As I travel around the U.S. preaching, I am finding more and more in the confessional and in conversations with pastors how much pornography has invaded people’s lives. It has brought a whole new set of problems with many dangerous effects. This reality we are all feeling and facing is being backed up by a rash of new studies and books (cf., Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Community at http://marri.us/pornography).
While we know that illicit use of sexuality outside of the marriage act is sinful, therefore harmful to a person’s life, insights from psychological investigations reinforce our theological positions. We understand better how that sin or addiction is harmful and damaging to the individual who is hooked, to the marriages that they are involved in, and how it affects the whole of society. Another proof that the truth comes from many sources.
Marcel, a Catholic blogger in Austin, Texas, is working with people who become addicted to pornography. He has organized his thoughts and a plan of action to help people. Surprisingly, pornography is no longer a 100 percent male problem.
First of all, we have to be convinced that pornography is a problem, not just something that can be done for fun or passing pleasure. Since we believe that our bodies are a reflection of the divine, that we were created in the image and likeness of God, the body is not just to be used for pleasure only. Sexuality, properly understood, can lead men and women to understand better their ultimate goal, which is to establish a deep union with the Lord. I like to see sex as a foretaste of “the divine relationship we all wish to have in heaven — sex is worship of God — when done in the proper context and for the right reasons. We are not souls trapped inside a shell. We are humans with both a body and a soul.” I see sex as a sample, a prelude of heaven! We are going to be penetrated by the divine rays of love and mercy.
As someone has described clearly, our human sexuality is for having babies and bonding. Sex is more than good. It has a sacred dimension. Sex has to be a commitment between two people, permanent and lasting, not lying with our bodies. I am really giving you all of myself forever. That generally can only happen in marriage. Sex is meant for higher purposes than just pleasure (which a Christian does not deny). “God created sex as something wonderful — porn is a distortion of that beauty.”
Here is a list of beliefs I found on the Internet that people who watch porn are likely to quote and adopt. The truth is that, by watching porn, a person allows himself (herself) to accept as true the lies it promotes. For instance:
• People will say that sexual freedom brings happiness;
• Perverted sex (homosexual sex, incest, BDSM, etc.) is more enjoyable than “normal” heterosexual sex;
• There are no consequences to sexual promiscuity;
• Sexual expression is a right, not a God-given or God-defined gift;
• You can live a healthy life with the porn images floating around in your mind;
• Porn doesn’t harm anyone;
• Sex is something to be done primarily for self-gratification;
• The porn stars are the happiest people on earth;
• Adults can view porn without any lasting side effects;
• Porn will help your sex life;
• Porn is just a harmless thing that everybody looks at.
Negative Aspects of Porn
First of all, let us look at these statistics which help us understand how widespread and deep this situation is:
• Adults admitting to Internet sexual addiction: 10 percent.
• More than 70 percent of men from 18 to 34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month.
• 57 percent of pastors say that addiction to pornography is the most sexually damaging issue to their parish.
• The Internet was a significant factor in 2 out of 3 divorces.
What makes porn so bad is that it reduces others in the eyes of the porn watcher to a less than human state, as mere objects for one’s satisfaction, not persons who have real needs, nor does one consider any obligation to help or comfort them. Porn translates into the height of selfishness; it is all about ME. It destroys one’s capacity for true love, which is the giving of oneself, sharing, sacrificing for the growth and happiness of others.
Porn makes us treat others as things, intensifying a desire “to serve oneself, rather than serve others. For example, masturbation, which typically accompanies looking at pornography, reinforces a self-centered sexual orientation (i.e., lust), that can detract from a person’s ability to give and receive love.”
Which leads us to the fact that porn easily becomes addictive. Some think more so than drugs. It seems that there is scientific proof that certain potent chemicals and hormones are released and sent to our brain. They facilitate the burning into the brain of images which can last for years and years after stopping. This addiction has been shown to “open the door to other forms of evil, like anger, abuse, violence, hatred, lying, envy, compulsiveness and selfishness. The power behind porn is revealed when porn addicts try to stop their habit — it is virtually impossible without help.”
With time, the addict needs stronger and stronger emotions and excitement, and turns to weird and abnormal sex, like child porn, homosexuality, bestiality, necrophilia, masochism, rape and sadism.
Because of the strong influence and power which those images exercise over the person who is addictive, his or her ability to relate and form a lasting relationship with another is seriously harmed. How can a wife, for instance, compete with the fantasies of the ideal porn woman, who makes no demands upon her onlooker? The innocent wife, in this case, may even develop an inferiority complex, as nothing she does will ever measure up to the make-believe world of porn.
Research has shown that sex-based addictions become very hard to overcome. And porn is much more than a personal issue between the user and the images, since it has already caused problems in marriages and family life, even in religious life. One older religious told me that, more than occasionally, he watched porn sites to overcome feelings of loneliness.
