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How not to talk about porn as a Catholic

The news that Billie Eilish has recently opened up about how destructive early and sustained exposure to pornography was for her is an occasion to think more deeply about how we approach the topic.

(Image: Adrian Swancar/Unsplash.com)

Few things are more tedious, as a Catholic, than being accused of being a Puritan the moment one opens one’s mouth to talk about pornography. Those making such claims are almost invariably ignorant of the vast artistic treasures of the Church that positively pulsate with bodily delights and erotic desires, conveying a sheer exuberance in the very physicality of human life. An incarnational ethos oozes from every corner of the fully bedecked temples of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Outside our temples, this proper celebration of the body continues apace in the festal culture of parishes and homes, where wine, dancing, and feasting are welcomed with zeal. Perhaps this is no more cogently summed up than in Chesterton’s famous aphorism, “Catholicism is a thick steak, a frosted stout, and a good cigar.”

If bogus accusations of Puritanism fail to find their mark when Catholics talk about pornography, then there is invariably the charge of being a hypocrite—of having no moral standing to say anything about sex in view of the widespread and endless manifestations of sexual abuse pouring out of seemingly every country on the planet. But abusus non tollit usum and all that, so let us proceed.

I have in mind the news that Billie Eilish has recently opened up about how destructive early and sustained exposure to pornography was for her. No Christian should ever for a moment crow at such news. In doing so we violate the virtue of humility, but also because it is a profoundly corrosive and entirely counter-productive strategy. Nobody wants to listen to a preacher, or convert to a faith, who are forever saying, “We told you so!”

So that is the first way Catholics should not talk about pornography: smugly and sanctimoniously. Given our myriad abuse scandals, we have no room at all for even a scintilla of smugness.

Second, we do not talk about pornography as kill-joys or neo-Puritans; as noted above, we do not shy away from exulting in properly ordered and healthy desires, which are gifts from God. Any religion that puts erotic poetry in its holy book—have you read the Song of Songs lately?—is not against the joys of embodied love.

How, then, ought we to approach this problem? There are two arguments that I think Catholics have made insufficient use of.

First, there is an argument from Catholic social teaching: the production of pornography very often involves the exploitation of vulnerable people forced into sexual trafficking, slavery, and bondage. Exploitation of the vulnerable is a heinous sin and must be decried in those terms as we work to overthrow what Pope John Paul II called structures of evil that abuse fellow human beings created, as we all are, in the image and likeness of God.

Second, we should see pornography as deeply damaging to another vulnerable population: children. An attack on the welfare of vulnerable members of society, such as children, must be regarded as an attack on the common good, which Catholic social teaching also strongly upholds.

Given the ubiquity of porn today, and the ease of access, it is not acceptable to say, “Well, they shouldn’t be accessing it. But you can’t ban adults from using it just because a few kids get hurt.”

Yes, actually, we can, and we should. We do this in other areas of life. We should do it all the more when it comes to pornography, for sexuality is a point of singular vulnerability for human beings: we are more often damaged here in ways that are notoriously difficult to heal than in most other parts of our life. Our protections here should be at least as strong as the protections that forbid children from accessing cigarettes and alcohol until they are adults.

We can share with Eilish her sense of how profoundly damaging is early and sustained exposure to pornography. My own clinical work with patients in psychotherapy, ranging in ages from 10 to 46, confirms this time and again. For this reason alone Catholics should be joining with clinicians and indeed all people of good will to get the free, widespread, and easy Internet access to pornography severely restricted if not entirely banned.

But perhaps the most compelling reason, at least in theological terms, for Catholics to stand in solidarity with Eilish and support her and others harmed by porn is that Christians are supposed to be (though too often are not) the ultimate realists: we are against pornography because it traffics in illusion, falsehood, and fantasy. We should want nothing to do with it for that reason alone. We do not wish to be imprisoned by dehumanizing fantasy and evil illusion.

