Thursday, July 24, 2014

The problem of pornography

By way of Big Pulpit, I found this article -- Seven Steps to Beat Pornography and Masturbation -- by a priest I met some time back (I see he's in Calgary now).

This is a subject that some may not like to talk about, but the easy access of the Internet results in a huge problem -- which does profound damage to relationships and families. People may find it ridiculous to think that anyone seriously thinks viewing porn and masturbation are anything but harmless. But they are not harmless.

The solipsistic physical grammar of solitary vice says it all: a person turned toward the self.

Perhaps the very hardest challenge anyone faces involves relationships, don't you think? Think of the problems you had yesterday or today: how many of them involve other people?

When someone gets caught up in a habit of solitary fantasy and pleasure, it provides a convenient solution for what is so frustrating and challenging in real relationships; in fantasy-land, you're the boss, everything goes your way; you design people to meet your needs; and you dismiss them when they cease doing so.

Now, of course, our capacity for fantasy isn't a bad thing; on the contrary, our ability to imagine and create is a faculty to develop. But, the goal isn't to escape reality, but to encounter it -- and, perhaps, with full use of God's gifts, improve it in some way.

While fantasy and masturbation may seem, to many, to be rather trivial things to worry about, I think there's something else at work here that is far from trivial. Call it narcissism. Call it selfishness. Call it social isolation. Call it an inability to make relationships work. Call it apathy or disinterest in the cares of others. Do these sound like real problems we have in our society?

And of course, the problem of pornography -- so readily available now via the Internet -- pours gasoline on the fire.

In the home, an adult gets into the habit of prowling online, but assumes no one else will ever know. In fact, frequently their children will find their trail -- and then follow it.

And if you think this isn't powerful, do a little checking on the number of times this becomes a problem in the workplace. People lose their jobs over this: and how addictive must this be that people would risk so much for so little?

So back to Father's advice. I think it's very good. I would add some other ideas:

1. Keep the computer in a public area and try to go online only when others are around. This also helps keep us just from wasting time online.

2. Plan your time online. Instead of just going online for an indefinite time and purpose, set time limits for yourself and have a plan for your time online.

3. Pray before going online.

4. Keep holy images nearby; you can even paste a holy card on your screen! It's not magic; just a reminder.

5. As Father Schneider says, it really helps to sit down, calmly, and think about the times and circumstances when we most often fall into these sins. Certain moods can make us more prone to temptation: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Frustrated, Tired and Bored: HALF-TB.

Why these moods? I think what happens is that we feel a need but may not identify it right away; we just want to satisfy it. To put it simply, we feel bad and want to feel good. With anger and frustration, I think our inner dictator comes out: I'm tired of not having my way, d*****! And we give ourselves some moments when things go entirely our way.

6. If you're tempted, change your location immediately. It's amazing how just getting up, walking around, eating an apple or getting something to drink, can clear our heads.

7. Fasting can be a useful tool. Because we have so many comforts, we can tend to fall into an automatic, need-felt-need-gratified sequence. Fasting or denying yourself other comforts can teach us that our bodies' cravings don't need to be met constantly.

8. Some people may want to consider going Internet-free. While email and ready access to lots of information are tremendously useful, the truth is, we can get along without it. There actually are lots of people in western society who never go online, and they do quite well. It may be rather humbling to have to take this step, but it's what alcoholics do for their well-being. Having the humility to admit and accept your limitations is something everyone admires; refusing to do so, not so much.

Let me know what you think.


Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

The neuroscience of addiction has a lot to say about this. Moral philosophy and psychology have a lot to say about the objectification that makes this behavior possible. All of this establishes clear natural law reasoning for not engaging in this behavior.

Breaking the chain can be a huge challenge (note the neuroscience of addiction), so self-discipline, combined with enlightenment and (in so many cases) special graces from Almighty God, can be essential for success.

Jennifer said...

Masturbation and other forms of illicit sex are so damaging. It's sometimes hard for me to understand why our modern society keeps pushing the idea that we all need "sex lives."

Thank you for writing about such a difficult topic.

ndspinelli said...

There was a flick out last year titled, Don Jon. It starred and was directed by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Scarlett Johanson is the female lead. Levitt plays a handsome, church going, smart, lady's man from NJ. He can date any girl he wants but has become addicted to porn. It covers some of the issues Father Fox is courageously discussing here. A lot is smarmy, but there is some real intellectual honesty in it.

ndspinelli said...