Then there is the economic factor of those who have been caught watching porn at work, not only affecting their job efficiency, but causing problems in relationships between co-workers. Some have been fired from their jobs, with resulting financial problems for the persons and their families. And after all, there is a whole, vast industry that is very profitable from promoting porn. Every time people look at or buy pornographic material, they are supporting and encouraging that business, keeping it alive and well. And just think of all those young girls who are being seduced and corrupted by all this. Porn is now the new social sin.
Pornography brings with it spiritual problems, with spiritual consequences, because it becomes the gateway to a spiritual oppression. It takes over the viewer’s life, and numbs that person’s capacity to discern right and wrong. Traditional moral values are blurred, a muddling sets in. Hard to imagine someone being able to pray well after a session on a porn site!
For all these reasons, we can state categorically that PORN IS EVIL.
Marcel of Austin in his blog on the Internet has many good suggestions to help someone who is addicted to pornography. Here is his list:
1. Get rid of all pornography you own. Destroy movies and magazines and dump all electronic images.
2. Stay off the computer if it is a temptation. If you have to get on a computer, then do so when other people are around. DO NOT get on the computer for any reason, if you are alone and porn is a temptation.
3. Pray more. You must rely on God to deliver you from the problem. You will not be able to stop by using your own power.
4. Frequent the sacraments and daily Mass. The grace you need to conquer the temptations will be found here.
5. Find an accountability partner. Check in with each other frequently.
6. Fast. It helps you develop self-control. You have had a problem with self-control sexually, but most men have self-control issues in other areas as well.
7. Avoid the occasion of sin. Think about when, where and how you are tempted. Then think about strategies to avoid these circumstances.
8. Use holy images. Your mind has been filled with unholy images; fill it with the image of Christ, Mary and the saints.
9. Ask Mary to intercede. It may sound funny, but it is hard to be tempted when asking the Immaculate Mother of God to help you.
10. Read Scripture daily. Let God’s Word penetrate deeply into your life.
11. Go to confession with the same priest frequently.
12. Do not suppress thoughts of temptation. Redeem them. Offer them to Christ through His cross.
13. If you feel that, despite your best efforts, you are unable to stop viewing pornography, seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in addiction. He or she will be able to help you determine whether or not the behavior is an addiction, and will help you get the tools you need to conquer it.
14. If you are married and your spouse does not know about your problem, you need to talk about it. The problem must be admitted before it can be stopped.
15. Use blocking software to limit access on your computer. Also, software at www.church.com can send an accountability report to your accountability partner.
16. Do not drink or use drugs while trying to overcome the temptation. Drinking or using drugs can lower inhibitions, which makes it more likely to act impulsively.
17. Don’t beat yourself up after a setback. The devil wants you to give up. Seek forgiveness and start again, no matter how humbling or hard it may be. God always forgives and loves.
18. Meet with a priest or spiritual director to formulate goals and learn techniques for growing closer to Christ and becoming the person God calls you to be.
19. Exercise use of the Virtues: prudence, fortitude, temperance, modesty, purity and self-control.
He concludes with St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Prayer for Chastity”:
Dearest Jesus! I know well that every perfect gift, and above all others that of chastity, depends upon the most powerful assistance of your providence, and that without you a creature can do nothing. Therefore, I pray that you defend, with your grace, the gift of chastity and purity in my soul as well as in my body. And if I have ever received through my senses any impression that could stain my chastity and purity, I ask you, who are the supreme Lord of all my powers, to take it from me, so that I may with a clean heart advance in your love and service, offering myself chaste all the days of my life on the most pure altar of your divinity. Amen.
Here are also some Scripture quotes which can be useful when facing temptation
• “For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20).
• “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
• “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).
• “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. . .to win an imperishable crown” (1 Cor 9:25).
• “Create a clean heart in me, O God” (Ps 51:12).
• “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
• “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:2-3).
• “Go not after your lusts, but keep your desires in check” (Sir 18:30).
• “I said: ‘I will confess my offenses to the Lord.’ And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin” (Ps 32:5).
• “You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness” (Eph 5:8-11).
• “Let us cast off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12).
Sins involving the flesh are as old as Adam and Eve. We saw how David fell. Sexual temptation has and will always be with us. But the easy access to Internet porn has changed the game radically; it can be just a click away. The temptations are great, the ability to make contact stress-free. But the stakes are so high for keeping happy and healthy families, for maintaining well-adjusted individuals who know themselves and know how to handle their desires and instincts. If pornography should win the day, our whole society will be in for a dramatic loss.
FATHER KIRCHNER, C.Ss.R., is Central Regional Chaplain for TOOL, Liguori, Mo. He received a degree in moral theology in Rome and taught for 39 years as a Redemptorist priest in Brazil. He currently travels around the U.S. preaching.