So apparently everything winds up being a “series” with me.
I didn’t plan it that way. Just a single, stand-alone article on pornography, following up on a random dating site search in which 9 out of 10 self-proclaimed Catholic men listed “erotica” as a “turn-on.” (Disclaimer: this was not intended to be a global statistic. Just the result of one search.)
The response was huge. The “comments” section under the article was the part you could see. Then there was my mail, the part you all couldn’t see. I believe I received more mail about this than I did the entire five-part annulment series I wrote last year.
All of which calls for a follow-up.
First of all, the one thing I really regret neglecting to mention in the original article: there are a lot of truly wonderful Catholic men in the world who strive to live purity despite the pornified culture that surrounds them. I already knew you were out there. And I heard from many more of you in the past few weeks. Yes, porn is a problem among many, many men who call themselves “Catholic.” But not all of them. And I want to give credit where credit is due. To me, there is nothing in the world more fabulous to behold than a holy man striving to do God’s will.
There is also another element to be addressed here. It is the question of the relationship between “erotica” and “pornography.” As one reader put it, it is my attempt to address “how good men could be led astray.”
Frankly, I wasn’t particularly familiar with the term “erotica” before this little foray into the land of the dating site. Now, after seeing the term bandied about and playing a couple rounds of “dueling dictionary definitions”, I have reached the conclusion that the term “erotica” is essentially a euphemism for pornography. Not necessarily the hard-core stuff. The “mild” stuff. Lingerie catalogs. Swim suit issues. “Men’s” magazines. The stuff that society treats as harmless fun. The stuff that you could give another name to, and pretend it isn’t really morally objectionable.
In other words, the stuff that could lead good men astray.
The problem is that, whether you call it erotica or porn, all of that “harmless” fun in the grocery check-out aisle is morally objectionable. It’s disrespectful to women. It engenders a using mentality regarding sexuality. And I want to take a few minutes here to talk about why.
To do that, we have to go back to JPII, who in turn goes back to Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said “You have heard it said ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, but I tell you any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
This line, as I have discovered through the course of teaching many, many classes on the Theology of the Body, tends to freak men out. “How can I control that?” Well, JPII tells us that those in attendance on the Mount that day were no less freaked out. They were accustomed to having their actions regulated. But their looks?
Here’s what we need to understand. The term “lust” doesn’t mean quite what we think it means. We think it means “sexual attraction.” It doesn’t. The term “lust”, as JPII defines it, means “the will to use another person merely as means to my own personal satisfaction.” This “lust” can happen in many different contexts of life – social, financial, political. But it’s probably safe to assume that, in this context, Christ was referring primarily to the sexual.
But “lust” in the sexual context doesn’t just refer to a spontaneous, unintended reaction. It refers to a deliberate intentionality, the will to see another person as simply means to personal satisfaction – in this case, of the sexual variety. As one guy in a class I taught put it “It’s not the first look that gets you into trouble. It’s the second.” It’s the decision to keep on looking.
Now, let’s talk about all of that “harmless” stuff in the grocery store aisle. Why does it exist? Why the barely-there attire? Why the provocative poses?
Simple. It’s intended to elicit a sexual response by showcasing the (frequently enhanced) forms of anonymous young women. The reason they make it, and the reason men buy it, is because it turns them on. Deliberately sought. And that, my friends, is lust. Whether we’re talking about Debbie Doing Whatever She Does in the XXX store or Heidi Klum draped over a bed in her undies, the underlying intention is the same.
Look, I really do get how well-intentioned men could be drawn into this. As I said, society treats it as harmless fun. But it’s not harmless. Go back to what I said in the first article about pornography. I won’t repeat it all here, because 4Marks pays me to write original material, not to regurgitate last month’s submission. But to summarize: Porn (or erotica or whatever you want to call it) creates a selfish, using mentality toward women and toward sexuality – a mentality that can easily infect a man’s marriage. It is disrespectful to the image and likeness of God present in that woman, and in all women.
A truly holy man will avoid it all. And a truly holy man is what a truly holy woman is looking for.
There were few other concerns that I heard from you over the course of the past month. I heard one or two complaints about the characterization of women solely as “victims” of pornography. There is no doubt that, in the world of hard-core porn, there is an element of human trafficking and coercion and probably even enslavement. There is also no doubt that there are plenty of women who pose voluntarily, and probably enthusiastically. They’re in it for the money or the fame or the attention. Sad, misguided and ultimately unsatisfying, but true. Of course that matters in terms of a woman’s legal and human rights. But in terms of the soul of the man on the other end of the visual image, it really doesn’t matter at all. Using an image and likeness of God merely as means to personal satisfaction is wrong, whether or not the person being used is doing so voluntarily.
Along the same lines, a few were offended that I talked about men as consumers of pornography and neglected to mention that women use porn as well. It is worth noting that this objection came only from men. I point this out because women know that, for the most part, it’s just not all that attractive to us. It’s not that we’re somehow morally superior. We’re not, and anybody who has taken the time to read the rest of what I’ve written for 4Marks knows that I have pointed out the weaknesses of the female nature on more than one occasion. But this one just isn’t our weakness. It’s a matter of wiring. We’re not visually oriented in the same way men are. We aren’t as sexually affected by what we see. We certainly aren’t affected at the sight of scantily clad women. We see the same basic equipment, although probably not in equivalent condition, in the mirror every day.
There are probably women out there – although I don’t personally know of any – who are consumers of true visual pornography. They are most likely doing so in the spirit of the women’s movement, which said that women can and should do anything men can do. I don’t think it comes naturally to us.
If women do face certain temptation in the realm of “erotica”, it’s probably along the lines of the steamy romance novels and the steamy Cosmo articles. Those are our pornography, and we need to avoid them.
It’s all very simple, really. Respecting each other means respecting the meaning of human sexuality – in the way we act, in the way we think, and in the entertainment we choose.