Father Gearhart, I read a great book titled, The Power of Habit. It is a fascinating book in analyzing habits in humans. The book also discusses addiction and has high praise for AA, which intuitively understood decades ago what neuroscientists are just "learning" now in treating addiction. I think it is a must read for anyone counseling people on addictions to porn, drugs/alcohol, eating, gambling, etc. The book is not specifically about addiction, but habit is a primal part of our lives.

Pat said...

I hate to rain on your parade, but my physician told me that looking at porn is good for me, that it releases chemicals in the brain that combat anxiety and depression, and that occasional masturbation is normal and healthy sexual behavior.

He did, however, also tell me not to smoke or drink.

ndspinelli said...

Pat, This is an important subject. So, I will reveal some personally embarrassing information. When I was in my 30's we had 2 small children and I was running my own biz, working 80 hours a week. My wife was not interested in sex and I didn't have the inclination to masturbate. I got prostatitis. My doc asked me about how often I ejaculate. I told him hardly ever. He gave me antibiotics and told me to ejaculate @ least once a week. I trusted the doc but I am curious. I researched it an he was correct. Indeed, our body needs to ejaculate to help prevent bacterial infection, cleaning the pipes as it were. I won't speak for the Padre but I think the problem is obsessive masturbation to porn?

ndspinelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fr Martin Fox said...


I am in no position to comment on medical matters; however, I doubt our society suffers from an epidemic of men not ejaculating.


Looking at porn is good for you?

Being an accessory to the objectification and commodification of human beings is "good" for you?

I will readily believe that normal healthy sex, in a real relationship, is good for you. I don't believe narcissism is good for anyone. And I don't think too many people seriously disagree, but perhaps you are one of those who does.

ndspinelli said...

Father, That was not even inferred by me. I was merely pointing out that there are consequences to not ejaculating. You can research it if you wish. No need to get testy. It was not pleasant relating that story but I did so to give a different perspective. If you don't want perspectives that conflict w/ your views, just say the word. I don't need the sarcasm.

Jennifer said...

Pat, porn performers lead sad lives that include a lot of degradation. If you watch porn, you are contributing to their misery. Maybe a 10 mile jog on the beach followed by a cold shower is an alternative prescription for releasing some tension.

ndspinelli said...

Jennifer, I watched a documentary on HBO about retired porn stars. It's titled, After Porn Ends. You are absolutely correct. Many porn actresses cannot lead normal lives and if they had to do it over again w/ not have done porn. Many have substance abuse problems. Conversely, the men, who for the most part aren't famous, seem to live fairly normal lives post porn. John Holmes being a big exception, becoming a cocaine addict, murderer[?] and contracting AIDS.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I apologize, I did not mean to treat your comment with disrespect; I was only trying to be funny. I should have been more mindful of the fact you related something rather personal, I'm very sorry.

ndspinelli said...

Father, I have often said this venue is fraught w/ danger in that 80% of all communication is body language. When I interview witnesses I don't even like doing it over the phone, where @ least you can hear inflection. I accept your apology and it's forgotten.

Colleen said...

Oxytocin is released during climax in BOTH genders. Also released during labor and breastfeeding, oxytocin is known as the 'bonding hormone.' So, during masturbation, you're releasing a hormone to bond with .... yourself? people on the screen? Seems to me science and religion support each other on this one.

Pat said...

Fr. Fox, feel free to disagree with medical advice all you like. i'm sure you're medical credentials are worth exactly the value of the paper they are not written on.

As to objectification: come on, my taking a photo of you objectifies you. When did we all blindly accept the statement that all objectification is always bad?

Pat said...

And ndspinelli,

I also won't speak for the Padre, but contrary to your assumption, I suspect the Padre believes (and teaches) that all masturbation, not merely obsessive masturbation, but all masturbation, whether to porn or not, is always wrong.


Fr Martin Fox said...


As usual, you are arguing in bad faith. I never claimed to have any medical credentials, as is plain.

Jennifer said...

Pat, objectifying porn performers really does harm them. I know many people in the industry. And I am sorry for them....pornography is nothing more than the world's oldest profession on film. I would not wish that life on my worst enemy.

Masturbation may be many things, but it is not virtuous. And it is not an accomplishment.

Pat, it sounds like you have some strong feelings regarding the Catholic Church.

Sevesteen said...

Whether or not porn and masturbation is good for a particular individual is something I'll leave up to them. If we are considering public policy, I've seen several studies that show availability of porn reduces rape and child molestation--apparently for many people with evil desires the availability of porn is sufficient to keep their urges in check. I've seen similar findings with prostitution--when legal, a decrease in the frequency of rape, and a decrease in the abuse of prostitutes.

