Lead Us Not Into Temptation


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.
Choose wisely.




  1. Sharon-334060 April 21, 2008 Reply

    I never really thought about this, but after reading Bob-990076 's comment. My thoughts: Most "professionals" psychologists say men are visual and women are emotional. What is the difference in men viewing ponography and women reading "trashy" novels? Are they both "getting" the same things, according to the "profesionals" ??

  2. Lester-314540 April 13, 2008 Reply

    As if it isn't hard enough to avoid such things on a daily basis in the secular world, I find it especially frustrating when beautiful women go to church dressed like they are going to the beach or some "meat market" dance club. Yes Lord, deliver us from temptation…

  3. Bob-99076 April 9, 2008 Reply

    I'm down with Greg-253158 on this one. I've always thought that the trashy romance novels so popular with many women are a form of emotional pornography, used for escapist fantasies that blind women to the men around them. Ever been in Munich on a sunny day? Talk about immodesty – the women's attitude is – "God made me this way – if you're struggling with it, that's your problem!" Men in America are under constant assault by the pornographication of the female image in all of our visual media, if not to the extent found in other parts of the world, and many succumb. I think Tina 277851 has a point – who's kidding who here.

  4. Keith-297102 April 3, 2008 Reply

    In the UK, the "Ann Summers" store empire is operated and owned by a woman. It has a gross annual sales turnover of more than £150 million, from a pure female dominated clientele. It's disturbing. I have read in the news that America currently has some female teacher sex scandals across florida and texas and wonder if pornography is a factor.

  5. MaryKathryn-177850 March 19, 2008 Reply

    Mary Beth,
    I was on one of those sites for a while. I thought erotica referred to different types of bedroom activity….I think the word is "kinky" mostly.
    Generally, I found a good deal of the men on that site wanted a nurse, a purse and/or sex. Pretty discouraging and disgusting. I quit because it was grossing me out.

  6. Cassy-228796 March 6, 2008 Reply

    I agree completely! And would also like to note the obligation women have to not intentionally lead men into temptation, which would lead into a discussion about modesty. Why would I want to put another person's chance at salvation at risk by dressing provocatively? If we aren't building up the kingdom we are tearing it down. This is just one way that women can be more sensitive to the men in their lives and to help provide environments that won't lead others into temptation.

  7. Jim-149694 March 4, 2008 Reply

    I was on one of the larger secular sites for exactly one month because of the weirdness of seeing so many women posting an interest in erotica. I LOT of women had this — though I don't know if it was 9 out of 10. (Boy was I glad to have CM where people tend to know right from wrong.) There must be a whole sub-culture of this out there — men and women BOTH. Blech.

  8. Jacey-314738 March 2, 2008 Reply

    Jill, it seems a bit judgemental on your part for you to say both Michael & his partner have "a big problem" using erotica to enhance their marriage… Erotica may be the sight of an amazing sunset viewed & enjoyed together as a couple, or a beautifully written passage from a book read together. It doesn't have to be obscene as in the case with pornography. I don't share my thoughts and feelings much because I don't like being "judged" by others, but I just couldn't keep quiet here. Blessings to all, Jacey

  9. Jill-319621 March 1, 2008 Reply

    MaryBeth ~ I agree with Greg ~ your original article and follow-up does KICK BUTT ~ You forgot to mention that sometimes Men just don't get it… and how much of a TURN OFF it is for a good woman… To Michael 212758 ~ Nice Try Buddy ~ but if it takes Erotica or whatever you want to call it to have a loving, sensual, and sexual relationship with supposedly the woman you adore, then you both have a big problem…

  10. Greg-121459 February 18, 2008 Reply

    Mary beth, your aricle kicks major butt. Right on!

  11. Lara-296942 February 7, 2008 Reply

    Seriously? I think that's a little harsh. So shall we all start wearing burkas to the beach so that we don't accidentally tempt someone? Come on. People "stray" because they want to. Not because someone tempted them. It is a conscious act. I don't agree with the production or distribution of Pornography for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because I think people choose it as a profession because they have no faith and instead of being able to turn to god in hard times they find an industry where they can make a decent living. This is why prostitution is so prominent in South East Asia. They are poor! If sexiness is what is causing the corruption of the world, please lets all put burlap bags over our heads. But really, perhaps it is that people are unhappy, and with out direction in their lives. Faith is more powerful than Maxim magazine.

