Recent headlines have put the issue of pornography more visibly in the public square.
The Church, of course, has always been clear that pornography and its related sins (masturbation, infidelity, money laundering, human trafficking, etc.) is gravely wrong. Not only does it demean the women (and men, and, horribly, children) who are the “porn stars,” it also wreaks havoc on the souls (and minds and bodies) of those who use pornography.
Increasingly, however, secular voices are taking up the same position.
Why is this happening, and why now?
According to former Florida Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, “As porn becomes more prolific and mainstream, our society becomes more and more desensitized to violence. This can also be linked to increased degradation of women and a rise in sexual violence, including sex trafficking, abuse of minors, human trafficking, domestic violence and more violent relationships. Children are being exposed to this ‘new normal,’ which can often lead to violence later in life.”
The Florida House made its declaration against porn in February, supported by research Spano presented to its Health and Human Services Committee in January.
“We have to start the discussion,” Spano told the Register.
This same desire to start the “discussion” is at the heart of the organization that presented a seminar to the Kansas City Royals baseball club.
Fight the New Drug was started in 2009 by a group of college students who “saw a need for conversation around this topic — especially among youth growing up in the digital age,” explained Natale McAneney, the group’s executive director.
She said the group’s presentation to the Royals was similar to any other presentation the staff gives for any other organization, such as schools or parent groups.
“As an organization, our goal is to educate and raise awareness about the harmful effects of pornography using science, facts and personal accounts,” McAneney said. “We typically approach this topic from the angle of how pornography can harm individuals (brain), relationships (heart) and society (world).”
McAneney pointed out the growing body of research showing that porn is a real problem.
“Although some individuals can be at greater risks to struggle with habits like pornography than others, due to their circumstances, the harmful effects of pornography do not discriminate based on diversifying factors,” she warned. “They can impact anyone.”
Fight the New Drug wants to help people make “educated and informed” decisions on porn, pointing them to what she described as “a vast amount of research proving that pornography can be addictive — although it’s important to note that not all individuals who struggle with pornography are addicts — and that it can impact relationships in a number of ways. Pornography also fuels the demand for sex-trafficking.”
For someone who works against pornography from within the Christian context, none of this is surprising.
Amanda Zurface, the Catholic campaign coordinator for Covenant Eyes, an accountability software company, said it boils down to this: “We live in an oversexualized culture. The focus is frequently pleasure. When pleasure is threatened or impeded for whatever reason, this gets people’s attention.”
And pornography, she explained, ultimately, is a threat to pleasure.
“The secular world hasn’t necessarily woken up to the topic of porn because they’ve all of a sudden formed a conscience and are finding pornography morally objectionable. Rather, many have started to realize that while porn is pleasurable, it can and does harm the greater pleasure that can come with ‘real sex.’”
Zurface noted how frequent viewing of pornography, especially internet pornography, overstimulates and desensitizes the user’s brain to what typically would be sexually arousing experiences, sometimes to the point of impairing a person’s physical capacity to engage in sexual relations with a partner.
The Church’s Vision
The Church’s fuller vision of human sexuality — articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s discussion of the Sixth Commandment — explains how the human person is a soul-body unity, and what is bad for the soul can’t be good for the body.
That’s why the secular opposition to porn will still be faced with inherent contradictions.
For example, Zurface noted how the #MeToo movement was “started by the secular culture to draw attention to sexual harassment and abuse.”
“The connection that hasn’t been made by the movement is that this abuse is fueled by porn,” she said. “Society needs to understand that you can’t have millions of men watching women getting abused and enjoying it in porn videos suddenly develop respect for women. It doesn’t work like that.”
Thus, while Zurface recognizes the benefits of “public support” for the morally correct position, she notes the increased need in Christian ministry that arises along with increased anti-porn support in the public sphere.
“Thanks to the secular culture, the topic is capturing people’s attention, and we have an opportunity to call on individuals, marriages and families to actually think about the negative consequences of porn for maybe the first time,” she said, adding that the Church might also be able to benefit from the support groups and therapists being trained on this topic.
“However, at the end of the day,” she warned, “the Church and secular society agree that pornography is harmful for different reasons.”
“If we don’t approach the issue of porn by explaining how it contradicts the vocation of man and woman to love, we won’t ultimately heal this wound,” she said. “We may overcome some of the effects of porn, but not the root of it all — society’s inability to really live true love.”
Register correspondent Kathleen Naab writes from Texas.