A book that praises AA is suspect-While anecdotal evidence has untold numbers of AA members claiming it saved them from alcoholism, the success rate of AA members isn't better than the rate of non-members.

As for retired porn stars who can't lead normal lives--How much is damage caused by porn, and how much is damage caused by moral crusaders whose reaction means that exposure of her past will likely get her fired?

Pat said...

Fr. Fox, that was my attempt at irony. Point being, I know that you have no medical credentials, yet you are disagreeing with the medical advice I was given to me by my doctor.

Jennifer said...

Pat, there is hostility behind your irony.

Pat said...


With respect, that's the second incorrect conclusion you've made about me here regarding my personal feelings.

I would rather hear your reasoning behind the statements you make, as opposed to hear you comment on how you assume how people feel.

I think we're all here to learn from each other, not diagnose each other.

ndspinelli said...

Sevesteen, I am curious about your derision toward AA. The opposition I see usually comes from atheists, psychologists, and the worst combo, atheist psychologists. Atheists dislike AA because of the higher power. Shrinks hate it because it takes business away from them. I have much alcoholism in the Irish side of my family. Thankfully I have the Italian food gene, not the Irish alcohol gene. I have seen family members con supposedly good shrinks. Addicts are great cons[see: Nurse Jackie]. You cannot con AA members. They call you on BS every time.

No kidding, my word verification is Schopenhauer!!

Fr Martin Fox said...


I know you love these petty disputes and it's extremely tiresome.

This answer constitutes my last remarks to you on this thread -- in hopes that the next time you visit, you'll choose to engage in a more elevated fashion.

I am not disagreeing with what you refer to as medical advice on medical grounds. Get that? Because I don't have any competency on medical grounds.

I simply refuse to modify my Catholic Faith as a result of any medical opinion.

So when did God -- or you or the UN or someone else -- give medical personnel such authority that no one can ever disagree with them...on any grounds? This is ridiculous.

Catholics are accused of papal "worship," but we don't defer to the pope the way you demand I defer to givers of medical advice.

Jennifer said...

Some of these doctors are a bunch of quacks! While I'm not a medical professional, I urge everyone to use caution as they go about taking care of their health.

If I'd taken the medical advice that has been given to me in the past, I would never have had my three children. I had them in my late 30s and early 40s. I love them dearly and cannot imagine life without them.

But if I had listened to the head of maternal-fetal medicine at a local teaching hospital, I would have had a hysterectomy, instead. My life would have been much sadder without my children. (and probably without my female organs, too!)

As an attorney, I can tell you that not every professional is at the top of his or her game. Not every professional solely advises you on what's good for, they want to get paid! And sometimes they have social agendas that they don't share with you....

A little caution can be a good thing.

Fr Martin Fox said...

A couple of commenters here have delved into a question that -- for purposes of moral evaluation boils down to this question:

Is masturbation ever medically necessary? (Note the key word.)

As I said above, I am in no way familiar with the various medical fields and facts involved, so I think it would be foolish to wade into this.

And when someone tells me that's what his doctor said, I have to take people at their word; since I don't have access to the reasoning used by the doctor, I can't really evaluate that, now can I? And until someone specifically says s/he has a moral dilemma as a result of medical advice vis-a-vis Catholic teaching, I don't wade into that. So that's another reason I didn't get into that here.

After all that, if someone wants my gut reaction? Here it is: I'm skeptical.

Plus, let's be clear: there's a world of difference between someone saying:

a) This won't hurt you;
b) It might help;
c) It's one of many options -- if you have no objection, why not?


b) This -- this specific option and no other -- is medically necessary.

See that?

Now, if no one is actually making this last claim, then there's nothing to pursue here.

But if anyone wants to support that lattermost claim about masturbation, then I think you get the burden of proof.

Make your argument if you want to pursue that; but I would appreciate some discretion in posting web links, as links on this subject can be pretty dodgy. It's not that I'm a delicate flower; but I just don't choose to be associated with such things, thanks all the same.

Sevesteen said...

I wouldn't call my attitude towards AA derision--I think the people involved are sincere--but having your heart in the right place doesn't change reality. Where altruistic groups often fail is in cold, rational analysis of their own effectiveness. This isn't limited to faith-based groups, Head Start, and DARE are other examples where people mistake criticism of the effectiveness with not supporting the goals.

It isn't that ejaculation is absolutely necessary, it is that there's a correlation with a reduced rate of prostate trouble. If you don't have a wife willing that often, I'm not sure what other methods are feasible.

ndspinelli said...

If you would like some scientific information please simply Google "prostatitis ejaculation frequency." I just did it to make sure no porn popped up, but some NIH studies do. I was taught by my very Catholic parents that the Good Lord gave us a brain and expects us to use it.

ndspinelli said...

