Porn is the new tobacco, says Catholic therapist

Dr. Peter Kleponis, who reviewed the USCCB’s recent document on pornography, offers hope and healing for those struggling with sexual addiction.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography by a vote of 230-4 (and one abstention) at their November 2015 meeting in Baltimore. The document discusses Church teaching on human sexuality and chastity, specifically why the production and use of pornography is always sinful, as well as porn’s disastrous effects on individuals and society as a whole. It also suggests a pathway for those addicted to pornography who wish to break the addiction. The document is primarily addressed to Catholic leaders and parents, but is of value to anyone interested in an authentically Catholic view of the often hidden vice that, directly or indirectly, affects everyone today.

The bishops explain that they are obliged to formally address the issue because, “In our duty as pastors and shepherds to proclaim Christ, we must state clearly that all pornography is immoral and harmful and using pornography may lead to other sins, and possibly, even crimes.” 

The bishops declare that pornography is a sin against chastity, as “such [sexual] intimacy should not be put on display or be watched by any other person, even if that person is one’s own spouse. Nor should the human body be unveiled or treated in a way that objectifies it sexually and reduces it to an erotic stimulant.”

Regular porn use can destroy a person’s ability to have healthy relationships and successful marriages, the bishops state. Porn is connected to “adultery, domestic violence, the abuse of children in child pornography, and sex trafficking. It also can be implicated in contraception use and abortion, given that it promotes and even celebrates promiscuity and a view of sexuality devoid of love or openness to new life.”

Furthermore, “pornography use within marriage severely damages the spouses’ trust and intimacy both because of the pornography use itself and because of the deception and lies usually involved in one spouse hiding his or her behavior from the other. It has been identified by divorce lawyers as a major factor in over half of divorces.”

Porn users can find themselves “trapped in a cycle of fantasy, ritual, acting out, and despair,” the bishops’ document says. However, the Church is a “field hospital,” and has much help to offer. This help includes spiritual tools such as prayer and the sacraments; the bishops also encourage individuals to seek “ongoing support such as counseling, spiritual direction, coaching, accountability groups, couple to couple groups, conferences, and retreats for men and women.”

Statistics on pornography use vary, but they all point to its widespread use. Covenant Eyes, which produces filtering software, noted in its 2015 annual report that 55 percent of married men admit to watching porn at least once a month, as do 70 percent of unmarried men (along with 25 percent of married women and 16 percent of unmarried women).  “Sex,” “porn,” “nude,” and related terms are consistently among the most-used Internet search terms, with a disturbing number of viewers looking for child pornography.

Dr. Peter Kleponis served as proofreader for Create in Me a Clean Heart. He is a licensed clinical therapist living in Pennsylvania whose practice includes pornography-addiction recovery. He has written and spoken extensively about pornography not only as a Catholic but as a therapist; his work includes authoring Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography (see the companion website IntegrityRestored.com). 

In his presentations, Dr. Kleponis stresses that pornography is the new “drug of choice” and “the new crack cocaine.” He outlines the 5 “A’s”; porn is affordable, accessible, anonymous, accepted. and aggressive. He explains that it is a widespread vice, is highly addictive, and causes extensive harm, and that families must take steps to protect themselves from it. He also stresses that with commitment, and making use of the tools available, it is an addiction that can be beaten. He recently spoke with CWR.

CWR: Were you pleased with Create in Me a Clean Heart? Does it do a good job presenting the issue?

Dr. Peter Kleponis: Yes. It presents the material well. They did a good job in their research. I very much recommend reading it.

CWR: How did you get involved in combatting pornography?

Kleponis: I fell into by accident. I’ve been in practice as a therapist for 18 years, and I’ve long had an interest in men’s issues from a Catholic perspective. About seven years ago, I noticed that more and more men were coming to me who were addicted to porn. Sometimes it would be husbands who would bring their wives with them.

I began studying it, reading all the material available. I came to see that porn is a big trend, a major epidemic, yet no one was talking about it.

I was looking for a good Catholic recovery program to which to refer clients, but nothing was out there. I received a certification in the diagnosis and treatment of sexual addictions, so after prayer and discernment, I believed God was calling me to create such a program. That’s why I wrote the books on the topic and helped create IntegrityRestored.com

CWR: Who’s viewing porn today? It’s not just young men in high school and college.