To be free, then, is to live with the knowledge that what pornography portrays is at odds with the reality of embodied human beings clumsily fumbling along towards physical and emotional unity with our imperfect bodies and awkward attempts at being both attractive and vulnerable. Porn can only present an idealized image that is in fact false and deceptive. It traffics not just in human exploitation and the harm of children, but in overt and relentless lies.

As followers of the One who is truth Himself (Jn 8:32), who came to do battle with the father of lies (Jn 8: 44), and who set us free precisely for freedom (Gal 5:1), we should work to have all this enslaving, degrading, mendacious, and deeply damaging pornography banished from the commonweal of society for it is—in the terms of Catholic moral theology—an intrinsic evil, having no redeeming value. Let us have done with it so that we never again read heart-rending stories like those of Billie Eilish.


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About Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille 108 Articles
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is associate professor at the University of Saint Francis in Ft. Wayne, IN., where he also maintains a part-time private practice in psychotherapy. He is the author and editor of several books, including Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).

10 Comments

  1. Maybe my view of pornography should be on the don’t-do list, but I do not care. The purpose of porn is to create sexual perverts and malcontents (aka Democrats). Look around you, see what they have produced.

  2. Of course, it would be “impossible” or very “politically incorrect” to feature the damage that pornography causes to men. Pornography as well as immodest dress (Which should be seen as “soft-porn.”) must be outlawed because it is wrong and especially scandalous. Voluntarily obtaining and consenting to venereal pleasure by any means outside of some connection with one’s wife is WRONG.

    • Yes, yes, yes, THANK YOU! And speaking on behalf of all the wives who have been hurt and betrayed by their husband’s, shall we say, ‘light hearted’ indulgence in sexual fantasies about other women ‘s bodies that constantly and wilfully present themselves to him, feeding his ego..
      Pornographic intent is not a light matter, and causes a wife to lose the trust and respect she so badly needs to have in her husband.

  3. Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery.And after your right eye has caused you to sin you right hand takes over to commit another sin, because porno leads unavoidably to masturbation. Strange that nobody talks about this result of porno,not even Billie Eilish.

  4. We talk a lot about the subject but don’t make the hard decisions. First, pornography is in YOUR home. If children have phones or other devices with internet access, they have pornography. Are you willi

    • … willing to say “no phones”? Second, the reason Catholics aren’t more outspoken is porn is insidious. Catholics are using porn. Try speaking out for a moral standard. Your critics will quickly find a skeleton in your or a family member’s closet. Porn affects you, even though you (naively) think it’s not in your world.

  5. The Pulitzer Prize winning author Chris Hedges is generally a liberal, which makes the views he expresses in this video all the more valuable:

    https://www.democraticunderground.com/101720898

    If I recall correctly, his book “Empire of Illusion” states that somewhere around 10% of the traffic on AT&T’s network was pornography. The contrast between the ugliness of that part of the content and the impressive technology of the company is disturbing:

    http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/09/03/technology/03att.slide9.jpg

    The photo by Michael Appleton appears in this story:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/03/technology/companies/03att.html

  6. The author has overlooked perhaps the most pernicious aspects of pornography. The debasement of women is an inherent attribute of most porn – that the feminists of the Western world are so silent on the matter is totally baffling And the second feature of porn that is overlooked is its capacity to induce shame and a sense of moral decrepitude in its users. It leaves them corrupted in their private viewing spaces and filled with disgust at their attachment to it – “As the dog returns to its vomit…”

  7. Our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit.
    Lust, magnified exponentially with porn, causes us to focus our drives on the short-lived pleasures of sex (masturbation), while degrading the person involved, to nothing more than a tool used to be used, then forgotten about.
    It turns the image and likeness of God (man), into garbage.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. How not to talk about porn as a Catholic – Via Nova Media
  2. TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit
  3. Atheist Converts to Catholicism, What Kind of Online Muppet Catholic Are You, and More Great Links! - JP2 Catholic Radio

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