[The following is a high school teacher’s letter to his students on pornography]
Our desire as human beings is like a bottomless pool that always seeks to be filled with more water. One aspect of this desire is the longing to be united to the body of another human being. We get excited when we see a beautiful person who attracts us. This has been a part of human nature since the beginning of time. But what are we ultimately looking for when we see someone we are attracted to? Who is she, and is it even possible to fully know her?
Your girlfriend, in the fullness of her identity, becomes a sign of the truth of who both of your are and of the Goodness for which you both were made. Our desire for bodily union in marriage points us to our need for total completion through being united to God.
Sometimes that desire to see the truth and goodness of the person we are attracted to can get tangled up with our instinctual drives, causing us to lose sight of the bigger picture of what we really desire. This reduction of desire sometimes leads us to settle for that which is less beautiful and true.
Pornography shows us images of human beings which serve solely to cater to our instinctual drives. The safety of looking at another human being through the protection of a screen allows us to receive instinctual pleasure without having to accept the reality, the freedom, and fullness of the other person. Instead of taking the risk of entering into intimacy with someone who is “other”, who is different from me and who I can’t control, I get to use the person, to “break off” a piece of what they offer, and leave behind the rest of their identity.
But is this what we truly desire? Yes, using another person in this way is more convenient than entering into a committed relationship with them and taking the time to get to know who they are, including both their great and not-so-great qualities. Yes, porn may feed our immediate hunger…but don’t we want more than to be filled up for the moment? Don’t we want our hunger to be fully satisfied?
We can’t experience that fullness when we reduce the person to an object for use. We discover God, Who fully satisfies our hunger, only when we respect the whole identity of the other. The person ceases to be a sign of God when we “use and abuse” them as an object. The reality is, they are not an object to be used, even if they consent to it. That’s not who they are or what they were made for.
When we use others to satisfy our instinctual lusts, it’s as if our bodies are telling lies. Lies can impact not only our personal lives, but also impact society in serious ways. Look at the African slave trade. Human beings were reduced to objects: they were used for labor without compensation; they were bought and sold; beaten and killed. The porn industry, according to many, is said by many to be a modern form of slavery because of how the actors are viewed and treated-as less than human entities that are meant to be used by others.
Above all, pornography enslaves the viewer. The more you get used to “breaking off pieces” of people, the more your capacity to see the fullness of the other person is weakened; your ability to know them gets “dumbed down.” Just like when you’re slacking at the gym—if you don’t give your all at a work out, your muscles will get weaker. And when you don’t maintain a healthy diet, your body will struggle to maintain its strength. When you “reduce” the “fullness” of your body’s fitness, you won’t be able to keep up the endurance to enjoy whatever sports you play or activities you take part in.
In the same way, when you watch porn, you weaken your capacity to use your reason. Porn feeds your instinctual lusts, and doesn’t engage your reason. Reason gives you clear vision, while your instinct makes everything blurry. Without reason, you can’t have real and meaningful relationships with other human beings. Porn traps you in a fantasy world which is not real or meaningful. Only when we look at reality using our reason can we find the presence of God—who promises to fulfill your desire in a way that surpasses your wildest fantasies!
With love and gratitude,
Stephen Adubato teaches Theology at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey and is pursuing an MA in Christian Ethics at Seton Hall University. He has written for Aleteia, Ethika Politika, and Church Life Journal, and is a regular contributor at the Patheos Catholic channel.