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An Ill Considered Call to Settle for Porn

Prof Mark Regnerus had a piece in First Things last week arguing… Well, I guess that part of the problem is that it’s not exactly clear what Regnerus is arguing. He starts out with some basic survey data on porn usage:

Forty-three percent of American men (and 9 percent of women) now report using pornography within the past week. It’s not an adolescent thing, either, as data from the new Relationships in America survey reveals. For men, porn use peaks in their twenties and thirties before beginning to diminish slowly. Indeed, sixty-year-old men are only slightly less likely to have viewed pornography within the past week than men in their twenties and thirties.

Among women, there is a more linear downward trend in pornography use with age. While 19 percent of women under age thirty report porn use in the week prior to the survey, only 3 percent of women in their fifties say the same. The challenge invades congregations as well: 26 percent of weekly church-attending men reported porn use within the past week.

Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, women have the right to be annoyed or upset by porn. It’s not a good thing. It’s spiritually draining. But we often overlook another casualty of pornography (and the human reaction to it): relationships that fail to launch. Breaking off a relationship because of pornography use can be a rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem—the predilection for peering at nudity online—but such actions contribute in ways not often noted to our broad retreat from marriage.

He then follows up with several anecdotes about women saying that they consider porn use a deal-breaker when it comes to picking a man to have a relationship with. Regnerus worries that this will mean that lots of people will avoid getting married at all:

While I’m sympathetic to their concern, I can also promise you that widespread departures—given the dour numbers on porn use—will only accelerate the flight from marriage in the Church and is likely to backfire on women (as many things tend to do in the domain of relationships) who would leave for pastures that may well not be greener.

I would never dream of telling anyone—devoid as I am of information about particular situations—what they ought to do about their boyfriend’s roving eye. However, I have no trouble or qualms in declaring that collectively a categorical call to leave spells doom. Young adults are waiting longer and longer to marry, and fewer are doing so.

To counsel further flight is like asserting that our Christian ancestors should have headed to the hills, as wealthy Romans did, to avoid the plague. You can’t flee far enough, and the Church grew by gutting it out, staying put, and caring for the sick. On the matter of men and pornography, the data suggest you cannot flee far enough. Lots of “prudent” decisions to leave will still lead us to the same place—a widespread marriage avoidance. There’s nothing wrong with being unmarried, but we fool ourselves if we think this is the obvious solution.

And there the post sort of hangs. There’s some vague talk about how “the Church will have to learn how to navigate this, and press forward with grace and truth” but he doesn’t quite seem to have a conclusion. What it sounds very like is that this is a “you need to settle” genre of article. One reads these from time to time, and whether religious or secular in tone they’re almost always intensely annoying because the subtext is invariably that people who are single are so because they are just too dang picky. If only single people would behave as the author advises, they would all find suitable spouses.

Regnerus does not quite go there. While the post is mostly pretty vague on what porn is and how its use might affect a relationship, treating it instead as thing thing which 23 percent of men who go to church weekly also do at least weekly, it does acknowledge briefly that using pornography is wrong and that women are entitled to object to it in a spouse or potential spouse. However, from there on the post simply treats porn usage as a given, and seeks to advise women and the church that they need to adjust their expectations, or else prepare for a life alone.

This is what really bugged me about the post. I can see writing a post along the lines of, “Look, we need to understand that an awful lot of men are going to have been exposed to porn, to one extent or another, during their lives, and so rather than pursuing a draconian purity ethic whereby we permanently write off any man who has ever looked at pornography, we need to actively evangelize on what leading a chaste life (whether in the single or married vocation) means in a porn-saturated world.” But the post doesn’t deal at all with what is expected of men seeking to lead a virtuous life. It’s entirely about how women, and the Church, need to adjust their expectations. That makes it sound an awful lot like the author is ready to wink at the behavior.

