July 19, 2010
IN THIS entry, Stephen pointed out that pornography hurts a man’s ability to form and sustain relationships with women. Another reader asked for elaboration. I wrote,
The more a person habituates himself (or herself) to solo sex or imaginary sex the more he is incapable of dealing with the complexities, unpredictability, disappointments and rewards of reality.
But here is a far more eloquent response from Stephen, who currently works with sex offenders, many of whom are pornography addicts. He writes:
I should first make clear that I am not an expert, but merely have gained some exposure through my work to an unpleasant aspect of our society, one which needs to be better understood. I should probably also add that the men with whom I deal are extreme examples, and so the harm caused by pornography in their cases are extreme. However, this tendency of pornography to cause harm, I believe, exists in other men; it just would not necessarily result in rape.
Pornography harms a man’s ability to forge meaningful relationships with women because it replaces the reality of hard work with the easy self-indulgence of fantasy. Any indulgence in a fantasy for an extended period of time will distort the way a man sees reality, and thus how he deals with it. Fantasies about sex, though, are particularly powerful and destructive simply because the sex drive is so powerful and so integral to a man’s personality. (One need not be a Freudian, by the way, to accept this fact.) The reason why sex is so powerful is that sex is a liminal experience, where men (and women) experience transcendence and ecstasy in the original Greek sense of ekstasis, “standing outside oneself.” Indeed, sex, as James Matthew Wilson pointed out a few months ago in a brilliant article at Front Porch Republic, is the last faint glimmer of transcendence, ekstasis, and ultimate meaning for many people today, thus making the allure of pornography all the more powerful.
Because sex is about transcendence, it is necessarily about openness: to the other person involved, to the potential for a new life, but also to the gift of love that comes from God. And love must be personal and focused on another, or else it is nothing but self-indulgence. Pornography, by separating the pleasure of sex from any relationship with a real person, turns what should be an open act into a self-centered act utterly devoid of openness to transcendence. Pornography perverts what has the potential of being a transcendent experience into a mockery of the divine. Corruptio optimi pessima.