Bishops take on porn

The U.S. Bishops have just released a statement on pornography:  “Create in Me a Clean Heart:  A Pastoral Response to Pornography”.  Given the recent fiasco in Rome and the presence of the word “pastoral” in the title, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a mess of ambiguity that ended up being about making porn addicts feel welcome contributing to parish life.  In fact, the statement is refreshingly blunt.  Use of pornography is clearly and repeatedly labeled a mortal sin, which is something even I hadn’t realized.  (I thought it was just what one tends to do while viewing pornography that is mortally sinful.)  What’s more, they’re careful to be gender inclusive in their condemnations; specifically including erotic romance novels aimed at women.  There’s no appeal to “gradualism”, to the positive elements that may be involved in pornography production and use, just pure condemnation.  This is nice, although it raises the question of why the Church has chosen this one particular sexual sin, out of the several that have risen to near-ubiquity in our society, to go all “medieval” on.

The clarity is appreciated.  It turns out that I’ve been misunderstanding churchmen speaking on this topic for years.  My understanding of pornography is that it’s primarily an aid to masturbation, so that talk about pornography is really just a roundabout way to talk about masturbation.  I suppose because bewailing the pornographication of the culture sounds dignified, while talking about masturbation is the sort of thing Beavis and Butthead would do.  But no, the bishops make quite clear (see the “related sins” section) that when they say “pornography”, they mean pornography, as in just looking at the girly pictures.

So why a statement on pornography and not masturbation, when if surveys are to be believed damned near everybody has at least tried both?  One reason they give is that porn allegedly has a sort of dynamism to it; they say it’s addictive, and people are driven to more and more extreme stuff to get the same fix.  Maybe that’s true; pornography is one of the sexual sins I’ve never really gone in for.  Nobody says things like that about the solitary vice.  The reason people do it is because it means consequence-free orgasms whenever you want them.  That can be a hard deal to turn down (depends on how horny one is at the moment), but one doesn’t need to invoke any idea about addiction and “fixes” or more extreme forms of self-pleasuring.

(I had trouble following the insistence on porn being unacceptable “even within marriage”.  Does this mean a couple watching porn together?  Does it mean a wife doing a strip show for her husband?  The latter sounds tacky to me, but I don’t see why it would be sinful.)

There may also be an Orthosphere side to this.  That is, the bishops have bestirred themselves against pornography in particular because it’s not private, because the Church has the duty to control or at least influence the public sphere, which is now being “pornified”.   Faced with three near-ubiquitous sexual sins–onanism, contraception, and pornography–they have recalled that stopping sin isn’t really one of their main jobs.  The number one job is getting souls into heaven, and for that stopping sin isn’t necessary, just repentance, whether periodic or eventual.  A secondary job is to enforce Christ’s social kingship by controlling public morality, what is and is not acceptable in public.

 

46 Responses

  1. As an outsider to this particular vice, I understand its hard for you to comprehend the amount of evil that walks hand in hand with pornography usage. Its hard to understand how detrimental it is to the mental and physical health of the man who’s become addicted.

    Let me just say right now (and I’m not even exaggerating) that its just as serious as being an alcoholic or other drug addict. If these dudes can make a dent, even a small one, in this debilitating societal tumor, all their efforts will have been worth it.

    Here are some resources.This link describes in detail how porn affects its addicts.
    http://reuniting.info/download/pdf/0.WITHDRAWAL.pdf

    Here is a more general link for those seeking to end their disastrous addiction and start actually living again.
    http://yourbrainonporn.com

  2. Pornography is a great scourge on our society, it ought to be banned, and never indulged in.

    Re porn in marriage:

    Spouses should not watch porn together. Not may they produce it together.

  3. http://eeyore.uh.cz/wp-content/themes/bk/stuff/true%20porn%20clerk%20stories.pdf
    is pretty interesting, though it isn’t clear if these sad sacks are ruined by porn, or mental defectives using it to escape their hopeless lives.

    “I’m convinced that porn is like alcohol: some people can stop at just one every now and then, some people just binge on weekends, and some people get genuinely, horribly addicted”

  4. The porn revolution is a consequence of the contraception, fornication, and adultery revolution. It is fine to attack porn and all – it is certainly despicable and harmful. But ignoring or downplaying the other sexual sins is inexcusable.

