What’s wrong with looking at pornography? It’s not like you are getting a girl pregnant or spreading STDs.

The problem with using pornography is that it emasculates men, degrades women, destroys marriages, and offends the Lord. You may be thinking: “That’s going a little overboard, don’t you think? I mean, what’s wrong with checking out a few Internet sites?” Take a look at the effects of pornography, and you will see why real men do not use it.

What does pornography do to a man? For starters, because it cripples his ability to love, it robs him of the capacity to be a man. The essence of manhood consists in readiness to deny oneself for the good of a beloved. This is why Saint Paul reminds husbands in his Letter to the Ephesians that their love must be like that of Christ, who allowed himself to be crucified for the sake of his beloved, the Church (Eph. 5:21–33).

Pornography defeats this calling. Instead of denying himself for the good of the woman, a man, through the use of porn, denies the woman her dignity in order to satisfy his lust. In essence, pornography is a rejection of our calling to love as God loves. It is no wonder that those who use it are never satisfied. Only love satisfies. One marriage therapist noted, “People who use pornography feel dead inside, and they are trying to avoid being aware of that pain. There is a sense of liberation, which is temporary: that’s why pornography is so repetitive—you have to go back again and again.”[1]

Her insights are well understood by those who have felt entrapped by the allure of lust. One recovering porn addict admitted that viewing pornography “brings intense disappointment, precisely because it is not what I’m really searching for. It’s rather like a hungry person standing outside the window of a restaurant, thinking that they’re going to get fed.”[2]

In a way, the fact that pornography allows men to indulge their lust without having to worry about pregnancy or STDs is part of the problem. It encourages him to live in a world in which sexuality offers only pleasure without meaning or consequences, in which “no one gets pregnant, no one catches a disease, no one shows signs of guilt, fear, remorse, embarrassment, or distrust. No one suffers from the sexual activities of others and the men, at least, are always carefree, unrestrained. . . . The priority of lovingly protecting one’s partner is of little concern in pornography because no harm seems possible.”[3]

Living in a world of fantasy allows a guy to escape from reality and evade the demands of authentic love. Therefore, it does not liberate him. It enslaves him. Put simply, pornography is the renunciation of love. As the writer Christopher West said, “[Pornography] seeks to foster precisely those distortions of our sexual desires that we must struggle against in order to discover true love.”[4]

For the person who indulges in porn, the purpose of sex becomes the satisfaction of the erotic “needs,” not the communication of life and love. Pornography trains a man to value a woman only for what she gives him rather than for the person she is. Because he is so focused on what he is getting, he doesn’t learn to give.

Some guys will slough this all off, saying, “Boys will be boys,” or “I’m just appreciating the beauty of womanhood,” or, “I like the articles in the magazine.” Sometimes they will realize how unconvincing these arguments are, and they will become resentful, saying, “You want to repress sexuality and rob women of their freedom. It’s unhealthy for you to have such little appreciation for women!” This defensive attitude is apparent in the way strip clubs advertise themselves as “gentlemen’s clubs” for “adult entertainment.” Why would a man feel the need to justify his behavior as “gentlemanly” or “adult”? A man does not need to announce that he is a gentleman, nor do adults need to remind others that they are mature. Actions speak for themselves.

Yet even when a man’s lack of self-control makes him immature and his behavior cannot be reconciled with the title “gentleman,” he still feels a need to identify with authentic manhood. No matter how far we fall, Christ has still stamped into our being the call to love as he loves. If we untwist the lies and humbly come before the Lord in our woundedness, he will raise us up and make us true men. To do this, we must have the courage and humility to look at his plan for man and woman. When Jesus warned that anyone who looks lustfully at a woman commits sin with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28), he spelled it out in no uncertain terms that it is not enough to avoid pregnancy or STDs. It is not even enough to avoid impure sexual contact; we must also resist impure sexual thoughts and looks.

What does pornography do to women? Since it trains men to think of women as objects to be used instead of persons to be loved, guys speak of them as objects and treat them as objects. One longtime producer in the porn industry admitted “My whole reason for being in this industry is to satisfy the desire of the men in the world who basically don’t care much for women and want to see the men in my industry getting even with the women they couldn’t have when they were growing up. I strongly believe this, and the Industry hates me for saying it.”[5] He added that the porn industry is simply “a playpen for the damned.”[6]

When men learn their concept of intimacy from videos and magazines, they may accept the idea that a woman’s no is actually a yes and that she enjoys being used. This can lead to a rapist mentality. Consider, for example, a study done in the Oklahoma City area. When 150 sexually oriented businesses were closed, the rate of rape decreased 27 percent in five years, while the rate in the rest of the country increased 19 percent. In Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhoods with porn outlets had 500 percent more sex offenses than neighborhoods without them.[7]

Ted Bundy raped and killed dozens of women. Sentenced to die in the electric chair, he requested that his last interview be with Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. In that meeting Bundy talked openly about pornography and told Dr. Dobson that his struggles all began there. He explained that all his fellow inmates had an obsession with pornography before going to prison. Porn magazines and videos lay at the root of innumerable rapes and murders. Countless victims of child molestation also report that their abusers exposed them to pornography as an attempt to desensitize and seduce them. No one can tell the husbands, siblings, children, and parents of those violated and deceased women that pornography is harmless. Besides, wouldn’t it infuriate you if a guy simply looked at a woman you loved in the same way he looked at pornography?

