The Porn Epidemic

A homily by Fr. Simon Baker, OSB

Fr. Simon Baker, OSB

I am aware that this can be an uncomfortable topic, so I’ve asked Br. Joe to turn down the AC in the Church so when the nervous sweats start no one will notice! It’s okay to use a little humor. This is a serious topic, but God is more serious.

Why are we talking about pornography? 

It’s a problem of epidemic proportions. In 2006, the pornography industry grossed 3 billion dollars in the U.S. alone. That’s 10 years ago. How old were you 10 years ago? Today's college freshman were in the 2nd grade. Can you imagine what it is now? 

A 2014 survey cited by the software program Covenant Eyes says that 70-80% of men in the U.S. look at pornography once per month (The numbers fluctuate based upon age indicating that the younger you are the more likely you are to look at pornography). But this is not just a male problem. The same survey showed that numbers were almost identical for women as for men in the 18-30 age range (although they differ significantly as the age of the sample population increases)! This is not a male problem. This is not a female problem. This is not a Christian problem. This is not a non-Christian problem. This is a HUMAN problem. Pornography doesn't discriminate. 

Whether you are part of those statistics or not this affects you too. Your boyfriend is. Your sister is. Your future spouse is. The pornography epidemic affects EVERYBODY. 

But pornography is not just ruining individual’s lives. It ruins vocations. It is a primary factor in over half of divorce cases. That’s an astounding number. Priestly vocations are affected as well. So are Religious vocations.

We are talking about this problem because of the tremendous tenor of despair we hear in the Confessional. There is a deep sense of shame that goes hand-in-hand with this sin. 

It is particularly isolating, especially for women. Women tend to think that they are the only ones out there who struggle with this. While it’s almost culturally acceptable for men, it is not so for women. (Just because it is “normal” does not make it normal). Men are "visually wired" and therefore excused. Men who use pornography get explained while women get judged. 

We are talking about this because people are losing sight of who they are. People are losing their identity because the lies have become so pervasive and believable.

As I talk about this, you may find yourself in one of two groups: 1) either you are thinking to yourself, “Come on Father, it’s not that bad,” or 2) you are silently repeating to yourself the lie, “I’ll never get over this. I’ll never be free of this sin.” 

As to the first group, my message to you today is simply this, it IS that bad. We’ve just become desensitized to it. 

When I was in high school I remember sitting in a movie theater watching a scary movie. Almost ¾ of the way through the film a ferry was crossing the bay and a horse falls 60 feet from the deck to the water below. It hit the boat’s propeller and turned the water red. You can imagine the reaction in the theater, one of shock and horror, myself included. But then I had the presence of mind to think, “I’ve just seen 13 people die gruesome deaths in this film and none of that bothered me like this horse.” In my scary movie watching days I had become so used to seeing people die gruesome deaths that I had ceased to think it was “a big deal.” 

I recently heard of a teenager asking, very honestly, if Playboy is pornography. If we are at a point where Playboy ceases to be recognized as pornography then we are in a very bad way!

Here’s a scary statistic for you, the average age of the first exposure to pornography for boys is 12 years old! The AVERAGE age is 12. That means that with some men it’s younger. By the time he enters college, the average male has, with more or less regularity and intensity, been exposed to pornography for six years of his life. If you hear the same message, no matter how awful, repeated to you for six years it’s going to affect the way you think. Don’t believe me? Ask the advertising agencies. That’s what their industry is predicated upon. 

Speaking of advertisements, I challenge you to drive along I-70 from Kansas City to St. Louis and turn off the radio at every advertisement of a Gentleman’s club or Adult store and pray a Hail Mary. You'll have said more rosaries in a 4 hour drive then in four years at Benedictine! It’s flooding the culture, and we’re in danger of coming to see it as normal.

