My post on porn received a thoughtful comment that I want to share. I decided not to approve the comment because it links back to a pornographic site (which I unfortunately clicked on). But I don’t want to come from an angle that silences people who disagree with me. I just want to share the Church’s side of the story.
Here’s what the reader said:
For me the problem with this (I’m male) is that you’re erecting porn as something wholly different from anything else a guy (and a girl – a lot of girls like seeing images of other people naked, having sex, whatever) sees. we all see attractive members of the other sex, we see TV, films, magazines: there are plenty of images to fantasise over, if you want/need to. A real girl or guy is completely different. I’ve watched hot films with my wife which has led to great love- making. I wasn’t fantasising over the images I’d seen: but we were more relaxed, more turned-on, and more adventurous. I’d say that your early boyfriend had a whole host of psycho-sexual problems that porn just exacerbated. Ban porn and people’s interest in other people’s attractiveness and sexuality: it’s normal. I’ve discovered what my real fantasies are partly through “porn” – seen that they’re shared by millions of other people, and been less worried about suggesting them to my wife – she was completely happy, and had similar variations of her own that she wanted to try. Like alcohol, playing poker etc.things that give you an emotioal high need controlling, but in small doses can be fun… Take care.
I have a few thoughts (tl;dr):
- Thank you to this guy for extending compassion to my experience. The overall tone feels understanding and thoughtful, and attempts to provide a third road (that is, 1) all porn is good, 2) all porn is bad, and 3) some porn is good). Even though I don’t agree, I really appreciate the way he shared his experience.
- However, despite the fact that this road seems safe and non-confrontational (after all, it’s controlled application, everyone is consenting [though I don’t think that’s true given the truth about the porn industry], and it’s not preventing real sex from happening), it’s really just another in a long line of excuses we use to ignore the truth about our bodies and the truth about what sex is meant to be. Pornography hurts the people who make it and over time hurts the people who use it (even if you feel like it’s doing good things for you at the time).
This conversation/worldview/tactic is called “marginalization.” It’s when you take something that is black-and-white and scratch at the edges to find a gray area or two. That way you can agree with someone at the same time you erode the truth, all the while appearing sensible (and making those who disagree with you appear too rigid).
Here are a few more examples (that I’ve made up, not that this commenter shared):
Alcohol abuse is bad, sure, but having a social drink a few nights a week isn’t a bad thing. In fact, science says it’s healthy for you!
Binging on TV is bad, sure, but watching a few programs throughout the week is just a part of engaging in our culture and letting off a little steam.
Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion. Just because you think it should be allowed in some cases doesn’t mean you’re about to throw abortion parties and revel in it.
It’s the conversational equivalent of this:
A drink or two every few days might not be bad. A TV program or two every week might not be bad. Being pro-choice might not mean you’re ecstatically pro-abortion. But if you need these things; can’t NOT have these things; choose these things over other priorities in your life; or if life begins at conception (& Catholics believe it does), then these marginalizations are only covering up a more serious issue. They attempt to provide a simple, easy, comfortable answer in the face of complex, difficult, and uncomfortable situations.
In the case of porn, I think that this reader marginalized several truths about sex that I want to stand up for.
1. “You’re erecting porn as something wholly different from anything else a person sees. We all see attractive members of the other sex, we see TV, films, magazines: there are plenty of images to fantasise over, if you want/need to.”
Because the world does not respect the dignity of the human body and because the world fetishizes everything does not mean that those are natural or well-ordered feelings. If anything, the way Victoria Secret advertises its clothing makes it even more clear that the world has got it all backwards.
The world knows that lust is an easy way to get broken people to open their wallets. That doesn’t mean that we are meant to stay broken or let these disordered desires consume us.
Also, this perspective views the world as if everything you see (and in this view, persons are things) exists to stimulate you if you want it to. The person you pass on the street is an individual with a life and a name and inherent dignity. How could you opt to dismiss their 3D existence by “using” their image as a sexual fantasy?
2. “I’ve watched hot films with my wife which has led to great love- making. I wasn’t fantasising over the images I’d seen; but we were more relaxed, more turned-on, and more adventurous. I’ve discovered what my real fantasies are partly through “porn” – seen that they’re shared by millions of other people, and been less worried about suggesting them to my wife – she was completely happy, and had similar variations of her own that she wanted to try.”
If viewing erotic images of other people makes you feel relaxed, turned on, and adventurous, then you are in need of counseling and spiritual direction more than anything else.
I speak of this from experience. Because of my emotional issues, I was drawn to pornography for a time. The satisfaction and attraction I felt for it wasn’t based on “healthy fantasy” or “finding what I’m interested in.” It was a way to get satisfaction while avoiding anything to do with myself, my relationship, or my body. It was a way to skip over the inconvenient pain I was experiencing and jump right to the pleasure part; looking back, it was completely disordered, and completely unsatisfying.
You might jump to say this is just me and my issues, but I don’t think it is. Real Catholic sex — the life-giving, self-sacrificing, completely present kind of sex — is a banquet of emotion, stimulation, and satisfaction. Hiding from or covering up this exchange with toys, pornographic fantasies, or drugs — even if both parties “want it” — is like opting out of the feast in favor of dumpster diving.
And speaking of your “completely happy wife”…
If you dig deep enough, I’d be surprised if you didn’t discover some past sexual trauma or emotional abuse that leads her to accept this behavior in her marriage and perceive feelings of happiness and satisfaction when her husband wants to watch other couples have sex.