  12. Greg-253158 February 6, 2008 Reply

    MaryBeth, Got your point on erotica right up front and you could have stopped there. But I guess you needed to earn your pay check from 4Marks and drifted into bashing men to fill up space. I noticed how women guilty of prostituting themselves in pornography (and soft porn) are – (in your opinion are for the most part) poor abused females used by Men, and I quote “Sad, misguided and ultimately unsatisfying”. How about these women are GUILTY of Mortal Sin as well! You referred to the Sermon on the Mount, as if it was only for Men and their evil ways. Mind you it was for Mankind. Contrary to your one sided view point, Women are just as guilty of “lustful” behavior as Men, and Woman spend more money on breast augmentation, plastic surgery, clothing and engage in other such activities purely for the purpose to cause Men to lust after them and cause those souls to fall from grace (for profit or non-profit ego boosts). You left out one very important part, all women are responsible for how they present themselves in public. Even you and your more than modest picture. I must admit, I only read the article because I found your picture, ahhh, let’s say….more than just an attempt to display an image of the author. It appears a great deal of effort and time went into getting such a great picture of you, which probably does not fairly represent what you look like in reality. Try again MayBeth, but be fair to both Men and Women when it comes to sin. Sin does not discriminate or is overly predominate in favor of one sex or the other (you got to take in the cause and effect issues too).

  13. Fred-190374 February 4, 2008 Reply

    Pornography .. Satans lie that " sexual gratification is always good – even without love and the protection of a committed permanent relationship within marriage .. " Men following such a course find their consciences and insides fast eroding and leading the way of all sin – to death .
    To guide ourselves in life we must always ask ourselves which choice brings the most love and goodness . Such is a good ground for our decisions .
    Our Blessed Mother had good advice for all struggling with sin of any type " .. overcome sin by growing your love .. "
    It works wonders ! .. for as we grow our love in any situation , all sin dissolves .
    Praise God for our Catholic faith ~

  14. Bernard-111269 February 1, 2008 Reply

    For those who are struggling with pornography or know someone who is, there is a Catholic website called pornnomore.com.

  15. Chris-310069 February 1, 2008 Reply

    I think it is important as a matter of context on this subject to note that pornography is a form of deviation from the norm. I do not mean that in a condescending way- pornography is undoubtedly widespread. But any society has forms of deviant behaviour, on the outskirts as it were, which are by definition on the edges and not characteristic of that society as a whole. I guess if one were extending the argument into the censorship question, that point would be relevant.
    Separately, on the question of categorizing pornography as a form of lust, it may be useful to add, from the perspective of the male psyche, that pornography is a form of addiction and could be treated as such. Thus as with gambling and narcotics it provides a short term stimulus ultimately deceptive and disappointing.

  16. Paula-124871 February 1, 2008 Reply

    Great article. I know a couple that have a great system down when out in public. When the wife sees something inappropriate, she'll point in the opposite direction and say "look at that ____ display, tree, bench". The husband knows that it's code and appreciates the distraction. Very cool marriage indeed.

  17. Author
    MaryBeth-278310 January 29, 2008 Reply

    Okay, I just submitted my next column, and it isn't about porn, so I figured I'd address some of the final issues here.
    First, thank you all for your comments!
    Second, I wanted to clarify that I write the articles, but I don't write the titles. 4Marks does that. So I didn't even know the word "temptation" was in the title until the article was posted. Which is why I didn't write about it.
    Second, I didn't address modesty because the article isn't about modesty. The article is about "erotica." When I write about modesty, I'll write about modesty. Which I'll probably do soon, since I just finished writing a little booklet about the subject. Anybody who thinks I'm afraid of the M-word doesn't know me very well!
    And finally, the point is well taken about the grocery store check out aisle. In my head, I was thinking of the SI Swimsuit Issue, which generally appears there. But most of the other publications — Maxim, FM, Stuff — those are in the magazine aisle. And they tend to show up front and center in airport magazine shops.
    I really don't understand the thinking behind the nearly naked women in women's magazines either, unless they're trying to convince us that by buying their products we'll somehow start to look like these surgically and digitally enhanced women.

