By Marcel LeJeune
Tacking the tough subject of pornography
Porn. The mere mention of the word causes many catechists to become anxious.
It is a natural reaction to feel insecure or cautious when approaching a difficult topic, especially when we are unsure of how to handle the issue. One of the most difficult topics for many catechists to handle is pornography. An unfortunate consequence is that most will just avoid talking about it. Still, our discomfort should never become an excuse for our failing to do the right thing.
We need to become more willing to talk about sexuality — for our culture never stops talking about it!
I worked for 15 years with college students. My desire was to help them grow closer to God and become missionary disciples. I quickly learned that pornography is one of the greatest obstacles to conversion and discipleship. In fact, it may be the greatest hurdle for many Catholics today as they attempt to live out a life of chastity. Yet I didn’t know where to start. After months of trying to find resources, I met two professors who studied the field of sexual addiction. Since that day, I have worked regularly with sex addicts and those trying to rid themselves of pornography. I have also taught parents, priests, deacons, and lay leaders how to approach this issue. The first step is understanding the scope of the problem.
A really big deal
Many of us are unaware of just how pervasive pornography use is in our culture today. While we do not have the room here to cover the full scope of the issue, let a few statistics suffice:
A 2005 study of youth between the ages of 10 and 17 concluded that there is a significant relationship between frequent porn use and feelings of loneliness and major depression. (Read about that study from the University of New Hampshire at CATmag.us/2z4sqn0.
+ 51 percent of male college students and 32 percent of female college students first viewed pornography before their teenage years (age 12 and younger).
+ According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, 2000 (see more data at CATmag.us/2juGAXq), prolonged exposure to pornography leads to:
–An exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society
–Diminished trust between intimate couples
–The abandonment of the hope of sexual monogamy
–Belief that promiscuity is the natural state
–Belief that abstinence and sexual inactivity are unhealthy
–Cynicism about love or the need for affection between sexual partners
–Belief that marriage is sexually confining
–Lack of attraction to family and child raising
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (divorce lawyers) reported:
–68 percent of the divorces involved one party meeting a new lover over the internet.
–56 percent involved one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”
From these statistics (and many more), it is evident that pornography has a very significant impact on all areas of an individual’s life, including family/relationships, mental health, spirituality, social health, mental health, and even physical health.
The Good News!
Many Catholics have not had a good formation regarding the Church’s understanding of sexuality. I was certainly one of these, because my parents never even gave me “the talk.” I learned about sex from my brother, friends, and the media. All I knew about the Catholic understanding of sex was that I wasn’t supposed to do anything sexual until marriage. Well, that “no” was not enough to keep me from saying “yes” to what the culture was offering. Today’s young people have an even more difficult path due to a sex-saturated media and the easy availability of porn via cell phones and the internet.
Still, we are Christ-followers who believe that God can redeem all things, and we believe we are made with a goodness, even in our sexuality. Therefore, let us affirm the positives about our sexuality when we teach others and guide them into a full understanding of what the Church teaches.
Catholics see the body as a reflection of the Divine. We are created in the image and likeness of God. The body is not just an instrument to be used for pleasure, but rather, it is a constitutive part of our being. Therefore, sex is not just for pleasure; it helps us discover our ultimate purpose — union with God. Sex, by analogy, may be seen as a foretaste of the divine relationship we all wish to have in heaven. Sex can even be a prayerful reflection of God’s Trinitarian life — when shared within the proper context of marriage and for the right reasons. This is the positive message we need to be giving others.
Furthermore, we need to teach that sex isn’t merely good — sex is so much more; sex is meant to be sacred. And this outlook is able to radically alter someone’s outlook. God created sex as something wonderful, and porn is a distortion of that beauty.
Porn distorts and destroys relationships
Going further, porn is addictive — more addictive than cocaine and heroin. When porn is used, powerful chemicals in the body are released that send messages directly into the pleasure center of the brain. These chemicals are what cocaine and heroin were made to mimic, only they aren’t the real thing.
