25 & Catholic In The Age Of Pornography

I posted a video on my Facebook page earlier this week in which I argued that pornography contributes to the sexual violence that’s so rampant in our culture today, and was met with significant resistance from a handful of the men who follow me.

Their reaction reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend just over a year ago. He’d told me, laughing, that Barstool Sports had announced they’d hired a former porn star for a spot on their most popular podcast. When I didn’t laugh in response, he became defensive. “Porn isn’t really something that falls within my sense of humor,” I told him.

“Yeah, you and every other girl on the planet.”

Well, yeah, no kidding. Porn just isn’t something that appeals to the average woman, necessarily. Not to say that there aren’t women who watch porn, and definitely not to say there aren’t women who suffer from porn addictions—nevertheless, it tends to be a man’s interest (as men are visually stimulated and have a higher sex drive). And in today’s world, where it’s so easily accessed and considered such a commonplace consumption, men have very few reasons not to watch it.

I can recall another time that I was out with friends on a Friday night, when we wandered into a local tavern in a quiet neighborhood in Chicago. We approached the bar, looked up at the numerous televisions hung across the wall, and were shocked by what we saw: hardcore porn. It was apparently “chicken & porn” night at our nearby watering hole.

Porn isn’t something people sneak a peek at in the dark quiet of their own homes anymore. It’s out in the open, in the public square, free to be consumed by anyone who stumbles upon it. I can think of many more instances—a party in college where it played in the background, sitting next to a man at Starbucks who was watching it on his phone—in which I was confronted with porn without ever seeking it out. Truly, it’s everywhere; we can’t get away from it.

This is one of those 25 & Catholic posts that, inevitably, I can only write from a woman’s perspective. As a single, 25-year-old Catholic woman, it’s so difficult to date and uphold high standards for men when porn is so common and accepted. The mere mention of porn in a passing conversation strikes fear into the heart of every woman—what if he watches it? What if he watches it a lot? How will he react if I ask that he stop? If given the choice, which would he choose—me or the pornography?

It might sound dramatic, but it’s not. It’s such a real fear for women, which begs the question—why? Why, if society says it’s okay, do so many women feel so deeply that it’s not?
Pope John Paul II, then still Karol Wojtyla, said in his book, Love & Responsibility:

“The human person is ‘a good’ towards which the only proper attitude is love.”

Matt Fradd—Catholic founder of The Port Effect, says of this quote:

“That’s either true or false. I do think that most people think it’s true. When we do think that it’s true, we don’t think we’re committing the error of speciesism, right? An unjustified bias in favor of one’s own species? We just think that it’s a fact. So then the next question we need to ask is, what is love? Well, in his book Love & Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla would argue, as St. Thomas Aquinas once did before him, that to love is to will the good of the other. So, in other words, if I want the other as a good, which is a fine thing, but if I want the other as a good without willing the good of the other, then this isn’t love. And, in the words of Karol Wojtyla we should agree that it ought to be avoided. I think when we look at pornography—I know when we look at pornography—what we find is not this.”

JPII also said that “the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is use.”

And this, I think we can all agree, is what we’re doing when we’re looking at pornography.

But let’s not make the mistake of assuming that it’s only the men and women participating in the production of pornography who are the suffering souls, here. Exposing ourselves to pornography does major damage to our ability to emotionally connect with other people—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Fight The New Drug is an incredible resource for information on the data behind the effects of pornography. The site emphasizes that our brains are “wired for companionship, with neurochemicals released in response to intimacy—even if you’re alone, staring at pornographic images on a screen.”

“In that moment, the brain’s powerful machinery kicks into gear, bonding us in different ways to images on the screen. Studies show that over time, many can develop a compulsion to pornography, causing them to need more of it, more often, and more hardcore versions just to feel normal—just like with mood-altering drugs. The amazing brain, in other words, can be hijacked.”

I remember in one of my communications classes in college, we studied the psychology behind parasocial relationships. The term “parasocial relationship” refers to the one-sided relationships that we often have with celebrities, characters on our favorite TV shows, what have you.

Consider what level of parasocial relations we might experience in watching porn. We’re engaging in an incredibly intimate act—arguably the most intimate act a person can ever experience in his/her lifetime—with people on a screen whom we’ve never met. It’s simply impossible that we won’t be affected, or that our other relationships won’t suffer as a result.