  18. Jeevan-273011 January 28, 2008 Reply

    hey this is been great……one of my friend Bethany a member of 4 marks sent me a mail…how bad porn is…..each point was very strong …so i just decided to give up watching…..thnks to bethany and thanks u tooo carying such works…..it works a lot ———–Jeevan

  19. John-116134 January 27, 2008 Reply

    I don't think Mary really delved into what brings temptation, as the article is titled. But I agree mostly with her and applaud her efforts against porn. There's no mistake, erotica is porn, just as you probably saw about 80% of the men on match.com say they like it. Porn is primarily a men's problem, as most of it is directed towards men, but women view it too. I don't think it's right of you to say catholics who view porn are not catholic. They are sinning very bad, but they are our fallen brohers. Don't give up on them. They have a very painful and strong addiction which keeps them from Christ in the eucharist and sets them up for loads of trouble down the road, because pornography is a grave sin and I don't think you can take communion without confession. This porn is so addictive that without a miracle of prayer, you can not stop. I canceled my cable service completely because it does just as your article says, it leads into temptation.
    Stephen does bring up a point I think you should have addressed, and that is modesty of dress for women. OH NO! It's the m-word! Maybe women shouldn't wear mini skirts and tight, revealing blouses to church, work, and family friendly public places? Yes, the men bear the blame for the hard porn. But maybe women bear the blame for the soft porn, the leading into temptation on network tv and in all the department store magazines. Last time I checked no women were forced or manipulated to pose in those.

  20. Stephen-152165 January 23, 2008 Reply

    "Lead Us Not Into Temptation" Indeed! I am disappointed that Mary Beth Bonacci didn't address the subject of her title. She made no use of the word Modesty or even the notion of a woman's responsibility to modestly dress in society, and especially around the men they are trying to impress.
    I prefer not to use the terms of erotica or porn to describe the stuff that could lead good men astray because it has a bias in that it's origin is impersonal (I don't personnally know nor met anyone who has appeared in erotica or porn) and it is usually considered that the end user has gone looking for it and mostly paid for access to it. I believe this is pinning the tail on the wrong donkey.
    The temptations that I daily face that try to lead me astray are mostly the real live women that are around me that dress immodestly. No it's not the "erotica or porn, all of that “harmless” fun in the grocery check-out aisle" that tempts me as it sits inanimately in its shelf. No, the thing that tempts me to immoral thoughts while out shopping are those immodestly and provocatively dressed women standing or walking around in the area of that same check-out queue. I live in a warm climate and I'm a tall man. I naturally have to look down at people while walking past or talking to them – you may not notice it but shorter women with low cut or "barely there" tops are everywhere. In fact when you are a guy who is trying not to offend God by mis-using the eyes He gave that were designed to notice certain beautiful shapes of a wife, the parade of women who are dressed to flaunt their sexuality seems almost an endless diverting of eyes from one side to the other.
    Where are the women who dress so I can admire their appearance without me having to avert my eyes in embarrassment. It's one of the key things I look for when I'm encountering a potential wife.
    Please "Lead Us Not Into Temptation". Indeed I think for this reason each woman needs to daily self-examine her manner of dress and behaviour.

  21. AnneMari-187322 January 23, 2008 Reply

    Sexual temptation knows no bias among the sexes. It is something men and women alike struggle with on a regular basis. The truth is, it doesn't matter if you are in a relationship or not. It can destroy your marriage or future marriage just the same, because it embeds itself with in ones spirit and has a ripple effect on every aspect of our lives and the lives of those around us. It is naïve, nay, ignorant to believe that women do not experience or struggle with the temptations of lust! The truth is, rather than take a defensive position, I would rather admit to my weaknesses and remember my commitment to God, and myself. Fully knowing and accepting the responsibility of my actions as a woman of faith. I really appreciate the closer in this article: “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. Choose wisely.” The author makes several good points, and if anyone listens to EWTN, they had a GREAT commentary about this yesterday.

  22. Eric-191056 January 17, 2008 Reply

    Wait a doggon minute! The last time I looked (but only briefly) at the magazines in the check-out aisle in the grocery store, all the magazines with pictures of scantily clad young women on the cover were for women. The ones that had the most appeal to me (a man) had pictures of a perfect woodworking shop on the cover. Hmmm…Once you think you have it all figured out…

  23. Anne-251162 January 9, 2008 Reply

    Thank you for these thoughts. It would be interesting to hear feedback from other parents of teens who must deal with the reality of internet in the home, itunes, MTV, all other vehicles for material that is everything from questionable to highly objectionable. I have a 15 year old, and we began to have talks early about what was and was not acceptable to us and why. Occasionally, I still find times for us to "check in" to make sure we are still on the same philosophical page about popular culture. It works with programs like D.A.R.E. for drugs and alcohol. It can work for this genre of temptation too!

  24. Tina-277851 January 9, 2008 Reply

    It would be interesting if you could elaborate on how women can (and may not realize) lust after men for their: 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…

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