It also needs to be noted that porn is not just a “guy problem.” Many women struggle with it as well, and they experience the same consequences. If you’re a woman who struggles in this area, you’re not alone. Many women have written blogs for us on how they struggled with porn addiction, and how they broke free.

What does pornography do to marriages? To be blunt, pornography is the perfect way to shoot your future marriage in the head. Imagine that a young man has a habit of using pornography, and he does not reveal this to his fiancée. He hopes that once he is married, the desires for illicit sexual arousal will subside. But what becomes of his lust once he marries? It does not disappear; it is foisted upon his wife. The pornography has trained him to react to the sexual value of a woman and nothing else. He has trained himself to believe that women should be physically flawless and constantly sexually accessible.

Even if he rejects this intellectually, the fact remains that pornography has warped the way he looks at women. You could say that he views the world through porn-goggles. He only knows how to look at women through the lens of lust. One psychologist who specializes in sexuality problems noticed, “the more time you spend in this fantasy world, the more difficult it becomes to make the transition to reality.”[8]

Provided a man’s wife is a life-size Barbie doll with a squad of makeup artists and hairdressers who follow her around the house, things might run smoothly for a time. But when reality confronts fantasy, the man will be left disillusioned, and the woman’s self image will suffer. No real-life woman can ever fulfill his disordered desires and fantasies. They focus solely upon self-centered gratification rather than mutual self-giving and joy in pleasing one’s spouse.

One woman explained that if a man’s real-life partner is not always as available sexually and willing to do whatever he wishes as the women he has fantasized about, he may accuse her of being a prude. If she looks normal, and unlike the models he has come to adore, he may accuse her of being fat. If she has needs, the passive images in the magazines, then she may seem too demanding for him.[9]

In other words, he will be quick to blame his disorder on her; his fantasies will have robbed him of the ability to be truly intimate with his wife. One reason he is unable to have healthy intimacy with his wife is because intimacy is not an escape from reality but the capacity to see the beauty of the other. The presence of lust in the heart of the man blocks his ability to view the woman as a person. He has reduced her to an object and ignored her value as a person. When this happens he forfeits love. True intimacy is impossible.

It has been said that the problem with pornography is not simply that it shows too much but that it shows too little. It reduces a woman to nothing more than her body. Thus a man will assume that the greater the body, the greater the value of the woman. With this mindset men not only expect their future wives to look no less perfect than Miss September; they also don’t appreciate a woman’s most beautiful and precious qualities, since a centerfold display can never reveal these. This drives men to look elsewhere in an impossible quest to satisfy their lust. After all, pornography fosters the false mentality that casual, uncommitted sex is the most fulfilling and enjoyable. Who does not want to be fulfilled?

One response to the marital dissatisfaction often caused by pornography habits is to bring pornography into the bedroom. This is a vain effort on the part of the man to have the illicit excitement he has formed an attachment to. The poor wife may allow this, but the joy of loving has escaped the man, who no longer sees the value of the person and the need to deny himself for her. Married couples who use pornography find that their marital problems only worsen. If a husband needs to pretend that his wife is someone else in order for him to be excited, then he will become less and less drawn to her. Instead of making love to her, he is destroying love between them. At the very moment he is supposed to be renewing his wedding vows with his body, he’s committing adultery in his mind.

Because the effects of pornography are so severe, Christian men and women have an obligation to rid their lives of it. According to Pope John Paul II, God “assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man.”[10] When we act in a way that is contrary to the dignity of others, we act contrary to our own dignity. For this reason, the Holy Father says, “each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity, as a spouse, has not become in his heart an object of adultery.”[11]

Even if pornography had no adverse effects on people, we must never forget that sin is not simply a social matter. We owe it to our neighbors to love them, but we also owe it to God to honor him in all our actions and thoughts. To lust after his daughters is a grave sin, even if no one becomes pregnant as a result of another’s imagination. “So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).

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[1]. Estela Welldon, as quoted in Edward Marriott, “Men and Porn,” The Guardian (November 8, 2003).
[2]. John Paul Day, as quoted in Edward Marriott, “Men and Porn,” The Guardian (November 8, 2003).
[3]. Richard Wetzel, M.D., Sexual Wisdom (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Proctor Publications, L.L.C., 1998), 72.
[4]. Christopher West, Good News About Sex and Marriage, (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2000), 84.
[5]. Robert Stoller, Porn: Myths For The Twentieth Century (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993), 31.
[6]. Stoller, 32.
[7]. U.S. Department of Justice, Child Pornography, Obscenity, and Organized Crime (Washington, D.C., February 1988).
[8]. Marriott, “Men and Porn,” The Guardian (November 8, 2003).
[9]. Laurie Hall, “When Fantasy Meets Reality” (www.pureintimacy.org).
[10]. Pope John Paul II, general audience, November 24, 1982. As quoted by Man and Woman He Created Them, 519.
[11]. Pope John Paul II, apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem 14 (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1988).

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