It would seem obvious that Catholics are opposed to pornography. But somehow, over the past few decades, pornography has made such strides into our culture that we are now fighting its presence in our very homes, in forms blatant and subtle.
Blatant are the cable TV and Internet hard-porn offerings that have become a multibillion-dollar industry. More subtle, and perhaps more challenging, is the trend in the youth-targeted mass media toward casual sex. It may not be outright pornography, but let's not pretend it's benign. Pornography, by one widely accepted definition, is "material that is predominantly sexually explicit and intended primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal."
We must ask ourselves, have we done enough to combat pornography? Are we making the connections between pornography and increasingly explicit sexual activity in mass media? Let's not be prudish, but let's not be na´ve, either. Left on its own, pornography will flourish like a choking vineuprooting and replacing Christian culture.
A New Effort to Support
A coalition of anti-pornography organizations has launched a public-education campaign that merits our support. The National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families (NCPCF, 513-521-6227) recently released a video, Sex and Young America: The Real Deal. It includes a guide and video to help parents talk with teens about sexual morality.
The video features teens from normal, churchgoing families who tell startling stories of the level of sexual activity they are confronting day-to-day. The coalition has targeted teens and their parents because teens with stronger moral foundations will be less susceptible to pornography as adults.
The coalition's Web site, National
Coalition.org, is a good starting point to understand
pornography's pernicious effects (you can order the video
and a curriculum guide there, too). Pornography's distorted
sexuality has an addictive effect. It degrades everyone
who goes near it, both in its creation and in its consumption.
Like other addictive behaviors, pornography use must be escalated over time
to maintain the desired effect. That escalation is always
destructive to addicts and to those around them. It often
precedes the violent crimes of rape and pedophilia. It is
estimated that six to eight percent of Americans are susceptible
to this type of addiction, according to the Coalition.
Short of violent crime, pornography addiction is a marriage-buster. Easier access to pornography via cable and Internet is putting our families at increasing risk. A recent estimate from the cable industry places the pay-per-view porn industry at an annual revenue of about one billion dollars.
A National Public Radio survey in 1999 indicated that nearly one third of teens in computer-owning households had viewed a pornography site.
The Coalition strongly recommends Internet filtering software, and has provided
a Web site where you can make comparisons, www.FilterReview.com.
The decline in sexual morality overall is related to pornography's
growth. An American Academy of Pediatrics's report last
named teen sexual intercourse as a "major public health
The Academy places much of the blame on the media: "By the time adolescents graduate from high school, they will have spent 15,000 hours watching television, compared with 12,000 hours spent in the classroom....
"The average American adolescent will view nearly 14,000 sexual references per year...." Prime-time TV's family hour (8-9 p.m.) averaged "more than eight sexual incidents, which is more than four times what it contained in 1976."
Our own bishops are no latecomers to the campaign against pornography. Their 1998 statement and accompanying video, Renewing the Mind of the Media, an appeal to Catholics everywhere to pay attention and take action.
You can order copies of the video and document, or read
the document online at www.usccb.org.
You can view the video in its entirety at the Web site,
In brief, the bishops place the question of sexual morality and our own position against pornography's creeping influence squarely within our Catholic theology of the body. "The Incarnation of the Son of God reaffirms the goodness of our bodily existence," they write. "Christ elevates the natural state of sexuality found in creation to participation in the supernatural life of grace through his institution of the Sacrament of Matrimony."
Given the sacredness of our bodies, the holiness of sexuality, we must take active steps to safeguard sexual morality in society. The document offers seven practical steps, including discussion groups sponsored by Church institutions, businesses, ecumenical groups it's a society-wide problem. Families should have a monthly or weekly media-free day, at home or away from home. Government should assert its appropriate role, not with censorship but by enforcing existing reasonable limits on the media. Everyone should communicate regularly with local media, criticizing bad and praising good.
Sometimes we forget the dignity given us by our creator.
Yet God tells us constantly who we are, if only we will
listen. In his own image he made them, man and woman, says
Genesis. We owe it to our dignity to remove the poison of
pornography from our homes, our communities, our world.
Lip service without taking action is not enough. J.B.F.