Nov
24
2014

Men & Pornography: Are Males “Born to Watch Porn”? A Moral Reflection

Men – even good and faithful Christian ones – can struggle mightily in our sex-saturated secular culture against the temptation of pornography. Porn is not only pervasive – said to be over a $13 billion industry – with the Internet it’s as easily accessible as tap water. The battle to conquer porn is, for many men, whether married or single, young or old, like climbing Mount Everest: the task seems overwhelming, one thinks often of giving up, and the end – the top of the mountain – never seems in sight. Many find themselves asking: “How in the hell did I even get on this ‘mountain’ to begin with?” The wives and girlfriends of these men are typically the ones left behind to deal with the hurt and the harm of their porn obsession. These women know all too well the chasm that exists between love and lust, between conjugal charity and its’ counterfeit. They’ve lived it.

Some claim that men are “hardwired” by evolution to view pornography, to have multiple sexual partners, and to cheat on their wives. For these folks, it’s not “The Devil made me do it,” it’s “Darwin made me do it.” Now, that seems more like a convenient “sexcuse”, if I may coin a word! Whether we’re “hardwired” or not, the males of our species are indeed attracted to visual depictions of sex – more so it seems than women; although women are now viewing and producing porn in growing numbers, it should be noted. But just because men might be hardwired for porn – have it in their male DNA so to speak – doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s morally good to view it, much less to produce it. It might be natural in our fallen state of original sin, for example, but not in our redeemed state of life in Christ.

addictionIt is often said that pornography is a harmless pleasure, akin to playing cards or sipping soda. But this is far from the truth. Pornography not only reduces the person to his or her parts, thus objectifying the person, it habituates men and women to lives of selfish pleasure-seeking through sex. What is paramount for the porn viewer is not mutual self-giving and procreation in the context of true love (see Vatican Council II, Gaudium et spes, no. 51) – i.e., the real “ends” or “goods” of human sexuality – but orgasmic release, pure and simple.

Thus, porn harms both the dignity of the viewer and the viewed, damaging their capacity for physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual intimacy – in brief, damaging their capacity for the gift of self and, therefore, the communion of persons as well. Like slavery, pornography, argues British philosopher Roger Scruton, is “a denial of the human subject, a way of negating the moral demand that free beings must treat each other as ends in themselves” (Beauty, 2009, p. 159). This echoes what Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II wrote about pornography in his 1960 book, Love and Responsibility, as well as what he would say beginning twenty years later in his Theology of the Body.

Now, of course, there is usually nothing wrong with seeking good, healthy pleasures, including those associated with sex within marriage. God “placed” them there for good reason: as inducement to action. But the pleasure associated with porn is different: it is of the voyeuristic and narcissistic variety; and its pleasure is so strong and intense that it acts like a narcotic for those who try it. And thus men can get hooked on it – even after one “toke.” When a man who has become addicted to porn – yes, addicted, contrary to those who deny such a thing as sex addiction (see e.g., David Ley, The Myth of Sex Addiction, 2012) – sees the naked body provocatively spread out before him in the magazine or movie, he literally wants to consume the sexually posed woman who is the object of his fantasy.  After all, he thinks, she is there for me, for my self-gratification. That’s why she exists: to please me sexually, her personhood be damned.

He studies her every feature, from head to toe, over and over again. He has her locked in his imagination and it wouldn’t be all that uncommon for him to fantasize about her over and over again throughout the day – at home, at work, at play, at Church – as if he had a form of sexual OCD. Like a man who can remember the batting averages of his favorite baseball players decades later (and there are many of us out there!), the sex addict has the porn star and her “moves” and “positions” in his memory banks forever. His imagination makes her “available” for him night and day, bringing her “present” to him whenever he wants her.  The porn urge and image is that strong. Many men wonder, sometimes in despair: “Will it ever go away?”

The porn addict then is like a junkie in desperate search of his fix. The more he gets high, the more often he needs a better buzz the next time around to satisfy his sexual craving. Porn is his crack cocaine, and he’s enslaved to it, in bondage. And in some ways, the physiological reaction he has to porn is the same as if he were on drugs: the heart races, the body tingles and trembles, the temperature rises, a trance-like state overtakes him, and so on. The “normal” nude female body – including his wife’s – is no longer good enough to satisfy him sexually. He needs to watch the physically enhanced and airbrushed women engage in sexual acts of every kind. Then, after that bores him, it’s on to some other visual portrayal of sexual perversion – maybe an orgy – to achieve the sexual high he so desperately seeks. But normal sex just doesn’t do it for him anymore; it doesn’t give him the same kick. And thus he searches for kinky alternatives. Movies with forced sex become a turn-on for him. How about ones with sadomasochism? They’re just, he knows, a click of the mouse away.

But a strange thing happens to the porn addict on the way to his next orgasm. I’m sure that the drug addict can testify to this experience. The more the man seeks the high that he achieves through pornography, the more lonely and isolated he feels. Instead of feeling satisfied, he feels empty. Instead of communion, he has contempt – for himself and the models who have “seduced” him. He loses interest in prayer. God seems distant. His wife seems unattractive, sexually dull, even when he suggests she look and act more like his Playboy “porn partners”. He finds it harder to face his children as a father. And true beauty becomes harder to appreciate. He knows the sexy women of the “men’s magazines” and “adult movies” (how’s that for two misnomers?) better than he knows his own wife; he even thinks about them more. At this point, porn becomes the gateway to adultery in the flesh: the porn addict reasons, “I have already committed adultery in my heart; so there’s not much difference if I go all the way and have physical sex with another woman who’s not my wife.”

(In Part II of this article, we will examine moral-spiritual strategies for overcoming porn addiction)

Mark S. Latkovic, S.T.D. is a Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit, MI), where he has taught for over 23 years. He is co-editor of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (The Catholic University of America Press, 2004), as well as author of What’s a Person to Do? Everyday Decisions that Matter (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013) and numerous articles in scholarly and popular journals.
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