With the advent of the Internet, pornography has become accessible, affordable, and anonymous in a way it had never been before. Porn use has skyrocketed and, in the minds of many, porn has gained acceptability. It seems that what we once considered hard-core we now call soft-core, and what we once considered soft-core we now call Game of Thrones and commercials for Carl’s Jr. fast food.
After nearly a generation of widespread and unfettered porn consumption, science is beginning to catch up with the wisdom the Church has always proclaimed: pornography is “a grave offense” that “immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2354).
All over the globe, people are reporting the ill effects of pornography on their lives—even among those who have no moral qualms about it. From the academic findings of neuroscience to the clinical investigations of psychologists to the couches of licensed counselors, there is widespread concern about pornography’s impact on our minds and our culture. Pornography, says neurosurgeon Dr. Donald Hilton, is “a visual pheromone, a powerful $100-billion-per-year brain drug that is changing human sexuality.”
These changes have had a devastating impact on the family. According to a 2002 press release from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 56 percent of all divorces involved “one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites” (and you can bet it’s mostly the male party). Because pornography perverts the conjugal act, it perverts the very heart of marriage, which is the very heart of the family, which is the fundamental building block of civilization. If you’re wondering why Western civilization has fallen so far so quickly, I would argue it is largely due to the lies we have believed about sex and that pornography is a big part of how we learned these lies.
While it is certainly not true that men are the only Catholics who are consuming visual pornography—I speak to nearly 50,000 teens and young adults every year on this subject, and I can tell you that many, many good young Catholic women are saying they are addicted to Internet pornography—when it comes to porn in marriage, it has been my experience (and the experience of those with whom I work) that it is almost always the husband who uses it, and this can have a devastating effect on the wife.
Dr. Jill Manning, a licensed marital and family therapist, says that many women who learn of a partner’s compulsive pornography use or sexual addiction behavior experience psychological effects such as fatigue, changes in appetite and libido, and other signs of anxiety and depression, such as suicidal tendencies. Some researchers, such as Barbara A. Steffens and Robyn L. Rennie, found that partners in committed relationships who learn that their partner is compulsively using pornography or engaging in other sexually addictive behaviors can show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“To add insult to injury,” Manning writes, “many wives are directly or indirectly blamed for their husband’s pornography use by their spouse, family, or confidant. Many women I have worked with clinically describe stinging insinuations that the marriage must be unsatisfying, that she has ‘let herself go’ and is no longer as physically attractive as she once was, that she is closed-minded to new sexual experiences, or that she is overly focused on her children and not attending to her husband’s needs. Too often the woman’s experience of the marital relationship and the historical context of his pornography habit become conveniently dismissed as irrelevant by those seeking to assign blame to her.”
Help for women
I think it is fair to say that until recently we have done a poor job of addressing the pain and grief wives experience when they discover their husband’s porn addiction. Think about it: there is a plethora of books and websites aimed at helping men overcome porn—there is now, thank God, much fine information and help even for women who struggle with porn—but what about the wives of pornography addicts? Who is addressing them?
Almost without fail, when I give a presentation to adults on the ills of pornography, several wives will approach me afterward and, after sharing me with about their husband’s struggle with pornography, will ask, “What can I do about him?”
Now, this is a fine question, but it seems to me that there ought to be a prior question asked—namely, “What can I do about me?” Or “How do I heal from the trauma I have received because of this?” This too, I think, is illustrative of the fact that we as a society downplay what women experience when their partners turn to porn instead of to them.
As difficult as it is to break free from pornography, it is possible. Those of you who read my book Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned from Porn to Purity know it. I pray that the following account from the new book Restored will serve as inspiration for all people harmed by the devilish influence of pornography.