    Does anyone seriously think that porn is more of a scourge than contraception? That doesn’t pass the laugh test.

  5. Here’s my guess of an explanation.
    The bishops are pc-whipped. Anti-homosexuality and anti-contraception are un-pc. Anti-porn isn’t. Feminists complain about porn.
    Being anti-sodomite is being anti-inclusive. Contraception is seen as an intensely private “in-the-bedroom” sort of thing so anti-contraception is off limits.
    Attacking porn is fairly safe for them.

  6. I think Bruce is on the right track here. Andrea Dworkin pretty much built her feminist career on campaigning against pornography on the grounds that it dehumanizes women. Of course, feminism is largely responsible for the growth of the pornographic industry because it has made Western women so absolutely horrible that men have turned to masturbating to manufactured images as the lesser of two evils.

  7. feminism is largely responsible for the growth of the pornographic industry because it has made Western women so absolutely horrible that men have turned to masturbating

    I’m sure that line of demand-pull causation operates, but I don’t think it is the biggest one between feminism and porn. There is also a big supply push effect. A majority of women get a big, visceral thrill out of being the object of “the male gaze.” This is the mirror image of the visceral thrill men get out of looking at pretty girls. “Attention whore” describes most women or at least most women in the relevant age range. In our traditional society. seeking out this thrill is ameliorated, modulated, and channeled by slut-shaming. Take away the slut-shaming, and female competition for the male gaze does the rest. Observe that most porn is free. Observe that porn star has gone from being a job occupied by unattractive women to being a job occupied by attractive women. This is so even as it has paid less and less, relative to other female occupations.

    One can imagine controlling this particular vice in other ways, like via the religious police hitting women with sticks.

    There is another bi-directional feedback loop. Feminists really, really like to talk about male domination and female submission. And rape. They really, really like to talk about this a lot. A whole lot.

    Bernie Sanders is oddly attuned to what’s going on with feminists:

  8. Most feminism these days is “sex-positive”, so they would frown on attacking porn. Credit to the bishops where credit is due; no need to look for ulterior motives.

    Regarding porn in marriage: You often hear that it’s beneficial to watch porn before having sex with your spouse, to get your hormones pumping (assuming you’re middle-aged). At least, I’ve often heard this; I imagine that they’re condemning this viewpoint.

  9. Roepke,
    I’m not looking for ulterior motives. I’m saying that they are comfortable with being principled and genuinely Christian about porn because it’s not un-pc to be anti-porn.

  10. Just another attack on men.

    The screws are tightening where it’s societally safe to do so to produce another war. Under the guise of morality, no surprise. Same old, same old.

  11. Axismundi,
    The post says that the bishops specifically mentioned female porn use through romance novels. I think porn use criticism was chosen because it’s safe for them. We should support them when they do something good despite their many omissions and general cowardice.

    Bonald,
    The mortal sin in porn use is the sin of lust. Beating off is a separate sin.

  12. Dr Bill

    “A majority of women get a big, visceral thrill out of being the object of “the male gaze.”

    I think that’s true if they think the gazers are desirable men. They aren’t happy when the creepy janitor gazes at them.

  13. > Regarding porn in marriage: You often hear that it’s beneficial to watch porn before having sex with your spouse…

    I’ll bet that’s what they had in mind. It read like they were responding to something. I guess there are porn apologists who say “no, porn doesn’t damage marriages–in fact, it can help them!”

    To be clear, I’m all in favor of condemning pornography. This is exactly the attitude the bishops should take to other sins. You don’t sense them flinching like they do when they mention remarriage and sodomy.

  14. The bishops fail to condemn the pornographers and call them the vile creatures they are. But of course, to do so would be anti-semitic.

    (See Nathan Abrams, “Triple-exthnics: Nathan Abrams on Jews in the American porn industry”, Jewish Quarterly, Winter 2004 , cited in TOO .)

  15. Pornography isn’t a moral issue; it’s a weapon. You can exhort people to try harder to dodge the bullets, or you can go after the guys that are pulling the trigger.