In that regard, it’s surprising that he cites the early Church as an example. If there’s one thing you can say about the early Church, it’s that it was not terribly accommodating to the prevailing morals of the late Roman Empire. No, it certainly didn’t retreat into the wilderness, but it didn’t just accept people as they were either. The early Church issued a radical call to change one’s life, and that’s what’s missing from far too much discussion of evangelization today. Whether it’s this article’s apparent “this is how it is” fatalism, or the loud calls in certain sectors of the Church today to find a way to ignore Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, too often people are thinking of “evangelization” as if it means “welcoming people into the tent by ignoring moral standards” rather than “calling people to change their lives and follow Christ.”

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DarwinCatholic

Now an Ohio Catholic!

17 Comments

  1. Darwin, his business is in part contemplating patterns in social relations. That aside, he is pondering how people make the best of less than pristine alternatives, which most of us do as a matter of course. Cannot figure why you’ve got your knickers in a twist about it.

  2. In various forms, porn surrounds us. Beer commercials with bikini clad young women, NFL cheerleaders in skimpy outfits, constant TV ads for “ED”, radio ads for “gentlemen’s clubs (This really pisses me off. The local sports radio station is aimed at twentysomething men who have nothing better to do bet bet on football and go watch strippers and I have to shut it off when I have my son in the car.), the Victoria’s Secret stores in the malls next to toy stores, Howard Stern, etc. It has gone mainstream and it’s worse in Western Europe.

    Hugh Hefner is a disgusting human being. Fortunately, his empire, now run by his daughter, is crumbling, but that lazy pajama clad nothing of a man has exploited countless women over the past several decades. More than a few have ended up dead. The others who engage in the business are no better.

    Pornography (the devil’s image) should be treated like prostitution. The truth is, it’s always been there – the pagan Romans indulged in it heavily and it’s a temptation to many men and women both. A society that puts off marriage longer and longer but will not put off sexual activity is a ready market for porn. Porn appeals especially to the lonely, the selfish and the immature, and we are not short of any of those today.

  3. I suppose that from a certain point of view, Cardinal Kasper is simply pondering how people should make the best of less than pristine alternatives, but I think that his advocacy for putting a Catholic stamp on divorce and remarriage is still immoral and contrary to doctrine.

    Regnerus is arguably not that bad, in part because he honestly can’t seem to figure out what he even wants to say in the piece, but to the extent that the piece seems to have any message it appears to be a “boys will be boys so we might as well accept it” sort of message that we (rightly) would not accept in other areas such as addiction (which, after all, porn usage too often becomes.)

  4. Well said, Penguins Fan. Pornography is not harmless. Many married women view their husband’s porn addiction as the same as an extramarital affair. Ted Bundy said his deviancy started with porn addiction.

  5. That’s a cheap shot; you used to be better than that.

    Most of us do not and cannot live in circumstances where family members or others in our social circle are on board with everything or much of anything we hold allegiance to. (You’ve been told that before by others in other venues, but it does not seem to register with you). That is a constraint within which ordinary people have to make do. Regnerus’ perspective is derived from looking at population aggregates which have tremendous inertia and discernible characteristics and from which and within which devoted adherents have to make their choices. I have a dear friend who has been a pillar of the Latin Mass Community in Rochester for nearly 20 years; you’ll never see his wife in a church of any description. (They could not have children, so there are domestic arguments they do not have). Unless you live within subcultures with a severe bias towards endogamy, those sorts of negotiations and dilemmas will be part of most people’s lives.

  6. I think Darwin’s article correctly identified the problem with the Regnerus piece. I don’t see any malice on Regnerus’s part, no “winking” at the problem. But he ponders the impact of pornography without considering the essence of pornography: a grave act with the potential of separating us from God by sabotaging our relationship with His order.

    We become worse people by habitual sin. We become worse in exactly the characteristic of the sin, but we also weaken ourselves in other respects by distancing ourselves from grace. The point of a Christian marriage, or any relationship properly understood, is mutual assistance in attaining Heaven. One cannot make a spouse become perfect, nor can one find a perfect potential spouse, but if a person is habitually and deliberately committing a grave sin, he’s not ready for marriage. We all have sins in our past (I’d venture to say that nearly all of us have grave sins in our past), and while they’re indicators of future behavior, we recognize that grace and virtue change us over time. A prudent and forgiving person can make a good judgment about a potential relationship without winking at past sin.

