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The Gateway to Abuse: How Pornography Destroys Relationships

“Pornography offends against authentic love because it perverts the intimate giving of spouses to each other.” (CCC 2354)

In today’s world, pornography not only seems to be everywhere, but it’s often viewed as “normal” and even “healthy.” Whether it’s soft porn in the form of sexy and objectifying ads for beer, trucks, clothing, movies, food, music—well, anything, really—to easily accessible hardcore porn on the internet, the over-sexualization of society has become a damaging wound. Is it inevitable that all guys—and, increasingly, women—interact with porn? Should we just shrug our shoulders and dismiss such behavior as “the way things are nowadays”?

No. Absolutely not. Pornography is destructive on so many levels. It isn’t merely demeaning and vile, but it also contributes to the prevalence of domestic violence.

“Most pornographic movies, magazines, and web sites can function as training manuals for abusers, whether they intend to or not, teaching that women are unworthy of respect and valuable only as sex objects for men. A great deal of mainstream pornographic material—not just the so-called “hard core”—contains stories and images showing the abuse of both women and children as sexy.” (Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men)

It’s time to recognize pornography for what it is—a gateway to abuse, an objectification of women, a dangerous addiction that demoralizes society and actually changes the structure of the brain.

And it’s a definite form of infidelity—a dishonoring of the sacred marriage vow and a disrespectful, disgraceful dishonoring of the promise “to love and cherish, forsaking all others.”

The reasons why porn is so vile and dangerous are long and varied, so I’ll focus on just a few.

First, instead of enjoying a sacred sexual bond with his wife, which entails not merely a physical aspect but a spiritual joining of two souls so “the two will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24, Mark 10:8), a man engaged in pornographic activity is enjoying a purely selfish fantasy of other women. He’s engaging in lustful, isolated pleasure while disregarding the harm to self and others. He’s getting off on images of other women, on fantasies of what he’s doing to them or what they’re doing to him. Even if he’s not physically interacting with another woman, he’s still getting perverse pleasure from her.

And that is cheating. Infidelity. Unfaithfulness.

There’s no way around it: if your spouse is engaging in porn, he’s cheating on you.

“Pornography offends against authentic love because it perverts the intimate giving of spouses to each other.” (CCC 2354)

It’s also crucial to keep in mind that the porn industry obviously isn’t a clean or healthy business to be in. Porn stars take a profusion of drugs or get drunk (usually both) just to get through the ordeal of filming, and many contract dangerous STDs. To exploit someone else’s pain through participation is abhorrent. Oh, and there’s sex trafficking to consider. To support sex trafficking by engaging in porn is the utmost in human depravity and degradation.

His pornography use becomes even more destructive when it enters your bedroom, and trust me, it eventually will, in one way or another.

One common side-effect of frequent porn use and masturbation is erectile dysfunction. “If you are under 40, and not on specific medications, and don’t have a serious medical or psychological condition, your copulatory ED almost certainly arises from performance anxiety or internet porn—or a combination of the two” (Gary Wilson, “Your Brain on Porn”).

“You’re never just dealing with sex addiction. You’re also dealing with an addiction to lies and deception. The fact that our husband is lying to us and living a double life is, at times, more painful than the actual betrayal.” (Lisa Taylor, Beyond Betrayal)

Pornography is full of sadistic and abusive images. Coercion, power-over, slaps, hits, bondage, verbal abuse, and other degrading actions are the norm. “Most pornographic images regrettably fit well with the abusive mindset. The woman is available and submissive. The woman is sometimes even depicted as being sexually excited by verbal abuse, roughness, violence, or even torture. Abusive men absolutely need to be kept away from pornography, as it feeds the precise thinking that drives their abusiveness.” (Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?)

Not only that, but all these demeaning and depraved actions are portrayed as lustfully tantalizing and wholly welcomed by the female. She wants to be cuffed and slapped and … well, all the rest. Pornography depicts women as desiring to be treated like animals, objects, and playthings, because that’s supposedly sexy. She wants it and he’s gonna give it to her.

It’s common for porn-addled men to take this behaviour into their bedroom and expect their wives to behave accordingly. When their partners don’t live up to their lust-craved expectations they’re accused of being cold, rigid or frigid, or old-fashioned and boring. Often he’ll wear his partner down or threaten her (with physical violence, emotional maltreatment, blame-inducing guilt or the silent treatment) until she gives in out of exhaustion, fear, or a combination of both.

That, my dear readers, is not love, respect, devotion, or mutual self-giving.

That is sexual assault. Plain and simple.

Those who use and abuse pornography—and their victims—would do well to remember what St. John Paul II said in his classic work Theology of the Body, commenting on Matthew 5:27-28:

“Adultery ‘in the heart’ is not committed only because the man ‘looks’ in this [lustful] way at a woman who is not his wife. Even if he were to look in this way at the woman who is his wife, he would commit the same adultery ‘in the heart.’” (TOB 43:2)

This is exactly the objectification that’s happening when your spouse takes his pornography fantasies to bed with him.

Abusers are notorious for minimizing their behaviours—and pornography use is no exception. They excuse their actions by telling themselves—and you—that engaging in porn “doesn’t mean anything” or “I was just watching.” (Yeah, right.) They say it’s just “fantasy” and they were really thinking about you while masturbating to images of other women. (Again, yeah right.) “It’s just entertainment” and “every man does it” are other common, and lame, excuses. As award-winning author Chris Hedges says, pornography “is about getting yourself off at someone else’s expense.”

And that someone is you. And the actors demeaning themselves in such a way. And your children, because porn use naturally and always diminishes and degrades family life and interactions, even if in subtle ways.

Always remember, no matter what he may say or excuses he may make, his porn habit is a defilement of his role as spouse and father. It’s infidelity. Unfaithfulness. A violation of your marriage in all ways imaginable: through lies, deceit, betraying a bond, abuse of self and you. And, like a mistress, it’s something you don’t ever need to tolerate.

“Using pornography is cheating. It is engagement with a digital prostitute despite one’s vow to forsake all others.” (Luke Gilkerson, “Yes, Using Porn is Cheating. Here’s Why”)

Image caption:
(Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels)

As a domestic abuser survivor, advocate, and author, Jenny duBay knows what a huge impact intimate partner violence (IPV) has on an individual. She founded Create Soul Space to help cultivate awareness of domestic violence within a Catholic setting. Jenny is associated with Catholics for Family Peace and works with various organizations within the Catholic Church to spiritually support victims and survivors of domestic violence. Author of the Create Soul Space and Prodigal Parishioner blogs, Jenny also writes for Missio Dei along with various other Catholic publications. Her upcoming book, Don't Plant Your Seeds Among Thorns: A Catholic's Guide to Domestic Abuse will be published soon.

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