  16. Nice comment, Georges. Reminds me of ‘terrorists’.

    Isn’t that the problem with everything these days – all you’re told to do is try harder, but never to go after the guys who are setting everything up for the fall.

  17. Interestingly, pornography and murder are the only sins that the catechism expressly states should be legally suppressed.

  18. Bonald. in your opinion are the romantic Jane Austen novels suitable for Christian readers? Awaiting your response, many thanks for your help.

  19. I agree wholeheartedly with Arkansas Reactionary above: pornography is the scourge of our age. It must be avoided just as one would avoid jumping in a tar pit. Unfortunately, it is much easier to fall into porn than a tar pit, and a tar put will only destroy your body; porn destroys the soul.
    One needn’t be a prude to hate porn. Anyone who has suffered in its grip and, by the grace of God, escaped it likely feels a great deal of shame having been caught and is also repulsed by it. I hate it. It is a mockery of the gift of sexual reproduction God has given us. Just as with everything the Devil does, he takes something God created for good and distorts it. People are fooled because sex is natural and so they think pornography is just viewing a natural process or natural activity.
    Like you, Bonald, I am a professor (although not much longer) and I have told my students many times to shun pornography. “Run, men. Don’t walk. RUN away from porn as if your life depends on it. It does!”
    Some snigger, but as I have been blessed with an attractive wife about half my age, others think I’m a credible witness and ask me more about my warning. And so I tell them a solid John Paul II line of reasoning re: human dignity, the purpose of our bodies, etc. The men who ask more go away strengthened, and the women in the class, being rather atypical, find it edifying to hear a grown man who is masculine (me) openly and shamelessly reject the ideology that says they are nothing but bags of cells with a vagina for entertainment purposes only. God calls us to the supernatural. Satan calls us to the subnatural.
    I’m still in shock that our bishops actually said something orthodox for a change. That pack of sissies is usually trying their best to undermine God and Men.
    By the way, did you see bishop Olmstead’s letter to men a couple months ago? Very good.

  20. @The Anglo-Thomist

    …and the women in the class, being rather atypical, find it edifying to hear a grown man who is masculine (me) openly and shamelessly reject the ideology that says they are nothing but bags of cells with a vagina for entertainment purposes only.

    This is an exaggeration of a straw man, not helpful as a thoughtful argument in combating pornography. There is a reason that female bovine porn is not as ubiquitous as female human porn, and it is precisely because consumers of porn do NOT look at women as merely bags of cells with a vagina.

    The manosphere would be justified in calling yours a white knight argument.

  21. I was referring to feminism.

  22. Maybe I’m confused about the whole thing – where were you referring to feminism?

  23. The part you cited as being white knightism. I agree that I overstated the case about bag of cells. It is indeed lazy hyperbole.
    I think it’s true that feminists, not men, have reduced women to sex organs. Many men go along for the ride, but I think the current lack of female dignity can be traced directly to Margaret Sanger and other early 20th century ‘progressives.’ I really do think that pornography is undignified for both men and women, but I laid out a poor case. I’m also more worried about pornography from the man’s standpoint and the harm it does to us.
    Sorry, I should have thought out my original post more before typing and sending. This replay as well. I’ve noticed that if you are going to post something here, you really have to have your act together, and I don’t yet. So you were right to call me out.

  24. The Anglo-Thomist:

    I’m also more worried about pornography from the man’s standpoint and the harm it does to us.

    I’m not.

    At least pornography targeted at men is understood to actually be pornography. Most people don’t even grasp that pornography targeted at women is, actually, pornography. As a result women in modern society grow up immersed in a sea of female-targeted pornography fully approved by society and not even recognized to be vicious; with terrible results for individuals and society.

    In the case of male-targeted pornography at least it is possible and socially acceptable to identify it and disapprove of it.

  25. Sorry, I should have thought out my original post more before typing and sending.

    No apology needed for my part. I do this all the time (type, send, regret).

  26. I think it’s true that feminists, not men, have reduced women to sex organs. Many men go along for the ride, but I think the current lack of female dignity can be traced directly to Margaret Sanger and other early 20th century ‘progressives.’

    That’s a good point. Feminism says to us that we must not view women as wives, mothers, and homemakers. What’s left? Very expensive sex toys. Very expensive does not do the thing justice, either. Lifelike, anatomically correct dolls are super-cheap. As are plane tickets to Thailand. Or Kiev.