Kleponis: It’s everybody and anybody. It’s men and women. It’s everywhere. The largest population of users are teens ages 12-17 because they are the most tech savvy. The pornographers know it, and target this demographic. They know they’re offering an addictive substance. They want to get as many as addicted as possible so they’ll have customers for life.

CWR: How widespread do you think porn use is?

Kleponis: I think over 50 percent of men and 30 percent of women are viewing it on a regular basis.

CWR: What effects have you seen it have on your patients’ lives?

Kleponis: Pornography use is a form of sexual addiction. It’s adversely affecting marriages, and people are losing their jobs because of it. Companies find their employees are looking at porn rather than working, so they monitor it and fire those using it. I’ve also worked with students who fail out of school because they devote so much time to their porn addiction, rather than studying. Some spend thousands of dollars on porn, accumulating big debts. Porn can consume a person’s life.

Pornography is having a major impact in all areas of life. It is responsible for higher levels of sexual promiscuity in young people, and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. And later, it makes it more difficult to go on to have a successful marriage. A person can’t have a healthy marriage if they have an addiction, whether it be porn or drugs or alcohol.

Porn-addicted men, for example, may constantly compare their wives to the women they see in porn, who are always young and beautiful. The wife gets frustrated, thinking, “How can I compete?” People viewing porn are at a greater risk of marital infidelity, as people want to act on what they see. This may mean going to strip clubs, or having anonymous sexual experiences. A tolerance develops toward hard-core porn, and they seek stronger forms of experience. This may mean deviant sex, fetishes, or child pornography, even though they may not be pedophiles with an interest in sex with children.

CWR: What’s the best way to overcome an addiction to pornography?

Kleponis: Get yourself into a good recovery program. Just as there are effective programs for alcoholics or drug users, there are also effective sexual-addiction recovery programs. I’ve seen people have remarkable success with them. What it takes is a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. Those who do break free of pornography are much happier. They’re free. Whereas they had previously been prisoners to their addiction, they now experience true freedom.

CWR: What led you to launch IntegrityRestored.com?

Kleponis: I realized that I couldn’t fight this thing by myself, so I teamed up with others to create a site to educate people about the dangers of pornography, its addictiveness, and to offer resources for the addicted. Education and resources are the first step.

I also have my own personal website, PeterKleponis.com. I created the first and only Catholic recovery program, so I’m pretty well known in the area. That’s why I was asked to proofread Create in Me a Clean Heart. There are some other good books out there on pornography, but I’m unique in that I’m a Catholic mental health professional writing on the topic.

CWR: You’ve also done many conferences, including conferences for priests.

Kleponis: Yes. Priests tell me it’s the number-one sin they’re hearing in the confessional. I advise them to treat it not as a moral failing but as a disease that should be treated as such. I suggest that they meet with the person privately outside of confession, and then refer him to a counselor trained to deal with sexual addiction.

CWR: What do you say to parents?

Kleponis: I remind them that the average age children first encounter porn is 11. We have to watch over their use of technology; never leave your kids alone on the Internet. You might as well leave them alone with a stranger.

We have to educate young people on the dangers of pornography, and that it is addictive. Once they’ve been educated, they can say no.

CWR: Do you see any signs for hope?

Kleponis: Yes, but it’s going to take 50 years. Porn use today is where tobacco use was 50 years ago. Doctors knew smoking would kill you, but it was politically incorrect to say so. People were smoking everywhere. It was glamorous. Think of all the old movies and TV shows where the characters smoked; Ricky and Lucy smoked on I Love Lucy [Ed.: Desi Arnaz died of lung cancer].

It took 50 years of education, and millions died along the way, but today people get the message. Many places you go today are smoke-free. We have to do the same with porn.

CWR: What’s interesting is that non-religious people becoming aware of the harm pornography causes. The very secular British comedian Russell Brand, for example, recently spoke out against pornography.

Kleponis: Yes. Secular people are finding out about the dangers of porn. There’s a slang term for viewing porn and masturbating: fapping. There’s an online “anti-fapping” community, which offers tips on how to avoid it and how much better they feel once they’ve stopped it.

I also note that the Protestant world is way ahead of Catholics on this issue. They’ve created some of the best programs out there to help people with porn addictions. My training in sexual addiction, in fact, was with Protestant programs.

I like to leave people with hope. Even though we live in a world torn apart by porn addiction, there is healing or restoration. If you are held captive by this addiction, let go of your shame and reach out for help.


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About Jim Graves 168 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.