The Curse of Total Sexual Freedom
June 2016 New Oxford Review By Robert Barron
Robert Barron is an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
The April 11 issue of Time magazine featured a fascinating and deeply troubling article on the prevalence of pornography in our culture. The focus of the piece is on the generation of young men now coming of age, the first generation that grew up with unlimited access to hardcore pornography on the Internet. The statistics on this score are absolutely startling. Most young men commence their pornography use at the age of eleven; there are approximately one hundred and seven million monthly visitors to adult websites in this country; twelve million hours a day are spent watching porn globally on the adult-video site Pornhub alone; and forty percent of boys in Great Britain say that they regularly consume pornography — and on and on.
All of this wanton viewing of live-action pornography has produced, many are arguing, an army of young men who are incapable of normal and satisfying sexual activity with real human beings. Many twenty-somethings are testifying that when they have the opportunity for sexual relations with their wives or girlfriends, they cannot perform. And in the overwhelming majority of cases this is not a physiological issue, which is proved by the fact that they can still become aroused easily by images on a computer screen. The sad truth is that for these young men, sexual stimulation is associated not with flesh-and-blood human beings but with flickering pictures of physically perfect people in virtual reality. Moreover, since they start so young, they have been compelled, as they get older, to turn to ever more bizarre and violent pornography in order to get the thrill they desire. And this, in turn, makes them incapable of finding conventional, non-exotic sex even vaguely interesting.
This state of affairs has led a number of men from the affected generation to lead the charge to disenthrall their contemporaries from the curse of pornography. Following the example of various anti-addiction programs, they are setting up support groups, speaking out about the dangers of porn, advocating for restrictions on adult websites, getting addicts into contact with sponsors who will challenge them, etc. And all of this, it seems to me, is to the good. But what really struck me in the Time article is that neither the author nor anyone he interviewed or referenced ever spoke of pornography use as something morally objectionable. Pornography has apparently come to the culture’s attention only because it has resulted in erectile dysfunction!
The Catholic Church — and, indeed, all of decent society until about forty years ago — sees pornography as, first and foremost, an ethical violation, a deep distortion of human sexuality, and an unconscionable objectification of persons who should never be treated as anything less than subjects. That this ethical distortion results in myriad problems, both physical and psychological, goes without saying, but the Catholic conviction is that those secondary consequences will not be adequately addressed unless the underlying issue be dealt with.
It is precisely on this point that we come up against a cultural block. Though Freud’s psychological theorizing has been largely discredited, a fundamental assumption of Freudianism remains an absolute bedrock of our culture. I’m referring to the conviction that most of our psychological suffering follows as a consequence of the suppression of our sexual desires. Once we have been liberated from old taboos regarding sex, this line of argument runs, we will overcome the neuroses and psychoses that so bedevil us. What was once the peculiar philosophy of a Viennese psychiatrist came to flower in the 1960s, at least in the West, and then made its way into practically every nook and cranny of the culture. How often have we heard some version of this argument: As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, you should be allowed to do whatever pleases you in the sexual arena. What the Time article articulates in regard to the specific issue of pornography has been, in point of fact, glaringly obvious for quite some time: Freud was wrong. Complete sexual freedom has not made us psychologically healthier, just the contrary. It has deeply sickened our society. The valorization of unrestricted freedom in regard to sex — precisely because it is morally corrupt — proves psychologically debilitating as well.
Whereas Freud, in the manner of most modern thinkers, principally valorized freedom, the Church valorizes love, which is to say, willing the good of the other. Just as moderns tend to reduce everything to freedom, the Church reduces everything to love, by which I mean, she puts all things in relation to love. Sex is, on the biblical reading, good indeed, but its goodness is a function of its subordination to the demand of love. When it loses that mooring — as it necessarily does when freedom is reverenced as the supreme value — sex turns into something other than what it is meant to be. The laws governing sexual behavior, which the Freudian can read only as “taboos” and invitations to repression, are, in fact, the manner in which the relation between sex and love is maintained. And upon the maintenance of that relation depends our psychological and even physical health as well. That, to me, is the deepest lesson of the Time article
Refocusing Eros on the Person
[Resisting the Dangers of Pornography Today by Stanislaus J. Dundon, Ph.D.]
In a recent New Oxford Review (June 2016) article, Robert Barron, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, commented on an article in Time Magazine (April 11, 2016). The Time article related data on pornography use and addiction. Robert Barron is now an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He notes the shameful elevation of autonomy (sexual license) to a “healthy human right” and the serious pathological consequences of pornography. Bishop Barron’s concluding remarks focus on the fact that both natural and religious constraints on sexual behavior are aimed at preserving the healthy relationship of sex and love, a relationship of subordination of sex to human love. I would like to add some reflections which a parent or teacher might find useful in teaching the virtue of modesty as a love-oriented habit to counter the pornography epidemic.
I found the reported age of first immersion in pornography at age 11 to be shocking since it is probably pretty hard-core live action internet stuff, which would make Playboy look pretty tame. I think that at any age a healthy male’s first exposure to pornography might very well be a mixture of shame and interest and shame because of the interest. Assuring a boy that that confusion is normal but to be avoided is a good first step. Try:
Well, my boy (son, young man, etc.) I wish you hadn’t run into that stuff, but don’t be surprised at your likely feelings. Although you are [probably] too young to be worried about being a dad some day, your body and feelings are already preparing you to have a beautiful woman in your life whom you will love. Then all those feelings will make sense and bring a smile to your face, thinking about having a wife and babies.
But right now those feelings don’t make sense because you are not yet ready to be a dad, especially not economically. And your sense of shame and not wanting me (your parents) to know you saw that stuff is normal too because there is something naturally very private about love between a man and his wife. And somehow we naturally know it should be kept that way. That knowledge and the habits you should want to base on it is called modesty. And men who really love their wives [like I love your mom] want their wives to be both beautiful and modest, saving their very private beauty just for their husband. So most normal good men are embarrassed if they accidentally see a woman with no clothes on. And so you should look away if that happens. It’s polite and it’s modest. Make a habit of it.
Of course you know or certainly could guess that women on the internet or in magazines who are not behaving modestly are not accidentally on display. Sadly, they are paid and sometimes a lot. But it is hard on them because that display is contrary to their natures too. They often get psychologically sick. So while they enjoy being “famous” (usually for a very short time) they soon get into drugs and worse. They are lucky if they get out of the business soon, straighten out their lives and find a man that really loves them as a person. And if he does, the first thing he will want her to do is get out of that business.
So what should you think about yourself if you find yourself going back to watch more of that stuff? Ask yourself, if you found out some man looking at your sister or mom that way, what would you think of him? You would be angry with him? Right! A woman, especially a beloved person, should not be looked at like that. You know it and you feel it. So live your life like that. Live and guard your eyes like that. It is known as modesty of the eyes, the mark of a gentleman, especially a Christian gentleman, the kind of gentleman your sister or your mother would be proud of.
What I have tried to capture in this “father-son” (I have five.) talk is to get at a kind of instinctive, intuitive grasp, even in a young boy, of what is wrong with “objectifying” women without making the boy feel that his sexual emotions are inherently corrupt. I try to do that by putting those emotions in their most fulfilling context: being a husband and a dad. Sometimes we forget, because it so besmirched these days, that the erotic appetite is a beautiful drive and that falling in love makes a Green Bay Badgers guy into a solid citizen.