If no one else is involved, what's the problem with watching something “steamy” in the privacy of your room?
Pornography has become an everyday reality in our hyper-connected world. “Soft porn” can be seen everywhere: a titillating, free product that’s conveniently available 24 hours a day on our smartphones, to fill our inner emptiness.
Despite continuous attempts to normalize it by making it an ingredient of many things like TV series, reality shows, commercials and music videos, we all tacitly sense that there’s something wrong with pornography. Even those who defend it by saying that sex is a natural thing, deep down know that it’s not so natural to have an intimate encounter with your smartphone. Unfortunately, what has been presented as an expression of freedom in the face of censorship actually presents a double problem: pornography does harm, and is bad in itself.
Yes, it’s bad—but bad for whom? In fact, if no one else is involved, whom do I hurt if I watch something “steamy” in the secret of my room?
It hurts me! I’m the victim! And although I get excited at the moment, I don’t realize that pornography is eating me up from the inside like a parasite.
First of all, it’s addictive. There are numerous neurological studies on the subject that show how the physiological mechanisms that are triggered in people who watch pornography are similar to that of those who take drugs.
But that’s not all: pornography also alters my imagination. It does this not only because it often shows violent or perverse relationships, but because it alters the way I see other people. For a man who watches pornography, women cease to be people with stories, dreams, wounds, and expectations, and begin to become objects to be evaluated and used. They become inanimate bodies a man can fantasize about for his own pleasure. Many people consider this the normal way for a man to look at women, but this is not at all the case: it’s a pornographic perspective. It’s one thing to be attracted to women; it’s another to look at women in a way that analyzes and separates their bodies from the personhood.
These are some of the most nefarious effects of pornography, but if we stop at the fact that pornography does harm, we risk missing the most important thing, which is that pornography does harm because it’s bad; it’s an evil. An evil is something that, regardless of circumstances and intentions, not only does not edify, but actually tears down people, distancing them from their fullness as human beings.
But pornography isn’t bad because sex is bad, nor because naked bodies are bad (they’re not). Some say that the evil of pornography is that it makes one think too much about sex, but on closer inspection sex is exhibited, consumed, and idolized, but certainly not thought about. Our pornographic culture no longer knows how to think about sex. If we knew how to think about sex, we would have to ask ourselves, “What is sex?” and “What does it mean?” and “Who came up with it?”
As Catholics, we answer: “God did!”
God created us as male and female, and his blessing on man and woman was: “Be fruitful and multiply!” (Gen 1:28) That is to say: sexual desire is good! Sexual desire is the energy which, in God’s plan, should lead us to come out of ourselves to make our life a gift. But when this desire is deformed by evil, it turns into lust, and then the energy of desire is no longer directed to the gift of self to the other, but to using the other and being used by the other. Lust thus wounds the person, distancing him from his dignity.
Karol Wojtyla in Love and Responsibility, reflecting on the difference between “use” and “love,” writes:
“The person is a good that isn’t compatible with being used… The person is so good that only love can dictate the appropriate and entirely valid attitude towards him or her”.
We have all probably experienced being used by someone, and we certainly know that it did us no good; we all wish instead to be treated with love. We should point out that when Wojtyla speaks of love, he isn’t referring to purely emotional romanticism: He has a different and very clear idea in his head: loving someone means wanting the good of that person. Precisely for this reason, also in Love and Responsibility, he notes how the truer love is, the more you feel responsible for the person you love.
We can then see how in pornography, among all the attitudes it might include, love is not considered at all. People are reduced to two-dimensional objects that use each other to be used by the viewer; no one cares about anyone, and no one is really recognized as a person. Contrary to cinema—where there is a message, a story is told, and actors interpret characters—in pornography, no one is really interested in the plot (when there is one), and no one cares about the experience of the characters or their state of mind. There is one and only one goal: to arouse lust in the viewer.
In his catecheses, John Paul II identifies the real problem of pornography: pornography does not reveal too much, but rather reveals too little about the person! Shame is passed over and trampled underfoot, and the mystery of the person and of the human body is inevitably lost. This is precisely why pornography is always unsatisfactory: it excites us, but it’s unable to fill the emptiness of our heart. We look for it to feel alive, but we come out sad. We use it because we’re thirsty for intimacy, but we find ourselves more and more alone. We watch it to be free to do what we want, but in the end we wake up in the cage of addiction.
Understanding that pornography is bad and hurts us, is certainly a first and irreplaceable step towards deciding to face this habit—or worse, addiction—and starting looking at others in a new way that will lead us to greater freedom.
Originally published on the Matrimonio Cristiano website in Italian. Reproduced with permission.