This can be a remarkably painful experience for a woman who’s witnessing her boyfriend or husband’s affinity for pornography. Oftentimes, she can feel like a third-party outsider in her own relationship. Because the Lord made us for monogamy and real, true, reciprocal love, a man who’s in a relationship and also consistently watches porn could find himself feeling torn between the two—even if he doesn’t recognize it.

So now we come to my two cents.

Here’s the thing about millennial Catholics: we are too insightful, too innovative, and too well-informed to deny that pornography is a problem. In fact, it’s a BIG problem. And it’s something the whole of us cannot deny any longer.

We need to be bolder about starting these conversations.

25, Catholic, & Also A Woman

Hugh Hefner died last week.

As a Catholic, it’s tough to know the right way to respond to his death. A lot of Catholic figures suggested we should pray that he repented and recognized Christ before he died. This is probably the right idea.

After drinking a pot of coffee around 7PM last night for no good reason in particular, I found myself still awake and staring wide-eyed at my computer at 3AM—which is when I came across a 2015 Cosmopolitan article from an interview with Holly Madison, one of Hefner’s (more recent) Playboy girlfriends.

Madison described how depressed she became after Hefner forcibly cut her off from the outside world, required she engage in sex with him and other women in the house, and inflicted emotional abuse that manipulated her into consenting to all of the above. Sadly, one could’ve guessed that this was what’s going on behind the doors of Playboy mansion. It’s a phenomenon that’s contributed to the twisted way we look at sex—and also at women in general.

I often think of something Jason Evert says about the beauty of the female gender:

“The woman is the most beautiful thing on Earth. I’m not pandering to you—this is obvious. What do guys get addicted to looking at on the internet? Like, flamingos or something? Waterfalls? It’s the beauty of the woman! If creation was a symphony, she is the crescendo, and this is how it’s presented in the book of Genesis—God creates the stars and the moons and the bugs and the birds and the mammals and then man, and then woman. And when Adam sees her, he is beside himself. “Alas! This one is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” He is captivated by her. He is in awe.”

What could possibly be more special than this? Not to say men aren’t special—like, you guys are fine—but this is super special. It’s so inherently good to be a woman. I look so warmly on all that comes with it—the upsides and the downsides, monthly gifts notwithstanding. Truly, womanhood is such a blessing. It’s so, so good to be woman.

John Paul II’s Theology of the Body further emphasizes this point. Women have an incredible capacity for vulnerability, adversity, pain—and also for love. Our bodies were perfectly made for bearing and rearing children, even down to the tiniest details, like the bend of our arms and the curve of our hips. We’re an incredibly strong, resilient gender from the moment we’re conceived in the womb. Women are amazing.

Our Mother was the ultimate woman. Her example set the standard for femininity in a graceful, beautiful way. Blogger Matt Foley expressed this remarkably:

“We don’t hear much from Our Lady in the Scriptures, but we do hear in Luke’s Gospel that she “kept all of these things in her heart.” Mary had a lot to deal with. The Lord of the Universe came to her and promised her the life she was born to live, and then she knew He would have to take it away. And she had to just wait for that. There was so much back and forth, up and down, waiting and going. And she knew deep in her heart, that on this side of Heaven, for three long and terrible days, it would all end in heartbreak. But every sorrow, every joy, every love, everything, she kept in the depths of her heart and shared it with her first and deepest Love. It was there she found the meaning of her womanhood. It was there she was affirmed in the fullness of her identity as a woman. So when God came and asked her, “Mary, my daughter, I love you. Are you ready?” Her answer was yes. She already knew her worth and her purpose was rooted in Goodness. She knew she was loved and lovable. Her answer was openness to receive the gift of God. And because of that, the world was never the same.”

But if women are profoundly capable of all of these things—vulnerability, resilience, receptivity to love, etc. etc.—we’re all the more profoundly capable in our ability to draw greatness out of man. This is what we were created for—to compliment and accentuate the parts of man that perfectly reflect his creation in the image and likeness of God.

Peter Kreeft said it best:

”The heart is like a woman, and the head is like a man, and although man is the head of woman, woman is the heart of man and she turns man’s head because she turns his heart.”

