By Paul Ninnes
THERE is a pandemic that is decimating communities the world over. Nobody is immune and more and more people are becoming exposed daily. Once it gets hold it often leads to death and destruction.
The Church is not immune. In fact, I’d suggest that this disease is almost as prevalent in our own pews, despite the fact that we have the antidote.
I’m talking of pornography. Pornography damages lives, relationships and society. The same can be said of a casual attitude to relationships and sex in general but the game changer, in today’s technological world, is pornography.
It shocks others when I mention a few statistics that demonstrate how widespread the problem is; that there is estimated to be more porn pages based in Australia than Australian Facebook users is one such statistic.
What is more devastating than any statistic is the real people I meet and the impact that an under-regulated, overly accessible porn industry has on their lives.
Take a 13-year-old boy I’ve worked with as an example. He looks at porn daily on his smart phone. Until his struggle was brought into the light his parents probably thought that the worst thing he got up to was “being mean to his sister”.
Another confronting example might be the 17-year-old who attends youth group each week but has had 15 sexual partners this year.
These are real people faced with a real but sometimes insidious problem. One thing I have learnt is that when one starts on a diet of pornography it is a very slippery slope from intrigue to dependency.
Musician and Grammy award winner John Mayer in a Playboy magazine interview (2010) openly connected his porn use with being unable to find a satisfying stable relationship. Mayer, who admits to regularly viewing hundreds of porn images before getting out of bed, finds porn easier than discovering someone new. “How does that (porn) not affect the psychology of having a relationship with somebody? It’s got to,” says Mayer.
In the book, Wired for Intimacy, Dr William Struthers discusses how the human person is essentially created for relationship. He argues that the neurological pathways in the brain are designed for relational intimacy, partner bonding and the desire to reproduce. These get hijacked in porn use by an overload of unrealistic images and experiences.
Many that ponder the anthropology of sex and relationships might inadvertently be led in a direction towards the much-condemned attitude towards sex that the Catholic Church holds. Namely that sex is primarily created to be unitive and procreative.
That humans are fundamentally created for relationship is highlighted ever so strongly by our sexuality and our deep desire for fulfilment in this area. It also is highlighted by the deep damage caused by a misuse or abuse of our sexuality.
Exposure to porn is so high that close to 100 per cent of males will encounter it before leaving school, reports Melinda Tankard Reist, researcher, author and activist against violence to women. The pedagogy of pornography is concerning. Porn reinforces that girls and women are merely pleasure centres for men.
What’s even more concerning is what pornography teaches about violence to women. A 2011 study, by the university of Nevada of five highly popular porn sites found that over 50 per cent of video pornography included acts of violence against women.
In a La Trobe University report, researcher Michael Flood found that males who watch porn are less likely to form successful relationships and are more likely to think sexual harassment is acceptable. Not surprisingly, a 2010 study by the Witherspoon Institute found that 56 per cent of divorce cases involved one or both parties having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.
Recent research has begun to shed light on the addictive nature of pornography. Not only does porn stimulate the pleasure centres of the brain like that of narcotics but it includes a behavioural, visual experience. It is this lethal double combination of chemical highs and behavioural reinforcement that leads to powerful habits and sexual addictions.
Despite the abundance of research indicating the negative outcomes associated with porn use I’m still surprised every time a secular media outlet cottons on to this disease sweeping the advanced world. Most recently, men’s magazine GQ had the article “10 reasons why you should quit watching porn” to warn readers of the negative health effects of Internet pornography.
Even third-wave feminist Naomi Wolf, not exactly known for sexual conservatism, with books such as “Promiscuities” writes her concerns about the onslaught of porn. She says that, “It is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn worthy’.” Further, “sexual appetite has become like the relationship between, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity … if your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on but less so.” Further to this she says, “The power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time.”
Porn is detrimental to people’s mental, physical and spiritual health. It little by little changes the users mindset. As Blessed Pope John Paul II is often quoted as saying, “the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much but that it shows too little”. Even when I spend just one minute analysing this statement with high school groups they begin to see that perhaps porn does in fact reduce the fullness of the human person to being merely something to use.
This taboo subject is starting to also gain more exposure in the Church. Brisbane based, menALIVE, recently ran an event in Brisbane city on this topic. I was also pleasantly surprised to read a great pastoral letter by Bishop Gerard Holohan (Bishop of Bunbury) addressing this topic not only theologically but also practically (Christ and a growing Rural Addiction, Sept 2013). For those interested in finding out more may I recommend you read this letter.
The good news is that there is help available and that the more we increase awareness of the problem the more we can help with both the prevention and the cure. As followers of Christ we are equipped with a power that can overcome all things including the evil of pornography.
Despite the confronting nature of this topic the truth is that the Church has really good news to bring in this area! Just this week I have had multiple young Catholics who have shared with me the difference that hearing the awesomeness of God’s plan for their sexuality has made to them and their faith. When the truth and goodness of our sexuality is revealed and understood it can truly be a turning point in people’s lives.
Paul Ninnes is managing director of Brisbane-based Real Talk, which specialises in educating young people in the areas of sexuality, relationships and personal development in a way that is based on Catholic Christian values.