February 19, 2016


Pornography is a grave evil

“Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28).

Access to pornography has never been more prevalent. Our society has become highly sexualized and it’s impossible to get away from it, especially because of the Internet.

Recognizing this, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a comprehensive statement on the subject at the bishops’ meeting this past November. We encourage you to read that statement. Go to the USCCB website, usccb.org, and search for “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography.”

The bishops mince no words in elaborating on the extensiveness of pornography, the serious damage it inflicts on its users and its sinfulness. They say, “Producing or using pornography is gravely wrong. It is a grave matter by its object. It is a mortal sin if it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

And they add, “Pornography can never be justified, even within marriage.

Viewing pornography can distort one’s view of sexuality, marriage and the opposite sex. It also has direct connections with sins such as adultery, domestic violence, the abuse of children in child pornography, and sex trafficking. And it can lead to addiction with frequent use.

It is so pervasive that it harms countless men, women, children, marriages and families. Yet so many in our society consider it a harmless pastime, “adult entertainment.” Only child pornography and sex trafficking, which are both heinous crimes, are condemned.

Studies show that the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11, which means that many children are exposed even earlier. Almost all young males and more than half of young females see pornography before age 18. And we hear about young people “sexting,” creating their own pornography by sending sexual photographs of themselves to peers.

With all this exposure to pornography, children and teens are in effect receiving an education about sexuality from what they are viewing. They easily become more accepting of premarital sex, of viewing women as sex objects, and of some of the degrading sexual practices that are prevalent in pornography.

Occasional viewing of pornography can easily turn into more frequent use that can then lead to an addiction to pornography, which is a growing problem.

As the bishops’ statement notes, men are particularly susceptible to pornography because the male brain is strongly drawn to sexual images. Photos of nude women can arouse men sexually, whereas photos of nude men might not do so to women. Women tend to favor forms of pornography that promise relational connections and romance, such as erotic literature.

Nevertheless, the statement says, all pornography presents and promotes a distorted view of human sexuality, in which the person portrayed, man or woman, is treated as merely a means of pleasure.

Pornography is closely connected to masturbation, the bishops say. “While popular culture largely sees it as acceptable, masturbation is always gravely contrary to chastity and the dignity of one’s body. Like other sins against chastity, it seeks sexual pleasure outside of the mutual self-giving and fruitful intimacy of spouses in marriage, in this case, even outside of any relationship at all.”

The pervasiveness of sexuality in our culture, the bishops say, has trained women to see themselves as sexual objects, “dressing or acting in a sexual manner, even at a young age, and pursuing an idealized, falsified image of female beauty that can lead to mistreatment of their bodies, including eating disorders.”

Since much of pornography is violent, studies show that men who view it are more likely to sexually abuse a girlfriend or wife.

The bishops say that the sin of pornography, like any other sin, “needs the Lord’s forgiveness and should be confessed within the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. The damage it causes to oneself, one’s relationships, society, and the Body of Christ needs healing.”

Pornography is a distortion of God’s plan for sexuality. The Catholic Church has always taught that sexual activity is reserved for married couples. Therefore, the bishops say, “God’s plan for marriage and chastity within marriage brings real happiness and intimacy to couples; the Church wants this for all husbands and wives!”

—John F. Fink

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