On April 19, the Governor of Utah signed a resolution, which had been passed by a unanimous legislature, declaring pornography to be a public health crisis. The evidence supporting that conclusion is massive, and unequivocal. So why aren't we talking about it more?
Pornography is ubiquitous in our society, and exposure to porn is virtually universal among adolescents and young adults -- precisely the times when people are supposed to be maturing in their personalities and sexuality, and preparing for marriage. The
National Center on Sexual Exploitation
has an incredibly detailed set of studies about the evil effects of porn. Just a sampling of their findings, all of which are backed by academic studies, is that among adult males, exposure to pornography is connected with:
- Greater acceptance of sex before marriage
- Having more sex partners
- Considering their partner to be less attractive
- Less satisfaction with partner's sexual performance
- Greater desire for sex without emotional involvement
- More callousness in sex
- Acceptance of "rape myth" (i.e., that raped women enjoy rape and "got what she wanted")
- Trying to get partners to act out scenes from pornographic films
- Going to prostitutes and strip clubs
- Greater acceptance of adultery
- More likely to have an affair
- Using more negative and sexual terms to describe women
- Less child centeredness during marriage
- Reduced desire for female children
- Sexual dysfunction with their partner (but not with porn)
- Engaging in more aggressive sexual behavior
- Committing date rape
- Abusing sex partners
- Coercing sex
- Using alcohol or drugs to coerce sex
- Engaging in marital rape
One particularly horrifying reality about porn is the level of violence and degradation against women. The NCSE's studies of this are appalling -- they found, in a random sample of popular porn videos, that 88% included actual physical violence against women. It has even gotten so bad -- but accepted in the industry and market -- that popular porn sites actually categorize videos by the kind of violence they depict. The NCSE compares this disgusting attack on women to be tantamount to torture, and for good reason -- the accounts of former porn performers are horrific. It is deeply disturbing that men are deriving sexual pleasure from watching women be degraded, abused, and raped.
Many people find it difficult to talk about porn, for a variety of reasons. But we can no longer allow our squeamishness to prevail. Lives are being ruined by porn. Relationships are twisted and destroyed. The crisis demands a response. One thing that we must do first and foremost is clearly identify the distorted sexual desires that lead people to porn, and the way to counter them.
The sexual activity shown in porn is not normal, healthy, or good, and the desire to have that kind of sex is not properly ordered towards its real purpose. The true goal of human sexuality is not to achieve an orgasm at all costs, without any human contact. That's the lie that porn teaches -- it is fundamentally artificial, because it only shows a two-dimensional image of a person, removed from any real sense of humanity. It is, on many levels, inhuman.
The real goal of human sexuality is to lead us to a real relationship with a real person of the opposite sex. Our sexuality is designed to be expressed and experienced not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually -- in a way that involves the entire person. And ultimately, it is designed to bring us to the communion of persons that can only be fully achieved in the permanent and exclusive self-giving bond of man and woman. Real sexual desire is ordered towards marriage, and is deeply human.
We need to talk frankly about this to young people, to encourage them to resist the lie, and strive for the truth. Even the most habitual user of porn can -- admittedly with difficulty -- re-train their sexual desires so that they are correctly ordered. The first, and most important thing they must do is to get off the internet. Single people then have to seek out healthy, chaste dating relationships. Married people need to re-focus their desires towards their spouse and no other. It takes practice to minimize our disordered desires and build up our properly ordered desires. Vice is all too easy -- it's as close as our smartphone. Virtue takes hard work and patience.
This can be done. Many men and women have struggled with this temptation, and have achieved some level of success. But nobody will ever be victorious, unless we talk frankly about the evils of porn.