  7. Art Deco,

    I, for one, don’t think it was a ‘cheap shot’. Your comment (both of them, now) was at such a level of vagueness that almost anything could get a pass if described that vaguely.

  8. His essay is a pudding in search of a theme. He seems to lunge at ideas without actually moving, and I’m still not quite sure what he was trying to say.

    He clearly understands porn to be a serious problem, so that is not open to dispute. But if you substituted any other addictions–alcohol, gambling–then the problem with his approach becomes more clear. I don’t see where one could criticise a woman for pulling the ripcord on a potential marriage in those circumstances, likewise a porn addiction.

    Definitely, as serious Catholics dwindle in the West, we’re not going to be as able to find like-minded spouses, and our standards will have to adjust accordingly.
    That’s not entirely to the bad from a certain perspective–Helena’s common-law marriage to Constantius worked out reasonably well for the Faith, to name but one example, as did Monica’s marriage to Patricius (even though that relationship, too, was unhappy more often than not). But I don’t know that disparity of cult is comparable to compulsive/addictive behavior.

  9. Art Deco,

    From the vague citation you give, I’m honestly not sure what pattern of behavior or mine or what venues you’re referring to, though if you can be more specific I’d be happy to respond.

    Let me start by being clear on what I’m not saying:

    – I’m not saying that anyone whose spouse uses porn should immediately divorce them.

    – I’m not saying that no one should every marry anyone who uses porn (or that no one should ever marry anyone who has used porn at some point in the past.

    I would actually agree with Regnerus that it’s hard to come up with single, one-size-fits-all rules for who you should and should not marry. Plus, people change. It may be that one or another spouse’s practices or beliefs change (for the better or for the worse) during the course of a marriage and if so this is not necessarily a reflection n the other spouse.

    However, what I am saying is that I don’t like the general attitude (there’s not actually an argument to criticize) that Regnerus presents in the piece. He notes specifically the rates of porn usage and vaguely the decrease in marriage, and then offers that perhaps if women are too selective in not wanting to marry men who use porn regularly, that those women will contribute to the decline of marriage.

    For starters, I think this skips a few steps. I think it’s a lot more realistic to attribute the decline in marriage rates to the increasing numbers of people who don’t want to get married than to some Catholic women being too selective in who they want to spend their lives with.

    I think it’s also significant that he’s talking about advice for those who are deciding to to enter into marriage with. That’s an entirely different question from what people already in a given marriage should do. If a woman is considering marrying a guy, and discovers that it’s a frequent habit of his to wank off while watching videos of people being paid to have sex in front of a camera (sorry to be blunt, but let’s be honest about what we’re discussing here), and if that man shows no indication of changing his practices in that regard, I don’t have much sympathy with telling that woman that she by-golly better go ahead and marry the bloke anyway because we can’t have the marriage rate declining and she probably can’t do better. That’s not to say that some particular woman, with some particular man, might decide that she’s got good reasons for going forward despite a porn problem. My objection is to implicitly telling women that in looking for a man who is not actively engaged in that habit, she’s being too picky and needs to learn to settle.

    As for whether my comparison to Kasper is a cheap shot: Regnerus notes that 23% of church goers use porn regularly. I would reply that more than 23% of church goers are divorced and remarried. It’s all in what you want to encourage people to wink at, I suppose.

  10. The author is right about porn use, it’s out here. the commenters make some great points, you can’t read the news on the web w/o some blurb on the roll about the sexiest cheerleaders. One thing the Church could do is sponsor more social functions for unmarried parishioners, and not just for the young. There are many mature people who have lost their spouses.
    Having a wife or husband fulfills all sorts of needs for people.

  11. He (Marc Regnerus) then follows up with several anecdotes about women saying that they consider porn use a deal-breaker when it comes to picking a man to have a relationship with.

    I consider porn use a deal-breaker when it comes to picking a female to have a relationship with.

    I find very few females aren’t head-deep into pornography. Porn is not just pictures, kiddos. People have been imprisoned for trafficking in porn that had no pictures at all. Of course, the social tendency to overlook crimes committed by females–or to pretend their crimes aren’t really criminal at all–accounts for so much female-preferred porn being openly displayed and sold, even in front of children. Yes, kiddos, a lot of those so-called romance novels appeal to prurient interests and have no redeeming artistic or social value.

  12. This is what I would expect to see in First Things magazine. I read it for about six months several years ago. It is marketed as an intellectual publication but has a lot of articles that are rather unclear, like this one, and that tend to push the boundaries on behavior. I still wonder who this magazines leadership is in league with. It certainly does not seem to be consistently catholic.

  13. Pornography is harlotry, a lie about the innocent human being and his sexuality. Pornography is supplanting genuine, loving relationship with our neighbors as well as with our spouse. When a person sees the other as a sexual gratification for himself, that person cannot commit to matrimony. He cannot commit to the community as a true citizen for the common good and general welfare. Only Truth has freedom of speech. When the Supreme Court redefined free speech and confused free speech with perjury; pornography is a lie about human sexuality, perjury in a court of law; the Supreme Court destroyed the dignity of the sexual expression of the innocent human person created in the image of God. The Court denied equal Justice to all citizens. Yes, there is human sexuality that is holy, blessed and redeeming and one is not being a “holy roller” or imposing communism to demand of our government the respect for man as man is created. (Seems like “We, the people…” can place the blame of pornography on atheism) The Supreme Court is compensated by tax dollars to affirm and reaffirm the freedom inscribed in our founding principles. Pornography is addictive and destructive of every freedom.
    .
    The Supreme Court does not allow an individual to validate a contract when cough syrup or other medication is consumed. Drugs, legal and illegal, alcohol addiction and pornography addiction impairs valid consent to matrimony.
    .
    Pornography is a malignancy on our culture, allowed, permitted and legalized by the government constituted by decent human beings who are being violated by the imposition of the perjury that is pornography.
    .
    How can a pornography addict give informed consent to marriage, if he is ignorant and addicted to what is despicable, degenerate and destructive of the innocence, moral and legal of our constitutional posterity, our neighbor and our minor un-emancipated children?

  14. Micha Elyi, When I think of porn use or addiction I think of men. Good point on female porn. I wouldn’t know about bodice rippers, because I don’t read them. but since you brought it up, my friends and I have over the years dropped our subscriptions of main stream fashion mags, because we thought the photos were obscene, some subltely so, and some overt…….8 year old girls made-up, coiffed and dressed like 25 year old women with pouty, sultry faces; women posed suggestively with animals, women and women, and women and men (some of whom looked effeminate). The clothes are secondary in these shoots. Not fashion, not art, it’s soft porn. I am concerned for my batchelor sons
    because many single women of today are so different from my generation.

  15. “However, what I am saying is that I don’t like the general attitude (there’s not actually an argument to criticize) that Regnerus presents in the piece. He notes specifically the rates of porn usage and vaguely the decrease in marriage, and then offers that perhaps if women are too selective in not wanting to marry men who use porn regularly, that those women will contribute to the decline of marriage.”.
    .
    My neighbor married a man who brought her home to a room full of (200) porn videoes, which he chose to wallow in instead of the marriage bed. The wife made up her mind that when the children were influenced, he and his videos had to go. One morning she woke and found the children playing at pornography, doing what they had seen on the porn video. Her husband asked the divorce court if he could have his wife and his mistress. The judge said that he could not have his wife if she does not want him (and his 200 porno videos).
    .
    The man had made reservation for his addiction to pornography in his married life. So this is a marriage? not unlike a spouse who refuses to bring children into the world. Cheating on the spouse is not marriage, it is cheating on the spouse.
    .
    Yes, marriage has been diminished as has our founding principles, and our common good by the introduction of garbage in and garbage out.

  16. Donald Wilmon of the American Family Association asked K Mart to remove pornographic magazines from the front counter eye level of children, again and again, and again. Wilmon gathered the support of the churches who removed their investments. K Mart lost its credit rating, and the CEO was replaced. The pornography is now behind the counter. It works every time. Now, we have the NEW K Mart.

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