Are You Vaccinated Against the Digital Plague of Pornography?

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.

For a free online course aimed at helping someone free themselves from pornography (not a Catholic resource, but recommended by Fr. Larry Richards), see Setting Captives Free.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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  1. Martin Thompson says:

    For someone who use to be a slave to porn… I wish the church as a whole did more to inform people of the gravity and reality of this particular evil…
    My wish, prayer and hope is that every parish would have a support group for those who struggle with addictions in general but especially in the area of pornography addiction.
    Why is it that protestant churches and twelve step programs have stepped up to help those who struggle by providing such support groups but many Catholic parishes don’t? I know there are some parishes who do have men groups or purity groups but very few… It really seems that 12 step programs and protestant churches are doing more to help those who struggle with addictions at the local level… Consequently I think that is why many people leave the church or fall away… Lack of understanding and support, whereas 12 step programs and protestant churches are welcoming all people including, especially catholics… I know this from experience and observation being I have been actively volunteering in a12 step program for over 11 years… I have met and heard many catholics who left the church for these other support groups because according to them the church doesn’t understand or help… Ive even heard catholics in 12 step meetings say their pastor and or priest told them the church can’t help them so they should go to a12 step program instead…
    I have found because I do not have a college degree in theology, some pastors don’t take me serious about starting mens purity groups or other groups for other addictions… Its a shame because I know so many men who are in need…and so many are leaving the church because they see know solution there…

    • Marty, you bring up some good points. This is a huge problem in the Christian church overall. I almost titled this post: Pornography, the Elephant in the Church, as it is not talked about nearly enough.
      It’s probably the number one problem in the Church, but I can’t remember ever hearing a homily about it.
      What is truly scary is that male teenagers are the biggest consumers of pornography. I am especially concerned about this as it relates to my daughter and the young women of the Church.
      I agree with you that the parishes seem to be behind in terms of having this type of ministry, but independent groups are springing up. Perhaps pastors don’t think anyone will show up to a public meeting out of fear of embarrassment and shame.

      • I have an even bigger elephant in the Church – contraception. This is the beginning of disrespect of the dignity of the human person. I say this because it is accepted by most Catholics. People still know pornography is wrong.

  2. Satan seemed to have reach his appetite early on with adults, but when the adult realm seemed to be full, he moved onto the young. These are difficult times and Sean, I am so thankful for your new ministry and pray in thanks giving for your posts, as they seem to be what we need to make us aware of the evil of this world in regards to immorality and therefore, make us realize how prayer is so important, especially for our youth. I am always amazed and ashamed of the Adult Video business that seem to be in the heart of a town where we would not expect such places. Please continue to witness as the a disciple of God to teach and to speak of the evils of this world, as well as the hope.

  3. Very well said Sean. Thank you for bringing this up as I know internet filters are a necessity for our homes, but I have not looked into this, as of yet. I will do so now!! Blessings!

  4. Great article TPP: If I may suggest, my children my wife and myself could only use our computer which is in the living room. Visable to all. This works well. Keep it out in the open.

    • Larry, that is definitely an excellent idea, and works well for laptops. Our next big challenges, which are already here, are smart phones and tablets. I have not yet seen a good filtering solution for those devices that is also practical to implement.

  5. Msgr. Pope says:

    Thanks for an excellent article. So well written. I would add only one thing. One of the common illusions about the Internet is that what we do on it is private. But this is really not so. One’s browsing habits are not hard to discover by those who want to do so. And since pornography often leads people to illegal sites (eventually anyway) the authorities are often able to track thei internet habits. Further there are extensive records of sites visited stored on computers no matter how emphatically you think you,ve deletted them. I often warn those struggling with internet porn of these realities. We are out in public when on the internet. It may feel private, but it is not. Beware, for what is done in the darkness eventually comes to light. I am pastorally aware of individuals who were discovered by computer repairmen, others who were caught in stings, still others whose spouses or children came to discover their habits due to the popups and relentless emails set loose on computers by porn predetors which bring to light the fact that someone in the house is having recourse to these sites. The internet is not private.

    • Monsignor, thanks for the thoughtful comments, and for the words of warning. It’s just another reminder that nothing escapes God’s eyes, even if it temporarily escapes those around us. The consequences to these men and their families make clear to all of us that God’s commandment not to lust is for our own good and protection.
      P.S. Thanks for your kind words about the post. I appreciate them, and I have to tell you I love the posts that you write. May God continue to bless your ministry.

  6. Martin Thompson says:

    Just some more thoughts on the matter…. Just like alcoholism and other addictions pornography is a very difficult one to break or surrender… I know from experience… It takes more than reading a blog or book…
    I know many men who struggle with this and other addictions who go to confession and mass often and still can’t break the habit… AA should be a great example of what is necessary to overcome serious addiction… Its been in the business of saving lives and families from the grips of alcoholism since 1935. Before then most alcoholics were considered doomed and locked up in asylums or waited for to die. Since AA other 12 strip groups have flourished and even protestant churches have joined the crusade too help those who struggle.
    Its easy for those who don’t understand to minimize the seriousness and gravity of addiction. Its also easy for us catholics to criticize AA and other groups for various reasons. And I say that because I see it all the tome… However being unevolved in AA for 11 years I can tell you from experience and observation AA has done more to help alcoholics recover than any other institution or group. That’s a fact…. My point is a should consider applying some of the same methods AA does to help or brothers and sisters in Christ. Stop criticizing them, talking down to them and just giving them a book to read won’t work… We need folks who understand… WE need others who have struggled be willing to share their experience and be willing to listen and help those who are still struggling. And there is something very per full about support groups-meetings regularly. Its been working for AA and other 12 step groups for 75 year
    s.

  7. ‘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.”

    This is a great statement by St. Alphonsus Liguori and I find it to be very true, but as with other things mentioned previously, there seems to be little or no focus in the Church regarding the regular practice of mental prayer. Mental prayer is the link to understanding ourselves and others and developing a much deeper relationship with Christ. It is no wonder that our culture is becoming so superficial…as Mark Shea once said, “Reflection is the enemy of a world addicted to novelty.”

    • Dan, you raise a good point. Our world is so filled with noise that we don’t slow down to take time to deeply reflect and pray. Our attention span keeps getting collectively shorter and shorter.

  8. Thanks for passing these resources along!

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