4. “Like alcohol, playing poker etc.things that give you an emotional high need controlling, but in small doses can be fun.”
This is the heart of the marginalization for me, and the reason most non-Catholic and non-Christian readers will disagree with me. Sex does wonderful things for your health and your relationship with your spouse. Sex is fun. Sex is exciting. Sex is sexy. But the purpose of sex is not “fun”.
To quote Pope John Paul II via Christopher West’s Introduction to the Theology of the Body, the consummation of a marriage through sex “fulfills the very meaning of our being and existence.” It is the ultimate expression of love, giving, and self-donation. It is an analogy for the Trinity, and an expression of a state of total love. It requires two completely present people, and it may overflow to give life to a third.
The purpose of Catholic sex is to bring two spouses closer to God. The purpose of pornography, alcohol, poker, and any other human vice is to drive a wedge between your life and the life God wants for you. It’s sent straight from Screwtape, with a health dose of marginalization to make you think you’re too advanced for the vice to really derail you from God’s vision for you so a little bit won’t hurt. And if you and your spouse are helping each other drive that wedge, you’re going to reach the conclusion twice as quickly (…no pun intended).
When I was 15, I dated a guy who was into some really weird stuff.
The first time he introduced the concept that he was into porn was kind of neutral. I didn’t know what to think. This was a guy I really liked. Was porn a big deal? Isn’t that what the world told me was true, anyway? So really this was just confirming that he was normal.
Oh, that word. Normal. As if I wanted to date a normal guy. Or be a normal girl in a relationship with a normal guy.
Anyway, the less I thought about it, the more okay with it I was, so I stuffed it down. He still liked me, right? He wanted me AND these anonymous women. Besides, the women were fictional. And this is just his thing. How could something as individual or singular as me possibly be enough for a man?
Of course, that made me a little less neutral and a little more sad.
And that’s the moment it started. The thought process that encouraged me to continue my bad behavior in all of the rest of my relationships and into the psychological infertility of my 30s:
I could never be “enough” for a man. I’m one of many “things” he needs to be satisfied. That is my role in a relationship.
Note: I am responsible for my own behavior. I don’t mean to say this thought process or this person’s actions caused my own. Only that this thought process encouraged me to make bad decision after bad decision.
Which lead to the final emotional stage of dating a guy who is into pornography:
It didn’t help that this particular first boyfriend had sexual issues of his own. He couldn’t “finish” with me, that part was solo. It was also often “solo” in an abusive way toward me (more on that in the future maybe).
When I asked him what he thought about when we had sex, he said “It’s probably better if I don’t tell you.” The affection between us was more like a science experiment than not (maybe to see if he had feelings? Which he didn’t). And for some strange reason that would never fly now, I let it continue.
The Argument Begins
This scenario inspires my most basic argument against premarital sex, especially for young adults. God designed sex to be giving. Life-giving. Love-giving. Intimacy-giving. But how many teenagers do you know are capable of giving life, love, or intimacy to anyone, let alone a member of the opposite sex that they find attractive?
As a former sexually active teenager and later-in-life middle school teacher, I can confidently say “Nope, nope, nope.”
Teenagers are confused. Teenagers are experimental. Teenagers are not in a giving state (and if they are, it’s a self-sacrificing, unhealthy, “give you all of me so you can rescue me” kind of giving).
When you have sex with someone because you’re excited, you’re lonely, or you’re curious, you aren’t taking into account that person’s humanity. You’re only factoring in how a person (who quickly becomes a resource to you rather than a person) can help you meet your needs. The feelings of love are closer to feelings of obsession. The things you do are out of obsession and extreme desire…. not love.
In my case as an overweight young person in elementary school and middle school, my newly attractive 9th grader self was primed for being grateful for male attention. Any kind of attention. And so when it finally came (in the form of a screwed up but funny and attractive guy), there was little that I wouldn’t put up with.
Later Effects In Life
Can porn really do all this damage? Not alone. Clearly a lot of my issues come from being tied up with this person for several years and creative formative relationship habits with a person who did not have my best interests in mind.
But porn is a serious threat to having a reciprocal relationship between a man and a woman and it does a lot of damage on its own. It made me question my worth in a relationship, and it made me feel that even though “real sex” was pretty okay, it’s not quite as good or as attractive as pornographic sex.
For more scientific reasoning, I’ll point you to Fight the New Drug, a wonderful organization that helps promote the truth about pornography in relationships and in society.
Wives, sisters, girlfriends: speak up. Porn is not okay. Porn is not acceptable. A porn addiction is to be treated like any other addition, with compassion and intolerance. It’s not “a little something” or “his thing.” It’s a destructive force in your relationship and it’s got to go. Porn creates unresponsive and unreciprocal relationships, and the continued use leads to even more unresponsiveness and unreciprocity. Stop the pattern.
Husbands, brothers, boyfriends: you’re here to love and protect the women in your life from emotional, physical, and psychological harm. Who is protecting the women in pornography? Who is protecting your wife, girlfriend, or sister from guys like this? Which side do you want to be on?
My heart goes out to any man who was exposed to pornography at a young age and developed an attraction to it. That’s got to be impossibly hard to face up to. But at some point it’s up to you to evaluate your habits, decide if they’re healthy for you and your loved ones, and make an effort to change. Please consider changing. Please be one more guy on this planet who will try to avoid letting what happened to me (a 15 year old girl with several older brothers and a loving father) happen to a woman in your life that you love.