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Annie Turner

Annie Turner
Having a Conversation

Thursday, September 17, 2015


That will surely get your attention. Pornography has been around for countless centuries (think about Roman reliefs and paintings, some on bordellos), and appears to answer an age-old impulse--to be titillated and erotically aroused.

But from the data available now, many people--especially men but including some women--are viewing very explicit films on the internet. (See Porn Hub, an internet video site with appalling material.) Dawn E. Hawkins. a Mormon woman who started the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) has made it her crusade to educate people about the harmful effects of pornography and to persuade media outlets to get out of this trade. She has had some success, such as getting Hilton Hotels worldwide to no longer carry porn channels, as well as getting Google to cease using such material in Google Play. She writes that a significant number of divorces claim internet porn use as a factor in the dissolution of the marriage, although I cannot document the truth of this statement. According to Ms. Hawkins, "Pornography encourages viewers to view their sexual partners in a dehumanized way, and it increases the acceptance and enjoyment of sexual violence and harmful beliefs about women, sex, and rape." (America Magazine, "Fighting the War On Pornography: Q & A With Dawn E. Hawkins," Sean Salai S.J., July 29, 2015.) I wonder if the increase in date violence is influenced by this.

She points out that porno films often use women and children who are victims of sex trafficking--not exactly "informed consent." This is enough to give anyone pause:  Exploitation of women and children--trafficking--all sound alarms in me, and we haven't even gotten to "porn creep" and addiction.

Here's my take: I deplore pornography--how it uses women and children, how it encourages people to see others as only receptacles for desire, and how it persuades us away from the risks and gifts of true intimate relationships with people with real (flawed) bodies--not fantasy objects.  But--and this is a huge but--it seems to me that at its root pornography isn't just about sexual desire but includes our hunger for connection with others and with God; the drive to be part of something larger and more sustaining; and the search for meaning, even if in completely the wrong place. I believe this appetite for immediate gratification is actually an unacknowledged search for transcendence and the authentic bliss which comes from this.  Or, as St. Augustine famously said, "You breathed odors, and I drew in breath and panted for You.  I tasted, and I hunger and thirst." (Confessions)

Maybe in times past this need would be expressed in joining either a political or religious movement; perhaps people would go on a Crusade to satisfy that desire; or they might enter a convent or a monastery to be part of something larger and deeper than their individual selves. I don't think it's a complete coincidence that at the very same time we are leaving churches in droves, our society is experiencing a huge rise in the use of pornography. Of course, the easy availability of internet porn has fueled this as well. I realize this won't hold up logically, as it's a conclusion by association and not causation.  But--it is possible.

Look at it this way:  One of the strongest, most intense drives God has put in human beings is sexual desire. I also believe She has placed in our hearts an equally passionate hunger for God; "...our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." (St. Augustine, Confessions.)  They mirror each other in surprising ways.

I believe we are looking for love in all the wrong places, and if we could truly answer the deep need for connection and transcendence we might--just might--experience a drop in pornography.