My sister delves deeper into this point in a beautiful critique of the Women’s March (which you can read here):

“Women, we are the heart! We are the heart of this world, with the ability to turn its head. Women, we were not created to be trampled on or used. We are not secondary or lesser to our male counterparts. We were created with feminine qualities including gentleness, warmth, sensitivity, compassion, and receptivity. Yes, we’re intelligent, capable, and driven. We are strong and brave (shout out to Leah Darrow). We are not a slave to our fellow man, but rather a fundamental, necessary, and worthy companion. The gifts and talents that we have to offer are good, holy and beautiful. We are nurturing, loving, protective, loyal, self-giving, and communicative by nature. These qualities are of great service to our world. They are valuable in the workplace, just as they are essential to the family. It is by harnessing these very qualities that we will be be most impactful in the world, whether as business women, entrepreneurs, politicians, journalists, doctors and/or nurses, but of utmost importance as mothers.”

We were not created to be trampled on or used. We are not secondary or lesser. We are not a slave to our fellow man. In this thought, we’re brought back to “fellow man”, Hugh Hefner.
His contributions to the twisted way the world now sees women are neither here nor there, in my opinion. It would’ve happened one way or the other, as it has countless times over in other civilizations and will continue to until the end of time. One of the devil’s greatest weapons is the perversion of the beauty of womanhood and the relationship between the sexes, because the toxicity of its outcome seeps into every other area of life. In modern times, we see this everywhere.

The perversion of woman—who she is, what she does, how she’s meant to relate to man—has brought forth social repercussions we could list for days. And it hardly leans in one direction. The woman who demonizes the male gender and aims to squeeze women into the role that’s meant for men does as much damage to herself as the one who exploits her sexuality in an attempt to harness power and control. I hurt for these women. I hurt for the Holly Madisons of the world, who suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of who they are and what they’re capable of.
But within this context, it must be said: the Hugh Hefners suffer too.

Men need good women, just as women need good men. You can’t have one without the other. So as Holly Madison likely suffers from her disconnection with her purpose, Hugh Hefner likely suffered also. A man who uses and abuses women the way he did strikingly misses out on his own potential for greatness. This is a travesty too.

To be 25, Catholic, and a woman is a profound gift, but it’s also an incredible challenge. Women bear a responsibility to the men in their lives to hold a certain standard, but it’s a responsibility that does not come without its share of risk. 20-something single, Catholic women today enter into a remarkable vulnerability in choosing to maintain that standard. In a world where most women consent to their own mistreatment and the perversion of their beauty, man’s obligation to the standard isn’t an obligation at all—it’s a choice. As a result, the women who expect more often find themselves at the receiving end of profound rejection. It’s that pain and adversity I mentioned before—it’s real and it’s common.

But there’s good news: it’s worth the graces of calling men to their higher purpose. The cross of rejection is worthy of the great fruits that stem from fulfilling our call as females to draw the greatness out of men. But just as we have the call, we also have the tools. Our remarkable resilience gives us the ability to endure it.

Ashton Kutcher’s Testimony On Child Trafficking Reminds Us Of The Damage Porn Can Do

Ashton Kutcher delivered an emotional and disturbing testimony today to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing on modern day slavery and human sex trafficking across the globe.

Kutcher is the founder and chairman of an organization called Thorn, which builds and utilizes software that works to combat child trafficking and the online distribution of child pornography throughout the world.

You can watch his testimony here.

This is an issue that’s been somewhat widely-circulated in recent years, as more celebrities and television shows have begun to draw an increased attention to sex slavery and the role that child abuse plays in the business of human trafficking.

But there’s an often overlooked issue here which desperately deserves the same negative attention and determined devotedness to its extermination—nevertheless, it does not receive it.

Pornography has been credited by both the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing Children as significantly contributing to the problem of sex trafficking.

While it’s mostly considered normal to feel disgust and dismay at the notion of coercing a child into performing sexual acts on an adult (or another child, for that matter), viewing and/or participating in pornographic material is increasingly normalized by the same communities within our culture that normalize gender fluidity and abortion.

And the normalization of pornography occurs all across our daily lives, in areas we’d not expect it.

In mainstream books and movies—Fifty Shades of Grey is an obvious example—we see how soft porn has broken through the boundaries between erotica and romance novels, and exposed mostly women to a new type of pornography that had not been nearly as popular prior (although it did exist).

In various forms of sports media, it’s rampant. Barstool Sports, a popular blog dedicated to commentary on sports and pop culture, recently hired a retired porn star to take on a full-time role in their most popular podcast. Her career in pornographic films is now a weekly topic on the show.

