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Statistics show that efforts of the pornography industry to usurp this dignity and freedom of choice are working. A 2014 survey found that 64 percent of American men view pornography on a monthly basis. That number jumps to 79 percent for men between the ages of 18-30. For women ages 18-30, the number is a growing 34 percent. Perhaps most worrying: A majority of men (55 percent) in that age range said that they were first exposed to pornography before the age of 12. For Catholic parents seeking to instill virtues into their children, this is troubling — especially when considering the availability of devices on which to view lewd content.

As more information becomes available, it is our hope that increased awareness to the dangers of pornography will become a priority for parochial, public and private school administrations. Parish communities, too, can offer support groups for parents seeking strategies to prevent pornography from entering their households, whether intentionally or inadvertently. Parishes and dioceses can also form accountability groups for adults and teens struggling with porn addiction.

In his recent pastoral letter, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles reminds us that, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are responsible for one another. Let’s continue to work together to fight pornography, to protect our children, and to protect ourselves.

Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor