This is an issue that I've been wanting to deal with for a while, and not because I want to get on my high horse and preach to those currently in the snare of pornography and other illicit material where the opposite sex is illicitly depicted, no. I have had my own struggles with pornography and I freely admit to having looked at illicit depictions of women in the past. This is not something that I am proud of at all and it is something I am working with very intensely to move on from. I say without reservation that pornography has damaged me on emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels. My concern is that both young men and women are not recognising the dangers of this sort of material and the fact that contemporary western society deems this material to be "harmless" and "normal" sends a shock through my nerves.
Let's make a distinction first: there is a glaring difference between nudity and pornography. Nudity - as we all are hopefully aware - can be depicted tastefully through art as we are able to recognise the beauty of the human form through some of the great pieces of artwork given to us by history's greatest artists. The 'Birth of Aphrodite' by Botticelli and Michelangelo's 'David' come to mind because these artworks in their intention in essence glorify the human body in a non-confrontational un-evoking manner. Pornography, on the other hand, deals with the carnal act in a very confronting and evoking manner. Its business, while depicting the human form, in confronting the viewer is to evoke and stir a reaction, a carnal reaction. There is no intimacy or connection in pornography; its intentions are clear: depict the human form in such a manner that they are no longer viewed as persons of dignity, but rather tools to be used and exploited for the pleasure, satisfaction, and personal gratification of the viewer.
I don't think anyone could disagree on the explicit nature of pornography. As I said just earlier, pornography in its intention and design is to confront the viewer, engage them, and evoke a reaction. Now due to it evoking very primal and carnal urges, what pornography does in this effect is reduce us to base creatures of animal instinct. Even in the media in general, publications that are not pornographic in general but depict women in highly provocative and rather immodestly, in their brands they admit appealing to this base animal instinct. The 'Alpha' (no longer in publication) and 'Zoo' magazine titles (Australian) immediately spring to mind:
'Alpha' = alpha male; in nature (pertaining to social animals), the alpha male is the first to eat and the first to mate; the alpha male fights for these privileges and fights to retain them until it is superseded by a challenging male.
'Zoo' = yeah, this one's pretty obvious; it's a place where animals are kept and the public are able to see these animals in enclosures that closely represent their natural environments and observe their natural [animal] behaviour.
Gentlemen, take the hint! These publications are/were mocking you and are/were taking your money from you as they do/did it!
And what about the publications that are pornographic in nature? 'Playboy' and 'Penthouse'; what's in a name?
'Playboy' = no rocket science required here; the women are depicted and treated as "play things" and are merely tools for man's satisfaction and gratification; in this women are not persons but possessions.
'Penthouse' = an apartment on the top floor of a building, often luxurious and offering good views of the landscape (e.g. metropolitan, urban, etc.); this is a tip of the hat to alpha male social system where the male is "on top" of everybody else and allegorically empowers the male and evokes a God complex, i.e. think of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9): a tower built in an attempt to reach into the heavens and be equal with God (or "as God") and we know what happened to these people as a result of this prideful effort.
'Playboy' and 'Penthouse' are designed to inflate the man's ego and exploit the capital sin of pride. Man, through this medium, does what he wills rather than that of the Lord's will. In this gratification there is no service or selflessness but selfishness, e.g. "I will fulfil my own desires and I will do what pleases me". And this is the underlying message that the pornography industry is sending out; it is today's forbidden fruit and just another way to worship ourselves. Not convinced? Have a read of the following verse of scripture; I will explain the link between this verse and pornography momentarily, but for now reflect on this (parts bolded for emphasis):
"'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate." - Genesis 3:5-6
Let's start with the middle part first, "... good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes...". Now obviously pornography isn't food, not in the literal sense anyway but any time a man (or a woman) engages with pornographic material, they're doing it for a reason. Speaking from personal experience, when I felt the urge to look at pornographic material, I was either bored or feeling rather empty and unfulfilled. Pornography is just one of the many ways man tries to fill the emptiness inside of them or to fill the void, but here's the problem: pornography - apart from being immoral - provides only temporal fulfilment. Even then you can't really call it "fulfilment" due to its temporality because eventually the satisfaction or gratification fades aways and the emptiness is again felt soon after, and this where problems start: addiction!
Deep down inside we know that pornography is destructive and that we shouldn't engage with it. In spite of this, however, we see the desirability of pornography and we begin to ponder the satisfaction and gratification it gives us, and this is how addictions develop: we discover something that provides us with temporal satisfaction and/or gratification, we engage with it once, we like the feeling we get from it (even if it harms us), and we keep on going back to it because we are drawn by the feeling(s) we get from it rather than it as as an entity.
