Sex is everywhere, but fewer people than ever are having any –including married people. The false old trope is that “celibate men” aren’t supposed to be much help in matters of sexuality, but for this problem, as for so many other things, people would do well to talk to a priest.
When I interviewed an experienced marriage counselor last year about his work, it came up in passing the rising number of couples he sees in which the woman is literally beautiful and still the husband doesn’t touch her. Know what’s usually the reason?
Many people are complaining about the phenomenon of the sexless marriage, as Mary Eberstadt points out in an insightful essay in this month’s First Things journal, “What Does Woman Want?” Few, however, seem to make the connection between their habit of viewing raunchy material and the subsequent inability to relate to real persons. On the contrary, many couples –often on the poor advice of secular “sex experts” -- mistakenly think the “mild” use of pornography can enhance their marital intimacy.
It turns out John Wayne got it precisely right when he opined, “Sex isn’t something you watch. It’s something you do.” Those who watch it may destroy their ability to participate in it.
In fact, the use of pornographic images, besides being a cooperation in the objectification and abuse of the people in front of the camera lenses, also does serious harm to the viewer himself and his ability to relate normally to other people.
In a beautiful letter on this important topic, ”Bought With A Price,” Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde explains why this is so. By what we choose to do or not do, we create our own character.
“When one chooses to view pornography, even if at first reluctantly, one becomes the kind of person who is willing to use others as mere objects of pleasure, disregarding their inherent dignity as a man or woman created in God's image. As the habit of pornography becomes more fixed, the characteristics of a person who debases and objectifies others and wills violence against their dignity become more pronounced.”
This is also why the habit, once begun, so swiftly leads people to experiment with worse and worse kinds of images. (Ask anyone who tries to justify his pornography habit if he is still using the same kinds of images today that he was using when he first began.)
Speak to any priest who hears confessions regularly and you’ll learn that Catholics aren’t immune to this problem. It’s rampant, and it’s a true destroyer of marriages and families.
Fortunately, there is no reason to suffer in shame and silence if pornography is harming you or your family. Help is as close as the confessional.
Additionally, since 2004, our bishops have had an anti-pornography task force which has resulted in a number of initiatives to help focus attention on the problem and offer real aid to families who have been devastated by it.
The diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, for example, under the direction of Bishop Robert Finn, maintains a website with links to information and resources for those whose spouses are in the throes of sexual addiction or who need help themselves.
Bishop Loverde collaborated with Catholic therapists and clergy to create Unity Restored, a website which offers among other things an interactive quiz where visitors can answer questions to see if they need professional help to conquer a sexual addiction, and tools for protecting children.
The USCCB’s For Your Marriage website similarly offers good insight into the dangers of pornography to marriages, women and children, and offers links to advice on how to strengthen a marriage after pornography addiction.
With prayer, sacramental absolution and practical help, the damage done by pornography can be undone. I love the image Bishop Loverde uses at the close of his letter. Reflecting on the promise, “the pure of heart shall see God,” he reminds us that this is literally true.
We who believe in the Resurrection of the body wait for the day when our eyes will truly behold God. When we recall what our sight is for, we understand better why it is important to see truly and with purity. And we can fly for help to Jesus, whose loving gaze purifies our hearts and fills us with the grace to overcome even the toughest problems.