We’ve even normalized pornography and sexual sin in our speech. 
We call them “Porn stars.” They’re not “stars,” they’re victims. The "stars" or not having fun. This is evidenced by the high rate of substance abuse, alcohol, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, and escalated rate of suicide. Even if they don’t wind up dead, there is the disturbing fact that most of them cannot go to work without first getting drunk, disassociating from life, just to make it through the day. 
I even said this next one a moment ago. Did you catch it? Why are they called "Gentleman’s clubs?" Is that how a gentleman should act?! If so, please do not marry a gentleman. 

What about the “Adult” toys and bookstores. As if this is adult behavior. Why do those same “adult” stores act like children and hide behind covered up windows and have back entrances?

For those who still don’t think pornography is that bad, let me read a lengthy quote from everybody’s favorite, C.S. Lewis. Writing to a friend he had this to say about the evil of masturbation. (You can substitute the word pornography for masturbation and the statement still holds true).

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.
And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.
For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival.
Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.
In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. . . . After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.”

Now I want to address the second group, those who are tempted to despair thinking that freedom is never possible. For those in this group, my message to you today is one of hope, healing, and holiness. 

I want to bring a message of hope, because as the incarnate God began his ministry he said this: “I have come to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” And the same Jesus said this to Peter about an impossible task: “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Repeat those words as often as you need them. Let them be a motto for you. Print them on your mirror. Tape them to your computer. 

I want to bring a message of healing. Pornography is addictive. It’s being called “the new drug.”  It affects the chemistry in your brain. But addicts don’t become addicts in one day. It is a slippery slope into addiction. So it is equally unrealistic to think an addict (and there are varying degrees of pornography addiction) can be healed overnight. Not in one day, but you can quit. The healing from this is not the quick fix of surgery but the long, slow, laborious process of rehab, strengthening the muscles and learning to walk again.

Here’s a thought from Peter Kreeft. “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” This is true for both vice and virtue. It starts with a thought. Changing the way you think will change the kind of person you become.  

There is one virtue in particular we are concerned with tonight, chastity - not abstinence, but chastity. Not everyone here is called to abstinence, although everyone unmarried is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say on chastity, "Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy" (CCC2339).

To gain self-mastery in the area of sexual desire, practice self-mastery in others areas of your life. Practice strengthening your “no” appropriately in other areas, and you’ll be better able to say it here.  Put down the 4th doughnut and pat yourself on the back. You’re one step closer to chastity. 

How successful can an alcoholic’s attempts at sobriety be if he keeps a flask in his pocket? How successful can a pornography addict’s attempts at sobriety be if he keeps an iPhone in his pocket at all times? We need help in practicing our “no.” How badly do you want to be free of this?

Here’s a challenge. Make a game plan and tell your roommate or a friend. Benedictine wants to help you with your game plan. Benedictine is working towards making the Covenant Eyes software program by the fall of 2017 available to anyone who wants it. Covenant Eyes is not just a filter program. It is also a program to build the virtue of chastity. One major way it does this is through accountability. I know a guy who is so intent upon ridding himself of this addiction that he added his mom as his accountability partner! That will make you double think before you double click!

Filters are good, but the only real filter is the human heart. God comes to bring not just prevention, but deep healing.

Lastly, I want to bring you a message of holiness. Pornography meets a fundamental longing, but it doesn’t fulfill it. It only makes it worse. Yet, at its core, it is a disordered desire for something fundamentally good, it is a longing for real, authentic love. Rather than stuff the drive, rightly order it and it will propel you to sanctity. 

I like quotes. People say things better than I do. Here’s a good one. St. John Paul had this to say to the youth in Toronto, “We are not the sum or our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” There is NOTHING you can do to make yourself impossible for God to love. He REFUSES to find you unworthy because he makes you worthy through his son. Once we find ourselves in Him then we are able to accept ourselves and allow others to accept us because we belong to him.

The Gospel today invites us into an intimate loving relationship with God. He wants to come and make His dwelling in us! This is real holiness and this is what is offered to us if only we should seek Him with all our hearts and allow Him to free us of all that keeps us from Him.

I like quotes. Here’s one more. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”