    No! You should think of them the way you think of men!! But, like, I’m not gay. Plus, they don’t think it’s funny when I light my farts on fire. So, in what sense am I supposed to think of them as like men? I relate to prissy, mirror-looking-in men who want to talk about shopping, interior design, and mascara by avoiding them. Or maybe by beating them up (oh, how I wish the 80s would return!). So, I’m supposed to beat women up? Avoid them? Arm wrestling? Hunting? World of Warcraft? I’ve got the full run of Star Trek, the original series, on DVD! Nod, nod, wink, wink. Monty Python! I’ll watch Monty Python with them! My wife and I sing the spam song all the damn time. MMA?

    Professional wrestling! Get drunk and take them to professional wrestling? Is that it? One of the most pleasant memories of high school for me was going to see King Kong Bundy with a bunch of my Y-chromosome confreres. We even managed to get the somewhat prissy exchange student from Belgium to admit it was fun. He had a Y-chromosome, though. Stupid, itsy bitsy round glasses. But a Y-chromosome nevertheless. True fact: doing doughnuts in the parking lot is a completely alien activity to Belgians. Doughnuts in the parking lot. Women like that, right?

    Can’t you just hear Molly Yard trying to pretend she likes Monty Python?

  27. Interesting post Bonald.

    I’ve had a quick look at the Bishop’s statement and must admit that there is some legitimate grounds for dismay with regard to the document. However, it certainly is a document within the tradition of the Church and continuation of its war against not only sin but Eros itself.

    I’ll take it as a given that all here agree that the production of pornography for third party consumption is wrong. So is the facilitation of that production, i.e. through purchase. As are the use of minors, coercion, etc.

    The first problem, as it I see it, is that the Church has a real problem in distinguishing between legitimate desire and lust. I mean at what point does the desire for my wife turn into lust. As I interpret the document, hot and steamy is wrong but tepid sex is OK.

    A lot of this has go to do with Church’s traditional hostility to all forms Erotic expression even within legitimate marriage. The bishops quote Matthew 5:28 in the document to include all women, including a husband’s wife, in their admonition of lust, not realising that it is logically impossible for a man to commit adultery when the object in question is his wife. It’s this approach that “pathologises” normal sexual expression within marriage. and leads to several other “medieval” approaches to the subject.

    Sexual messages (through physical media) between spouses, which are intended to arouse, are thus classified as pornography. Where to begin with that one? As I see it the Church wants to push Eros out the relationship all together. The Church, I think, sees marriage as being a state of Phillia with conjugal rights with the intrusion of Eros being a moral wrong. In a normal marriage, the partner is meant to induce arousal in the other. What the the Church is doing here is de-legitimising intimate forms of arousal which are not immediate and proximate to the sexual act. i.e. your wife sending you a suggestive text has now become pornography. Erotic “non physical” intimacies, which are the joy of married life, are now illegitimate.

    The second problem is with regard to the Church’s understanding of the malice of lust. There is a disturbing trend of conflating malice with “instrumentality”. As I see it, the Church seems to think that if I use someone to satisfy my desire I’m using them in an “instrumental” manner. Using my wife to satisfy my desire is wrong but asking her to bring me a coffee to satisfy my thirst isn’t. In both instances I’m “using” my wife.

    The shift towards an “instrumental” view of malice has a huge potential to sabotage legitimate authority. I mean, if sergeant asks a company to attack a bridge–under fire–in order to secure it for his superiors, is it morally wrong because he is using the troop in an instrumental manner? There are all sorts of legitimate reasons to use others to achieve our goals yet the Church seems to be undermining them with this new approach.

    Now, I know that the Church may argue that there are legitimate and illegitimate instances of instrumentality. What it appears to be saying, in this document, is that the use of the partner to satisfy sexual desire is an example of illegitimate instrumentality. It’s something I think St Paul, (1 Corinthians 7:9) would be opposed to.

    Houston, we have a problem.

    Incidentally, the bishops assert that porn is not art. I disagree, porn is art (in its most expansive definition) but it is a morally objectionable form of it.