Pornography is blatantly a "delight to the eyes" (Genesis 3:6). Men experience gratifying feelings in visual and tangible ways and it doesn't even take the look of a naked woman to trigger a lustful response; the sight of a provocatively-dressed woman may be all that it takes to stir carnal thoughts and desires.
There is no question about the beauty of the human form and this is what makes pornography so alluring, but it is its contortion and exploitation of the human form and the act of intercourse itself that makes pornography immoral. Let's have a look at what the Church teaches on matters related to pornography and pornography itself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2351-2354):
Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.
By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.
Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.In short: pornography exploits, contorts, and perverts the conjugal act and deceives the psyche into a false fulfilment which, if not fought and resisted, becomes addictive. The individual may develop a dependency on pornographic material in order to "feel" and continue to fill that void in themselves that will always empty. The "fulfilment" of pornography - as said earlier - is false and fleets quickly; it is a false intimacy, an illusion of love and damages (if not destroys) the virtue of charity. There is nothing dignified about pornography use or involvement in the so called "pornography industry".
Back to Genesis 3:6 and that bits that I bolded. I'm yet to address this excerpt "... and you will be like God." Adam and Eve, our first parents, ignored God's instruction to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil despite being aware of the consequences of doing so (Genesis 3:3). As mentioned earlier, we know that pornography is immoral and that we should not engage in it, but after we see that this sin is a "delight to the eyes" (Genesis 3:6) we begin to rationalise engaging with it because it has become an entity of desire. How do we rationalise engaging with it? We say or think things like, "What harm could it possibly do?" "It's really not hurting anybody" "It will only be this once and that's it!" "Everybody else does it, so why can't I?" What ever it is, we ignore the command (be it from within or exteriorly) and we put ourselves at the mercy of the consequences just like Adam and Eve did. This is the consequence of pride: we put ourselves before God where/when we say, "I do not submit to your will, Lord, but my own". Through pride we make a god out of ourselves and declare ourselves superior to God. If you get that feeling or inkling that you shouldn't be looking at pornography (or any other sin for that matter), then listen to that feeling; ignorance is not bliss!
Consider the following passage of scripture:
"'But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.'" - Matthew 5:28-29
Christ, through verse 28 makes it very clear cut; just looking at a woman lustfully - and they don't have to be unclad and overexposed as they are in pornography - is equated to breaking the sixth commandment which is a Mortal Sin. Sometimes we may not be able to help lustful thoughts from entering our mind, but it's what you do with that thought that could be the deal breaker. Don't entertain a lustful thought, don't engage with with, don't let it linger, and fight with your conscious mind and your conscience to erase it from your thoughts. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but once you engage that initial thought it's difficult to hold back hence after. Think of it like trying to stop a boulder rolling down the hill halfway down; it has already gained momentum. If you don't want the boulder to roll down the hill, then don't give it that nudge at the peak of the hill. This approach is highlight by Christ in verse 29 but bear in mind that he is speaking in what we refer to as hyperbole and shouldn't be taken literally (we know that our right eye (and our members) can also be used for good and to do things that please God), no. What needs to be heeded in this message is that we should examine the things in our lives that are leading us into sin or leading us to sin and remove them from our lives and never go back. If it's going to keep you apart from God, it's not worth it... GET RID OF IT!
Let's wrap this up without getting theological or Biblical and talk straight: gents, pornography is not "harmless" and sets up unrealistic and heartbreaking expectations for your future wife/the woman you love. Pornography can harm relationships and has the potential to destroy marriages. The "intimacy" that pornography offers is a fanciful and is merely an experience in appeasing base/primal/carnal desires. Gents, we're better than this and we can do better! The women (along with the others involved) you see in pornography don't know you, they wouldn't have a care for you, nor would they at all be interested in pleasing you personally or being intimate with you. Think with the right head because you're too smart and have too much dignity to be sucked in by the lie! Choose real love over a figment of it. But most importantly, don't get down or too hard with yourself if you have been sucked in and continue to get sucked in... there is hope. This is a battle that I too have fought and continue fighting... there is help:
Who Does it Hurt?
Video: Overcoming Pornography Addiction (Catholic Answers)
Feed the Right Wolf (secular)
"Purity prepares the soul for love, and love confirms the soul in purity." - Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
The love of the Lord be with you and ever fill your heart.