Porn addiction will ultimately shatter relationships if not overcome. Porn makes relationships about the pleasure of self. It isn’t about doing what is best for the other person. (A simple definition of love is “choosing what is best for the other, despite what it might cost me.”)
The mentality of pornographic sex ends up negatively affecting how we understand relationships. Our mentality becomes “What do I get out of this?” rather than “How can I love this person better?” Therefore, porn messes up our understanding of love, which alters our understanding of human and marital relationships.
Once human relationships are distorted, the idea of God is also distorted. This is because the very being of God is relationship. God is a communion of persons, a family, and we are all made in God’s image and likeness. God the Father loves God the Son so much that all of his very self is poured into the other; the Son then receives the Father’s gift and gives himself right back, and this equals love. In fact, the love between them is so powerful that it is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Thus, God is love itself. So now we can understand how even reality can be warped when we look at porn:
If we mess up sex, then we mess up love.
If we mess up love, we mess up human relationships and marriage.
If we mess up human relationships and marriage, we mess up our understanding of God.
Once you mess up who God is, you mess up reality itself.
Porn is deadly.
What do we do about it all? If you personally are currently using porn, then stop. If you are a parent, talk to your kids and use preventative measures in your house (blocking software, restrictions on electronic devices, random device checks). If you know someone who is using pornography, reach out to them.
As a catechist, you may be limited. Most dioceses have restrictions as to who can teach youth about sexuality. You may need training and permission to approach the situation within your church or school. But think creatively about how you can start a discussion in your parish. I recommend training parents on how to talk to their children about sex and how to protect their homes. Teaching adults about the Theology of the Body and the positive aspects of Christian sexuality is invaluable. What they learn, they can pass on to their children.
Above all, our goal must be to offer a positive message about our sexuality. Our world will never be able to overcome the avalanche of pornography and the distortion of sexuality until the Church counters it with an avalanche of love and good news!
Tips for Parents: Teaching Kids the Basics:
Focus on what is most important. While you need to talk about biology, the conversations you have with your kids should focus on God’s plan for our lives, character, virtue, morality, and relationships — not biology.
Teach children the “big picture” of sex, using the Theology of the Body and the Church’s other teachings on sexuality and love. There is a reason God made us sexual beings, and a healthy human is a person who has integrated their sexuality in a healthy manner. We need to teach our kids how to do this.
Our bodies are, in truth, a reflection of God, and a gift. We are made in God’s image and likeness, and this includes our bodies, not merely our souls. Our bodies can be used for great good or evil. They are temples of the Holy Spirit made for good.
There are many good resources for parents. I recommend parents review materials with children, not just giving it to them to use on their own. At the same time, parents should not feel restricted by the resources either. They can add or remove things as they see fit.
Parents, remember: Be “OK” with the conversation feeling a bit awkward. Everyone feels their limitations now and again. Do your best and give your child what you have. Nobody else can take your place in this conversation.
Teach children what love really is. True love equals “choosing what is best for another, despite what it might cost me.” This kind of love is not easy, but it’s worth it. It takes sacrifice and effort. Yet it is the kind of love we are created by and for.
Sex has a dual purpose. As the Church has always taught, there is a dual purpose to sex: babies and bonding (the procreative and unitive purposes of sex). Always talk about both.
This should never be a one-time conversation, but an ongoing series of conversations. Make this formation a family matter — always keeping it age-appropriate.
Start the conversations at a young age. Let your children learn — first of all from you, not the culture.
Marcel LeJeune, MTS, is the president and founder of Catholic Missionary Disciples. His great passion is Jesus and making him known. Marcel is an evangelist, international speaker, author of three books, including Cleansed: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn, (2016). He is a husband and father of five. Find out more at CatholicMissionaryDisciples.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, February, 2018.
Image credit: Ted Schluenderfritz