    The problem with pornography consumption, as I see it, apart from the moral problems of its production, is that it facilitates desire outside of the context of marriage. If that desire is directed toward a non-spousal other it facilitates adultery. If there is no spouse it facilitates masturbation. If there is a spouse it can desensitise to a man to “the average” woman and it can encourage depravity. On the other hand, it can facilitate desire for the other and introduce novelty in a relationship.

    However, taken as a totality, its consumption has to be viewed in a negative light. But whether or not the occasional view of something that is freely on offer is a mortal sin. It’s something I have difficulty reconciling with. Venial definitely, but mortal, I’m not so sure.

  28. @slumlord

    Medieval approaches are exactly what we need.

    If your object of desire is a photograph, a non-human object, then that is lust, regardless of who it’s a photograph of.

    And every willful act of lust is a mortal sin.

  29. Hi slumlord,

    I thought we disagreed about everything, but I actually agree with most of what you’re saying. I’m also having trouble getting my mind around the idea of sinfully lusting after my own wife. One thing I like about Catholic morality is that it tends to be objective, physical, and not rest everything on parsing purity of motives. “Using” someone is not per se immoral. Something can be evil but still be art.

  30. Bonald,

    I think the traditional Church has had a real issue with Eros which I’ve written about before. This is one of the reasons why I’m not a traditionalist and it’s one of the reasons the Church has been so impotent with regard to the Sexual Revolution which overwhelmed it. The Left didn’t do much, it simply occupied a vacuum. And a vacuum can’t push back.

    The wide interpretation of lust to extend even to the desire for your wife is one such example of the inability of the Church to touch the subject of Eros without trying to kill it. The reason why I’m not a traditionalist is that it attempts to maintain this status quo.

    One of the areas the Church needs a revolution in its thinking is with regard to re-evaluation of the role of Eros within the context of Caritas. Caritas is meant to regulate Eros, not poison it. But this evaluation is never going to occur where worship of past is sacrosanct and innovation–even within the faith–is verboten.

  31. “I’m also having trouble getting my mind around the idea of sinfully lusting after my own wife.”

    It’s sinful to think about having normal sex (the act which is open to children) with your wife and get a woody?

    I can understand why it’s sinful to, say, think about your wife giving you a BJ.

  32. Sexual messages (through physical media) between spouses, which are intended to arouse, are thus classified as pornography. Where to begin with that one? As I see it the Church wants to push Eros out the relationship all together. The Church, I think, sees marriage as being a state of Phillia with conjugal rights with the intrusion of Eros being a moral wrong.

    Sexy texts between spouses are pornography, at least as a general matter. The general principle is that sexual activity is to be oriented towards penis-in-vagina, unprotected, marital sex. Why are spouses sending sexy texts to one another? To turn one another on, obviously. When is it OK to turn one another on? When part of an action leading to PIV, unprotected, marital sex. To get sexy texts to be non-pornographic, you have to imagine weirdos who get off on sitting next to one another, sending sexy texts as a form of foreplay (instead of, say, whispering in one another’s ears). In that case, perhaps they are not pornographic. However, the Church is perfectly free to and would be perfectly right in outlawing even that goofy exception if She judged the exception to be threatening to the rule (as it obviously is).

    On the other hand, that the Church has a problem talking positively about sex is obvious. It never seems to be able to do so without being creepy. EWTN had on, for a while, a show called Marriage Works in Christ (actually, a quick perusal of their website makes me think it might still be on). The purpose of the show was to present how Catholic sexuality is supposed to work within marriage (though that’s not what EWTN’s website says now).

    It was among the creepiest television shows ever produced. I think the most memorable moment was the (black) husband explaining how, when he is nailing his (white) wife, he is thinking about how he is really nailing Our Lord. To her credit, his wife looked a little queasy, though Fr seemed to be grooving on it.

    In the contemporary Church at least, one of the problems in this area seems to be the pervasive faggotry of the priesthood. Sometimes they seem to generalize from “my sexuality is sadly corrupt” to “sexuality is sadly corrupt” and sometimes they seem not to grasp that their sexuality is sadly corrupt.