Sevesteen, Thanks for your judgmental comment. I'm learning the commenters here. I share a time in my life where we were under ENORMOUS stress 30 years ago. I did not give you the entire story, just a small snippet. I am now glad I didn't share w/ you. "Judge not lest ye be judged."

Regarding addiction, you apparently have the fix no one else does. You should be making billions of dollars it. Actually, you probably sense my derision for your analysis. To mix Head Start w/ AA shows a fundamental ignorance on the topic. I sense you are a person to avoid.

ndspinelli said...

Sev, I just remembered you are an attorney. I am a PI that specializes in civil litigation. Much of the work I did was medical malpractice defense, helping defense attorneys w/ their work defending docs and hospitals. The contempt and mistrust between the 2 professions is palpable. I put a lot of it on one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Docs get the respect and deference attorneys long for.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for the suggestion on search terminology; that worked better than prior attempts.

I did visit several sites that tended to confirm the advice you were given; of course, the nature of medical studies is that they don't really conclusively settle questions, but they do provide some evidence of some things working better than others, without always being able to say just why.

That's why I framed my question as I did: I'm wondering if there really is anything that substantiates the proposition, masturbation is medically necessary in any case.

All this seems to me to be suggestive, not conclusive.

For what it's worth, I then searched for "prostatitis Catholic," to see if anyone else had grappled with this question in view of Catholic moral teaching. I found a few things, one thing in particular I thought was interesting:

In summary, the link has a medical doctor, who claims the right credentials, arguing two things:

a) There is no consensus on this subject among "secular urologists";

b) There are other, more aggressive approaches that are preferred, and masturbation could actually be harmful.

It's one opinion; it doesn't settle it. But it does tend to sustain my skepticism.

Just to be clear: I'm not offering a moral evaluation of you.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Actually, you're doing me a service -- thank you.

This is, I'm sure you agree, an obscure question, and thus one I hadn't encountered until you brought it up. But it's certainly a serious one, given the trials you and others experience with the condition -- and the need to address this in relation to Church teaching.

So I thank you for giving me some awareness.

ndspinelli said...

Father, I did not suspect you were judging me. No problem there. Reasonable people can disagree. As you might expect, I had no moral pangs when my doc told me to ejaculate. I am straight and honest, Father. I did not say what I did to cause controversy. I sometimes do that on other blogs. But, this is a blog that I won't do that. My intentions were good. But, we all know w/ what the road to hell is paved.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Actually, I don't mind people stirring controversy, as long as it's in pursuit of what another blogger calls "good faith" discussion.

ndspinelli said...

Thanks Father, I'm just finding the rhythm. Every blog has it's own rhythm.

ndspinelli said...

I am a glass half full guy. What I take away from this is the main point. That is we agree that pornography can be pernicious.

Sevesteen said...

ndspinelli, I'm not a lawyer, not even close--I'm a network admin. I'm also curious what I said that you consider judgemental? A quick Google search seems to say that AA works for about the same percentage as most other methods, not that well. I'm nowhere near an expert on either AA or alcoholism, I've been lucky enough to avoid problems both myself and my family, the closest I've been to AA is Lawrence Block's Mathew Scudder novels.

ndspinelli said...

Sevesteen, My bad. I apologize for calling you a lawyer! I would be offended. Funny you mention Matthew Scudder novels. Trooper York, who comments here, loves those novels. Being a PI, it's tough for me to read them. Plus, there is way too much nonfiction I want to read.

I would encourage you to read the aforementioned Power of Habit. the AA is just a small part of it. Being a professional observer of human behavior it is a treasure trove of information. I'm in the winter of my career, I wish this book was written decades ago. But, the personal application of this knowledge is more important than the professional.

The judgment came regarding your comment about my wife.

Sevesteen said...

I'm sorry you misunderstood me, I didn't mean to talk about any specific wife or situation. I have to balance between precise language, stilted language and the time I'm willing to spend on a blog comment--like a lot of things you can get at most 2 of the 3.

Back to the original topic--I think there's a lot of similarities between alcohol and porn--In moderation there's no real problem for most people, excess use can be a problem, and some people probably can't handle even small amounts without issue.

ndspinelli said...

Sev, We are in agreement. The older I get the more I realize genetics plays such a key role in our lives, and that pitching is the dominant key to success in baseball.

ndspinelli said...

I Googled prostatitis/celibacy and wow! Prostatitis was called "monk's disease" because of celibate monks frequently contracting it. There's a lot more info if you care to read up on it.