“Pornography-A Harem of Imaginary Brides (Part I)“
Shortly after I moved to Toronto in 1977, an uproar over the sale of pornographic magazines at mom-and-pop convenience stores in the west end of the city made headlines in local newspapers. Everyone knew that erotica was out there, but most people considered it sleazy. At that time, if you wanted to buy materials of that ‘type’, you either had to visit a porn house (and hope that no one you knew saw you coming out) or have it delivered by mail in suspicious-looking brown-paper packages. But when Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler started showing up on the shelves of Toronto’s corner grocery stores, they crossed a line. Although everyone acknowledged that the publication of such magazines was legal, the question of whether pornography was harmful to society became a matter of public concern.
Women protested that magazines of this sort are offensive and portray women in a stereotypical and demeaning way. They argued that the mere presence of these kinds of publications creates an environment that is hostile to and discriminates against women. On the opposite side were those who defended ‘personal rights’ – those who argued that no one has the right to legislate what consenting adults choose to read or view. As long as minors were not exposed, they reasoned, what was the harm? The voice of ‘liberalism’ won the day. Our neighbourhood corner store obediently placed the offending magazines in a less prominent place where only their titles would be visible. But we all knew what they were … and we all knew what they were about.
Fast forward to 2013. In his memoir, 1982, now disgraced CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi suggested that his sexual experience at the age of 13 had been hampered by a lack of information. “Part of the problem,” he wrote, “was that I didn’t have the benefit of pornography. That might have helped.”1 I was shocked by his casual disclosure. When did we as a society move from regarding pornography as something shameful – a vice indulged in by a few – to something that could be considered ‘beneficial’ or ‘helpful’? How did we get to a point where the consumption of pornography is regarded (by some) as mainstream entertainment?2
Who is at risk?
In his letter, “Bought with a Price,” Bishop Paul S. Loverde writes, “Today’s father must protect himself and his children from the relentless assault of an increasingly pornographic culture; moreover, mothers share this sacred task. Every home now stands in the pathway of this attack on our children’s innocence and purity. If we are not vigilant, our sons and daughters will pay a steep and heartrending price.”3
But it’s not just children who are at risk. It’s adolescents, adult men, and adult women; it’s you and me. Bishop Loverde writes, “No person living in our culture can totally separate himself or herself from the scourge of pornography. All are affected to a greater or lesser extent, even those who do not directly participate in the use of pornography.”4
What is pornography?
Although many of us would find it difficult to define exactly what pornography is, most of us would agree that ‘we know it when we see it’. The Church, however, is much more specific. It defines pornography as the “[removal of] real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties.”5
Catholic psychologist Dr. Peter Kleponis proposes a working definition that not only complements but also expands on the Church’s definition. He describes pornography as “any image that leads a person to use another person for his or her own sexual pleasure. It is devoid of love, intimacy, relationship or responsibility.”6 Based on this definition, Kleponis challenges us to acknowledge that pornography does not simply consist of naked images of people, or people engaging in sexual activity. Instead, he suggests that it can come in many forms: “women at the beach, lingerie catalogues, beer commercials, etc.”7
The defining characteristic of all pornography, then, is that it leads people to ‘use’ others. As such, it is the complete antithesis of love. While love is self-giving, pornography is self-loving; where authentic love inspires us to embrace the good of others, pornography is selfish; it inspires us to turn inwards – to embrace our self and to seek our own pleasure.
When a man indulges in pornography, he keeps what C.S. Lewis called a ‘harem of imaginary brides’ that prevents him from achieving loving unity with an actual woman. Lewis wrote, “For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself.”8
How much of a problem is porn?
These ‘imaginary brides’ have become a siren call for men and women that many have been unable to resist. Today, pornography is an epidemic, and its impact on our youth, marriages, and families has been devastating. As early as 1996, the U.S. Justice Department had warned, “Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.”9 But this memo was written almost 20 years ago – before the advent of wireless broadband, iPads, selfies and sexting.10
Pornography has been called the “new drug of choice” because it is affordable, accessible, anonymous, accepted, and aggressive.11 According to 2010 Family Safe Media stats, there are now 4.2 million pornographic websites, 420 million pornographic web pages, and 68 million search engine requests (Google) for pornography each day. 25% of all search engine requests are related to pornography, and there are 4.5 billion average daily pornographic emails. There are 100,000 child porn websites worldwide, and child pornography alone generates $3 billion each year.12 Every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography.13 But the reason it is so enticing is that much of it is free, and all of it is accessible. Porn has become part of the fabric of life. It’s inescapable – it’s just one short click away.