    A couple of months ago, I sat through a sermon on the Church as the Bride of Christ (I now forget which of the several possible Scripture passages provoked it). The priest who gave it is a good priest, though somewhat bitchy and feminine. As you might imagine, he displayed rather too much enthusiasm for this topic, explaining at length that we, men and women alike, are Jesus’s bride.

    The solution to this is not to spend much time talking about sex. No more time than She spends talking about food. You don’t have to tell people that eating is fun. You only have to teach them that there are limits to how and how much one may eat.

  33. It’s sinful to think about having normal sex (the act which is open to children) with your wife and get a woody?

    and

    I’m also having trouble getting my mind around the idea of sinfully lusting after my own wife. One thing I like about Catholic morality is that it tends to be objective, physical, and not rest everything on parsing purity of motives.

    I don’t see the difficulty. If you are in Cleveland and your wife is in Houston, then (willfully) thinking about nailing her and getting a woody is sinful. How could it not be? The pleasure circuits connecting your penis to your brain are there for a purpose. Getting a woody in Cleveland when your wife is in Houston is not it. That’s physical and objective.

    I agree that the whole “using others as a means” categorical imperative type analysis is utterly retarded as a way of talking. it’s like everything else about the Conciliar period. You could, with great effort, manage to articulate orthodox teachings in this goofy language. But, why would you speak in a language which makes heresy, sin, and the millstone easy and orthodoxy hard?

  34. This show used to be kind of funny, I couldn’t find video:
    http://snltranscripts.jt.org/92/92bsunday.phtml

    Sexy texting is not something my wife would go for, but foreplay for women involves all kinds of things that can take all day (playful banter, going out for a nice dinner.) So long as the foreplay is oriented toward the eventual sexual act, doesn’t that make it okay?

  35. josh:

    So long as the foreplay is oriented toward the eventual sexual act, doesn’t that make it okay?

    Yes. Don’t listen to the ‘don’t flirt with your own wife’ police.

    Good grief.

  36. What Bill is talking about is, more or less, prudence. Arousing yourself to sexual excitement when the means of satisfying that excitement licitly are not close at hand is imprudent; prudence is a virtue; and acting contrary to virtue is to sin, hence it is a sin. How close at hand those means need to be is always going to depend on your personal circumstances, but hubby being in Cleveland and wifey in Houston is a pretty clear-cut case of arousing yourself to excitement being a really bad idea.

  37. Are Josh and Zippy disagreeing with me? I don’t see how.

  38. Let me rephrase my comment.

    If you are interpreting anything you are reading as contrary to flirting with your wife, including via text messages, perhaps even quite lasciviously, then don’t listen to that silliness. Wherever it is coming from.

    Know thyself and be prudent and all that. But if the liciety of what you contemplate is subject to prudential judgment it cannot be intrinsically immoral, so there is that.

  39. Lascivious texts between non-co-located spouses are sinful. This is because sexually exciting yourself or another outside of foreplay is intrinsically evil. Flirting, however, is not.

  40. Dr Bill:

    This is because sexually exciting yourself or another outside of foreplay is intrinsically evil. Flirting, however, is not.

    I think you may be flirting with a sorites paradox there.

  41. I think Zippy and Josh are right. It is licit for spouses to arouse each other without immediately performing the marital act, provided that they don’t finish by themselves.

    I think a separate argument can be made regarding spouses taking indecent photographs of themselves. Because the object of their arousal then would be an object, not their spouse.

  42. @ Zippy

    Ha ha. Definitely not, though. One may or may not find flirting arousing, just as one may or may not find latex suits arousing. Of course, if you happen to be the sort of person who always finds his wife in a latex suit arousing, then you’re not allowed to look at such pictures. Also she ought not wear them, except as foreplay. Flirting is not trying to arouse someone. Flirting is communicating, especially obliquely and/or with body language, that you find someone attractive.

  43. @AR

    How would you defend that distinction?

  44. What is sexual arousal directed to?

    Answer: procreation

    What is the means by which it is directed to this?

  45. “Flirting is not trying to arouse someone. Flirting is communicating, especially obliquely and/or with body language, that you find someone attractive.”

    This is why we need female readers. Female sexuality is different from male sexuality. I don’t think the flirting/foreplay distinction is quite as clear cut as you are making it for the same reason that female porn requires a plot and male porn doesn’t.

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