The high price — and not in dollars — of pornography

For the past couple of months, a story has been circulating regarding a 19-year-old student at Duke University in North Carolina who “moonlights” in the adult film industry.

It’s got all the elements that make a story worth telling by the standards of today’s society: sex, pornography, the Internet and a drunken fraternity party. And it’s got a young girl, barely of legal age, who insists that working in the pornography industry “fulfills” her and that the experience “has been nothing but supporting, exciting, thrilling and empowering.”

According to one newscast, in the days after her story went public, the young woman’s name had more hits on Google than Pope Francis and Justin Bieber combined.

The student took the work, she said, as a way of paying her $60,000/year tuition and avoiding “gigantic student loans.” To make matters worse, recent news reports, albeit unconfirmed, suggest that this young woman’s parents are “devout Catholics.”

Everything about this story makes me sad.

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According to a 2008 online survey, 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls are exposed to pornography before age 18. Some experts peg the average age of first exposure at 11 — or even 8 — years old. According to a report by Covenant Eyes, an Internet accountability and filtering organization, Dr. Mary Anne Layden, director of education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that once pornography actresses — like the young woman in North Carolina — begin in the industry, they have “high rates” of substance abuse, depression and borderline personality disorders.

“The experience I find most common among the performers is that they have to be drunk, high or dissociated in order to go to work,” she wrote. “Their work environment is particularly toxic. The terrible work life of the pornography performer is often followed by an equally terrible home life. They have an increased risk of sexually transmitted disease (including HIV), domestic violence and have about a 25 percent chance of making a marriage that lasts as long as three years.”

Personally, I’d take the student loans.

Given this news, this month’s re-release of Arlington, Va., Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s pastoral letter on pornography — “Bought with a Price” — seems particularly timely. In it, the bishop calls pornography a plague of “pandemic scale” that “stalks the souls of men, women and children, ravages the bonds of marriage and victimizes the most innocent among us.”

For the young woman at Duke — and for all in the clutches of pornography — maybe these words will help: “You may feel a sense of helplessness and that these sins are impossible to overcome,” Bishop Loverde wrote. “But with God you need never despair. You will win. He loves you and wants you to be free.”