If you’ve ever visited the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, you’ve no doubt taken note of the pornographic images still visible on buildings excavated from the volcanic ash spewed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Those erotic pictures are so emblematic of this important archeological site (and popular tourist destination) that they’re reproduced on items you can buy at the souvenir stands out front.
Pornography has been around for a long time. But it’s never been as technically sophisticated or easily accessible as it is today. It’s available on our computers, our tablets, our smart phones. Certain TV channels and websites provide it on demand 24/7. Moreover, the pornographic spirit — if not the most extreme content — shapes much mainstream entertainment intended for mass audiences.
Pornography is big business.
Researchers have determined that consumption of pornographic imagery has neurological effects similar to those caused by drugs. Mental function is actually changed. As someone views erotic pictures (either still or moving), over time not only does the experience become physically addictive, but the brain starts to develop tolerance.
Consequently, ever-more vivid representations are needed to provide the sexual “fix” a viewer is seeking. And not just explicitness. As the craving for greater intensity ratchets up, viewers often seek out other engaging elements, such as sexual violence (for instance, choking) during portrayals of erotic behavior.
The dependence aspect of porn has consequences. Certainly marriages suffer. Pornography is a factor in around 50 percent of divorces. But since porn obsession tends to be socially isolating, it can undermine other associations as well, such as friendships and family ties.
It also has economic consequences. As with gambling or buying drugs, paying for porn burns money. In addition, jobs have been lost over viewing at work.
One of the most disturbing aspects of our pornography-drenched culture is its impact on kids. Right now, 15 percent of children aged 12 to 17 report deliberate pornography consumption in the past year. That’s a critical period when individuals are grappling with questions of sexual identity and moral values are coming into clarity and full expression.
The influence of pornography on the maturing brain can shape someone’s entire of life. At a minimum, it tends to encourage sex outside of marriage (with consequent higher rates of abortion). But besides that, it can distort understanding of sexual intimacy, promote false expectations about body image, and instill attitudes that make healthy interactions with the opposite sex difficult, if not impossible.
Yet these days, kids can hardly avoid being exposed to porn. It’s not like years ago, when those “special” magazines were sold surreptitiously from “behind the counter.” Young people are showered with erotic imagery, vulgar language, and endless promptings to give full vent to their curiosity and secret longings — not to mention being urged to find their true place along the endless rainbow of gender variety.
It’s up to parents to shield their children as much as possible. Kids need the safe haven of home. Yet, our homes are being invaded. Titillating expressions of warped sexuality sneak in through those very communication devices that have become essential to modern life. It’s impossible to keep everything from the kids. But parents have to try.
Their own souls must be in order, however, and as a priest, I can tell you that’s not always the case. I know from long experience hearing confessions that pornography — from casual, occasional indulgence, to full-blown addiction — is a very common problem. I’m tempted to call it an epidemic, and it’s a far more serious and widespread one than COVID.
Pornography is exploitative. It exploits the people involved in producing it, especially women (some of whom are actually trafficked for use in porn films). But mostly it exploits our human tendency toward lust — what Jesus called “adultery in the heart.”
Fortunately, help is available. Some churches sponsor discreet groups to help break the bonds of porn addiction. There’s also a national organization, called Covenant Eyes, that offers software to flag you when net surfing gets into sensitive areas, and matches members up with fellow sufferers for mutual encouragement (following the Biblical principle that we all really are our brothers’ keepers).
If pornography is a problem for you, or if you suspect it might be becoming one, check out Covenant Eyes online.
A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals. His TV show episodes can be viewed here.