The Consensus on Pornography
After so many decades of bad psychology, the modern world has finally discovered that pornography is bad for people. While the Church has said this for ages, secular culture has only recently caught up with this dark truth. In a rare instance of consensus, most writers have determined that pornography distorts a person’s view of the other sex, acts as an addictive vice that often worsens over time, and has the potential to ruin relationships.
In response, many groups all across the cultural spectrum have offered arguments to convince skeptics, self-help programs to break the habit, and even communities for people to share their struggles and support one another. Quality resources abound for the man or woman wrestling with an addiction to pornography, and many of them have value for those without the addiction since they frequently have profound insights about human nature and cultivating healthy relationships.
Nevertheless, the problem of pornography continues to wreak havoc among people, especially men. Men today may have more resources to help them cope with the vice, but they also have much easier access with their technology. One can make all the convincing arguments he wants that pornography is bad, but it does not really feel bad when it is so ubiquitous. After all, how can something be so bad if so many men do it and it is so accessible?
While they have helped a few people, most arguments against pornography have mostly had the effect of pushing the subject into secrecy. The great majority of men, religious or not, look at pornography, but keep silent about it. Similar to the campaigns against smoking, campaigns against pornography have stigmatized the behavior, but have not really eliminated it. A smoker might now have to steal a puff in his car away from others; the porn-addict does the same.
The Subtle Symptom of Pornography
There is a key difference between this kind of addiction and pornography though: the symptoms for the former are apparent and difficult to hide while an addiction to the latter is easy to hide. The smoker, drinker, or drug abuser will smell different, look different, and act differently than other people. The porn-addict does not seem different at all, making his problem hard to detect.
Part of this is because so many people suffer with addiction to pornography that the symptoms have become normalized. If everyone smelled like cigarette smoke, no one would really notice the smell. When so many men objectify women and have issues with intimacy, most people assume this is just his nature.
Another reason that people struggle to detect an addiction—particularly those who have it themselves—is that the main symptom burrows deep into a man’s soul. Many talks on chastity discuss the external problems like body chemistry, lying to a loved one, the slippery slope to viewing worse material, and warped psyches, but few mention the huge drain pornography has on one’s spirit.
Many will say that pornography emasculates a man, which is true, but what does this mean? It means that it drains a man of his desire for excellence, his will to improve, his pursuit for something transcendent. In practical terms, the man who looks at pornography will not want to do well at school or work, will not want to improve his health and physical strength, will not want to read and cultivate his mind, will not make more of his friendships or relationships, will have few personal goals if any, and will simply hold himself back.
St. Francis de Sales called man in his Introduction to the Devout Life, “the more vigorous sex,” but pornography has reversed this. Men have abandoned their role as providers and protectors, letting women take on these roles instead. Men used to dominate the academic environment and define their culture and traditions; now, women graduate in greater numbers and have feminized American culture. Men would discipline themselves and their children; now, few people even know the meaning of discipline. Men used to spend time together and form meaningful friendships; now, they delude themselves in isolation. Men used to pray, read, and write; now, they vegetate in front of a screen. Man was meant for greatness; but now, he too often wallows in mediocrity.
Breaking the Habit
Because it saps a man’s spirit, the very source of a man’s desire to acquire virtue and eliminate vice, the habit of viewing porn is incredibly difficult to break. Overcoming any vice requires a strong will and support from others, but pornography happens to eliminate both by secretly making a man weak and unmotivated.
It is not impossible, however. A man can stop it if he takes considerable measures to do so. This means that he must first remove all occasions of sin—anything with a screen and internet access, TV shows and movies with racy content, and any magazines or other media with inappropriate images. This might result in doing away with a smartphone and using a computer only for work purposes. So be it. It also helps to have a person hold the other accountable in making this change.
Removing all these things will not necessarily prevent relapses, but it will lessen them and lay the groundwork for detoxification. It will take a great deal of time for the images stored up in one’s memory to go away. Idleness tends to allow these images to surface, so having a hobby or activity to squelch these impulses is also key.
Finally, one should pray often. Nothing better chills the fires of lust like remembering the Nativity of Our Lord, the gentle humility of Our Lady, or the Passion of Our Lord. God’s grace will give strength to any man seeking to purify himself. A good practice that people recommend is to say three Hail Marys every morning and evening.
With a great deal of time and effort, the addiction can and will subside. Even those who doubted will feel the change. Once a man loses this compulsive desire to look at filth, he will gain a hitherto unknown clarity and drive that will help him grow and find happiness. In short, he will realize his true nature and become the man he was supposed to be.