These are only two examples. And to say that pornography is an isolated problem, and in no way contributes to the perversion and exploitation of sexuality in our culture is a blatant lie.

Elizabeth Smart—the woman whose story we know all too well—recently released a video on the ways that pornography severely escalated the violence of her captivity.

See for yourself here.

Pornography does damage to hearts and minds every minute of every day.

It contributes heavily to the perversion of sex, the oppression of women, and the exploitation of children at every corner of the world.

And it is a lie perpetuated, with permission, by our American culture.

In recent years, a handful of organizations have begun to pop up which actively work to combat the grip that pornography has on society.

Fight The New Drug is just one example of an organization that’s working to shed light on the close ties pornography has to the deep sufferings of human hearts, relationships, and the world as a whole.

A quick glance at Fight The New Drug’s website immediately reveals these truths: studies have shown that frequent porn use contributes to depression, anxiety, stress, and social problems. Men who’ve been exposed to pornography report less satisfaction in relationships: they’re less affectionate and desire minimal emotional involvement. And as a whole, pornography contributes to lesser empathy with victims of sexual assault, a negative attitude toward women, and increased behavioral aggression across the board. All of this is just a fraction of the negative results of frequent porn use.

We were made for more than this. Porn is not a recreational activity; it is a distortion of love that continues to erode our ability to connect with one another and with God from the inside, out.

If we want to combat modern day slavery, quitting porn is a good place to start.

Women: Wise Up To ’50 Shades Of Grey’

Bill Cosby has recently been accused of sexual assault and rape by nearly three dozen women. In most cases, it has taken multiple decades for his victims to come forward and speak out against him.

Years later, we’re constantly reminded of Chris Brown’s beating Rihanna back in 2009. Rihanna’s pain has been exploited by countless media outlets looking to profit from their very-public breakup.

Eminem is another name that’s been tied to domestic abuse. He not only has a history of violence – year after year, he makes his living from rapping about said violence.

Sean Connery, Mike Tyson, Tommy Lee, Sean Penn – the list goes on of male celebrities that have in some shape or form, physically abused or harassed a woman at some point in time.

Meanwhile, women in Hollywood are being exploited as their phones are hacked and nude photos leaked online for the entire world to see (ie: Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Vanessa Hudgens).

This is the real world of use, abuse, and exploitation.

It is a world of pain, shame, and real damage to real lives.

So why – why – are we praising this clearly obscene, clearly offensive, clearly awful movie, Fifty Shades of Grey?

I’ll openly admit that I have not read the book. Initially I wanted to – first out of curiosity, then because I wanted to rip it to shreds with criticism (a hobby of mine). Even today, before I sat down to write this post, I considered plowing through a few chapters to earn a little bit of credibility in speaking out against it. I ultimately decided not to.

Instead, I read a synopsis – which made me sick enough to feel that I don’t particularly care how credible I am in speaking out against this book. I’m going to do it anyway.

How have we fallen so far from emulating the relationship of smart, creative Allie and romantic, loving Noah as to emulate the “relationship” of a sadly naive 22-year-old and her manipulative, sadomasochistic abuser?

For the sake of a fair argument, I admit – I get it. This article said it perfectly:

Here’s what I would like to believe: that buried beneath all the smut, poor writing and abuse, on some level this book appeals to that nurturing part of every woman that makes her feminine and beautiful. That part that wipes the tears of a child who skinned her knee, makes her volunteer at nursing homes and adopt stray cats and unwanted dogs at the pound.

This is true. Women are likely reading this book and seeing a heroine who saves a damaged, distant, incapable-of-real-love, underwear model (half-kidding) – but those women are forgetting something.

This book is a work of fiction. That is (very unfortunately) not how these stories end.

These stories end the way they’ve ended for all women who’ve experienced an abusive relationship – they come out just as damaged as the man doing the abusing.

And even more importantly, women need to know that they do not have to submit themselves to this kind of torment and abuse in order to be loved – nor does loving their abuser mean submitting to his abuse.

As women, we are not doing any men any favors by accepting it. We owe it to ourselves and to the men in our lives to demand more from them than this.

Christian Grey doesn’t need a woman to submit to him, nor does he need a woman to deny him (which appears to be why he falls in “love” with Ana).

What Christian Grey needs, in real life, is intense therapy.

And what Ana needs is to back away, preferably as fast as she can.