While most people would agree that minors should be protected from porn, the average age of a child’s first exposure is at the age of 11. 90% of 8 to 16 year olds have viewed porn online, and 80% of 15 to 17 year olds have had multiple exposures to hard-core porn. In fact, the largest single population of Internet pornography users range between the ages of 12 and 17.14
It’s estimated that 40 million adults in the United States regularly visit Internet pornography websites. According to the Huffington Post, “Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, and 30% of all data transferred across the Internet is porn (Huffington Post, 2013).”15 The majority of users are men; however, there has recently been an alarming rise in the use of porn among women. According to statistics, in 2010, 72% of visitors to pornographic websites were male, while women accounted for the remaining 28%.16
The impact on marriages and families has been devastating. A 2003 study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers observed that in 56% of divorce cases, one spouse had an obsessive interest in Internet pornography (Paul, 2004). Dr. Kleponis writes, “A 2004 study found that those who had affairs were over three times more likely to have used Internet pornography than those who did not have an affair. In addition, those who had used the services of prostitutes were almost four times more likely to have used Internet pornography than those who did not engage in paid sex (Stack et al., 2004). Pornography use leads men to place less value on sexual fidelity and more value on casual sex (Carroll et al., 2008). In fact, pornography use has led many young men not to want to make a commitment to marriage. They believe that happiness can only come through sexual encounters with multiple partners.”17 A married person who has viewed a pornographic movie in the past year is 25.6% more likely to be divorced, 65.1% more likely to have had an extramarital affair, and 13.1% less likely to report being ‘very happy’ with life in general (Doran & Price, 2009).18 Clearly, pornography’s promise of ‘true love’ and happiness is a false illusion. Porn does not bring happiness or pleasure; instead, it destroys whatever joy or peace the person may have had in their life.
Why is porn so harmful?
While many acknowledge that porn is harmful, we might have difficulty explaining exactly why. Porn has been ‘re-packaged’ to make it appear innocuous – mainstream. Many regard it as a kind of ‘rite of passage’ for young men. Those who spend their lives exploiting others would have us believe that porn is just innocent entertainment – that it can even be educational. But they are lying. Bishop Paul S. Loverde writes, “Pornography depicts the body solely in an exploitative way, and pornographic images are created and viewed only for the purpose of arousing sexual impurity. Hence the production, viewing and spread of pornography is an offense against the dignity of persons, is objectively evil, and must be condemned.”19
It’s not just Catholics who believe that porn is harmful. Others, including educators, psychiatrists, medical doctors, psychologists, and other counsellors have attested to the negative impact porn has on every person who engages in this type of activity. In part two of this article, we’ll take a more detailed look at the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects of pornography. Stay tuned!
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Joseph Brean, “Jian Ghomeshi’s Journey: From immigrant’s son to cultural icon to pariah,” National Post [newspaper online] Oct. 31, 2014 (updated Nov. 4, 2014); available from http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/10/31/jian-ghomeshis-journey-from-immigrants-son-to-cultural-icon-to-pariah/; Internet; accessed 5 November 2014.
2 See pp. 26-28 of Integrity Restored by Dr. Peter Kleponis for an interesting historical overview of the development of the porn culture in America.
3 Bishop Paul S. Loverde, “Bought With a Price” (Arlington, D.C.: Catholic Diocese of Arlington, 2014), 6.
4 Ibid., 23.
5 CCC, 2354.
6 Dr. Peter Kleponis, Integrity Restored (Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2014), 10.
8 Matt Fradd, Foreward to “Bought With a Price” by Bishop Paul S. Loverde, 11.
9 Ibid., 9.
10 Cf. Ibid.
11 Cf. Kleponis, Integrity Restored, 14-15.
12 Ibid., 13; quoted from Family Safe Media (2010).
13 Ibid., 23; quoted from Family Safe Media (2007).
14 Ibid., 18-19; quoted from Family Safe Media (2007).
15 Ibid., 14; quoted from Family Safe Media (2010).
16 Ibid., 13.
17 Ibid., 16.
19 Loverde, “Bought With a Price,” 19.