Once upon a time, before the dawn of the Internet, seekers of pornography had to put some serious effort into obtaining it. Typically, they had to drive to a seedy part of town to find a store selling pornography, and then had to be willing to risk being seen in public in such a place. Broadband internet in the home and on mobile devices, with its blazing download speeds, and anonymity, has proven to be a cultural game changer, leading to an explosion in sales in the pornography business, and bringing the gates of hell within easy reach of each one of us. The tide has turned so dramatically that one now has to work diligently to avoid becoming ensnared in this trap.
Is Pornography Harmful?
Our culture used to know the answer to this question. Now, with our society’s obsession with all matters sexual, we have largely lost our sense of sin, especially in this area. Our focus on democracy and freedom of “expression” has led us to protect and promote an evil that will enslave us, not free us.
Let’s start with a quick review of what the Catholic Church teaches about pornography.
2354Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
Pope John Paul II once famously said that the sin of pornography was not that it showed too much, but that it showed too little. In other words, it reduces the participants to mere body parts, robots without feelings and emotions, and without immortal souls. As is usual with the demonically inspired, it takes a good (human sexuality) and twists it into a lie that leads one away from God.
Sometimes it is argued that pornography harms no one, as the participants are consenting adults (ignoring the very real problem of child pornography). The Catechism makes clear that no one emerges from this sin unscathed. Real world experience also puts the lie to this argument. It is well-documented that many pornographic actresses come from abusive homes and turn to this business out of desperation. Many have serious problems with alcohol and drug addiction.
In addition to harming those directly involved, pornography is a cancer to those who view it. Evidence is increasingly showing that viewing pornography can be very addicting, even to the point of “rewiring” the brain such that it learns that the proper response to a particular trigger (stress, anger, loneliness, rejection, etc.) is to view pornography. Research shows that, similarly to any substance addiction, it takes increasing amounts/varieties of the substance to achieve the same “high” that was initially experienced. Eventually, the viewer of pornography can find himself/herself in a very difficult trap that is hard to escape. Recall the analogy of a frog that is placed in lukewarm water in a pan on a stove. If the frog were dropped into boiling water, it would jump out at once. But, if the temperature is gradually raised, the frog does not even sense its own impending destruction. Such is the case with pornography.
How Do We Protect Our Families and Ourselves from Pornography?
It is tempting to wring our hands and feel like there is nothing we can do to stop this juggernaut in our midst.
Real change in a society requires fundamental changes in the trenches – as a society, we must come to re-appreciate the truth and beauty of God’s plan for our sexuality. What are some concrete steps that each of us can take to protect those we love from becoming a victim of this sin?
Install internet filtering/accountability software on your computer
If you have not done this, you have the equivalent of raw sewage being pumped into your house. I cannot overstate the importance of this step. The most vile, reprehensible images are only a click away. Your child (or yourself for that matter) can have the most innocent of intents, but can easily be exposed to images that rob one’s innocence and purity. Even entering seemingly harmless search terms can bring up unwanted images, as pornographers often place innocuous keywords on their web pages in an effort to bring people searching for those terms to their sites.
Internet filtering software’s primary function is to block access to pornographic sites. Pure accountability software, such as Covenant Eyes (base product without filtering option), records a log of all websites visited, and categorizes them according to content level (e.g. Teen, Mature Teen, Highly Mature, etc). These logs can be automatically emailed to accountability partners that monitor a person’s website accesses. Adults could use this feature to have a peer accountability partner, but parents can use the feature to received periodic reports on the internet viewing habits of their children.
I recommend using a combination of internet filter and accountability reporting. Filters may not block every site you would find objectionable, but they are an excellent first line of defense. Purchasing a separate accountability service, or buying a product that has accountability features that meets your needs will allow you to tailor the filter to block any additional unwanted sites. For example, you might notice on an accountability report that your child has been viewing websites that are not necessarily pornographic, and therefore not blocked by the filter, but give you cause for concern. You then have the option of updating the filter to block those sites, or using the report to have a conversation with your child about his/her viewing habits.
I currently use the Net Nanny Internet filter, as Bsecure is not available for Macintosh. Both products are highly rated – see comparison reviews for a detailed look at the pros and cons of each product. I am also testing Covenant Eyes for its accountability reporting.
Daily Mental Prayer
Mental prayer, sometimes known as interior prayer, or meditation, has been defined by the great Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila as “… nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” Sometimes we make prayer more complicated than it is. It’s as if we think we have to have a burning bush experience as Moses did, or to have some kind of lightning bolt strike us from the sky. Prayer is simply having a conversation with Christ. As with any relationship, it cannot be developed without communication between the two friends.
