In 79 A.D., the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried under the ash of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. In the mid-1700s, when the cities were discovered and excavated, we got a good look into life in the earliest days of the spread of Christianity and the culture they were up against. In the ruins were many indications of pornography in brothels and even common homes. The sexual promiscuity of the Roman culture was no secret even if the practice of it was kept behind closed doors in the name of being discreet. How much it saturated the society was a bit of a shock.
Pornography has been with humanity for an exceptionally long time. The word comes from the Greek words porne (prostitute) and graphos (to write). Prostitution deliberately cheapens the human dignity of a person by exploiting them for sexual gratification; pornography further cheapens that dignity by reducing the person to nothing more than an image with which to self-pleasure.
In 1953, we saw the eventual mainstreaming of pornography with the playboy mentality of Hugh Hefner. Within 50 years, the acceptability of pornography had grown so much that viewing it became seen as both a healthy and normal behavior. It is now a 97-billion-dollar industry that fuels human trafficking worldwide. It is estimated that the sex trafficking trade claims 4.5 million men, women, and children as its victims. These victims are shown pornography to learn how to "perform," and are forced to be a pawn in its production. The consumer in this evil exchange is conditioned to completely objectify the human person as a means of self-gratification. There are fewer more potent cancers in our society today than pornography.
It is legion in our society. Both in soft and hard-core versions (everything from "romance" novels to violence), it permeates the entertainment industry at all levels. It is sung about in music, lauded on TV and in motion pictures as normal guy behavior, and now, with the help of the internet and social media, has spread to the point where our children are taking nude pictures of themselves and sending it to others via texting. It influences how we dress, what we show, and the way we interact. It does permanent damage to the human brain, especially if the person starts using it in adolescence. It is known to inhibit the ability to participate in healthy adult relationships. It is estimated that even among Christians, 64% of men use pornography. In a study done on human sex trafficking, it was remarked that pornography is the gateway to prostitution.
The issue with pornography is that it reduces sex to something outside of the marital bond. It is easy adultery. It divorces sex from the marriage and trains married users how to objectify each other for physical gratification. The grim reality with porn is that it is a total rejection of God's plan for human sexuality. As the U.S. bishops wrote in their 2015 pastoral letter "Create a Clean Heart in Me," deliberately viewing pornography is a grave sin against chastity. Sexual intimacy and the pleasure that derives from it are gifts from God and should remain personal and private, enjoyed within the sacred bond of marriage alone. Such intimacy should not be put on display or be watched by any other person, even if that person is one's own spouse. Nor should the human body be unveiled or treated in a way that objectifies it sexually and reduces it to an erotic stimulant. Jesus is clear in his teaching that sexual immorality is not only a matter of one's actions, but also a matter of one's heart: "You have heard that it was said, 'you shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart"(Matthew 5:27-28).
Pornography is likewise a grave sin against human dignity. As the Catechism says, "filming or taking pictures of the intimate parts of the body or of sexual acts does 'grave injury' to the person(s) 'performing,' to anyone responsible for its making or production, and to the public. Pornography dehumanizes the persons depicted, making them into objects of use. Those who produce and distribute pornography harm the common good by encouraging and even causing others to sin. They do serious harm to the women and men who consent to be in pornographic material, often out of desperation for money or out of an impoverished sense of self-worth. Even worse, in some cases pornographers take advantage of those who cannot even give consent - children and other victims of human trafficking - which is both a grave sin and a heinous crime."
Pornography in its variety of forms (print, movie, virtual, TV, music) must be purged from a faithful Catholic's home. It must be treated as the voracious cancer it is. It may well be with us from antiquity, but its influence must be curtailed so that a renewed respect for the human person's dignity and integrity may be restored.