It is easy for us to get lost in the hustle and bustle of life and not take time to truly quiet ourselves and communicate with our Lord. Mental prayer is an excellent antidote to the poison of sin. St. Alphonsus Liguori stated: “Mental prayer is the blessed furnace in which souls are inflamed with the love of God. All the saints have become saints by mental prayer.” He also noted that “It is morally impossible for him who neglects meditation to live without sin.” St. Alphonsus goes on to say:
But he who attends to mental prayer scarcely ever falls into sin, and should he have the misfortune of falling into it, he will hardly continue to live in so miserable a state; he will either give up mental prayer, or renounce sin. Meditation and sin cannot stand together.”
There are many good resources on mental prayer, but one of my favorites is An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises. I used it a couple of years ago as a Lenten devotion, and found it very helpful. The book contains 40 days worth of guided meditations, in which the author leads you through a daily dialog with God.
Frequent Reception of the Sacraments of the and Reconciliation
The sacraments are truly powerful channels of God’s grace, given to us for our benefit. They are not just routine things we do out of obligation. The Eucharist is Jesus Christ truly present. As regular food sustains our physical bodies, so the reception of Holy Communion sustains our spirits! St. Pio, a legendary Italian priest who bore the stigmata for over 50 years, proclaimed that “the world could sooner do without the Sun than it could go one day without the Mass.” Are we taking advantage of such a beautiful gift whenever possible?
Recognizing that we humans are broken, and frequently fall, soiling our baptismal garments despite our best intentions, the Church has provided a means of reconciling with the Body of Christ. In John 20:19-23, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
The apostles (and their successors) were given the authority to act In Persona Christi, and to forgive sins. While Catholics are only “obligated” to confess mortal sins, it is a good practice to make a regular habit out of Confession, even if one is not technically bound to do so. Again, sacraments communicate real grace, so there is a benefit every time one receives a sacrament.
Encouragement For Those Who Are Struggling With Pornography
Perhaps you find yourself already locked in the grip of this sin, and are wondering if there is any way out. It is very important not to lose hope. For with God, nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37). As with any sickness, it is important to seek medical attention. Have you shown your wounds to the Divine Physician? Have you been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and made a good confession? If not, take that first step immediately. Don’t let shame keep you from running to your Father. Come to your senses now, as did the Prodigal Son.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
This parable should give great hope to any of us who might see similarities in our lives and the prodigal’s. Have we rejected our Heavenly Father by violating His commandments, and living a life of sin? Have we starved ourselves on the food of pigs and found ourselves dissatisfied? If so, the Lord has a word for us in Isaiah 55:1-11:
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Returning to the parable of the Prodigal Son, I am most struck by how the Father continues to look for his son, and upon seeing him, runs out to greet him. The Father runs to greet the son who abandoned him. Let us all take great comfort in this Scripture, whatever our sins might be. We can all relate to disobeying God in some way. The Bible shows us that we must repent, and turn back towards Christ. If we do so, we shall be welcomed, no matter how unworthy we may feel.
Some Suggested Resources
Where sin abounds, grace abounds more (Romans 5:20). With the explosion of pornography, there is a corresponding increases in resources being published that attempt to help those struggling with this sin.
One such resource is The Family Life Center. This website is run by Steve Wood, a convert to the Catholic faith, with a passion for helping to strengthen the family structure.
If you still need convincing, and want to read more on the harmful nature of pornography, see Porn Harms.
The Serenellians have a website with an extensive coverage of the issue of pornography and many useful articles.
The King’s Men is a up and coming men’s movement within the Church that seeks to fight the evils of pornography and prevent men from becoming ensnared in it.
I received an email from Fr. Benedict Croell, OP, Vocations Director for the Eastern Province of the Dominican Order, who has written a post kindly reminding me of the power of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Check it out. Also, Taylor Marshall has a very good post on the miraculous cord of St. Thomas Aquinas.
I am sure there are many more resources that I am unaware of, so feel free to add a comment to this post with any recommendations you might have.
Pornography is a powerful force in our modern culture. The Sexual Revolution has paved the way for the mainstreaming of pornography. What was once reviled and relegated to dark, nasty places in the worst part of town, is now knocking at your door. You must take action to protect your family from this poison.
If you are like the frog who finds himself being slowly boiled to death, seek help now! This sin flourishes in the darkness. Expose it by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Make mental prayer a daily habit. Take your troubles to our Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Take advantage of Daily Mass and Confession whenever you can. Seek professional help if you need it. Find a good Catholic therapist who can counsel you in a manner consistent with the Catholic faith.
Most of all, don’t lose heart. You are a child of God, even if you have become the Prodigal Son. The Father is looking for you. Come to your senses and return to Him this Christmas.