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Pornography, Pets, Girlfriends:
A Different Catholic Perspective on What's Killing Marriage

June 1, 2016

When I was 13 or so, my family's vacation itinerary took us to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The motel we stayed at backed up onto a drive-in theater that was showing an X-rated movie. One could easily see this opus from the bathroom window of our room. I watched for about 30 seconds and realized that it was one of the X-rated movies we always heard about in the '70s. I also realized that it was one of the "bad pictures" that a Catholic children's book on The Ten Commandments warned that I should not look at. I made the connection even though for all that the book described what a "bad picture" was, a "bad picture" could have been anything by Picasso.

That experience in Tennessee inspired in me no hunger to look at any more porn movies. My parents thought enough about my moral formation to buy me that book on the Ten Commandments. They made clear their strong moral opinions on pornography as they did everything else that came within the ambit of right and wrong. Example fortified the words. Neither my mother nor my father had dark little corners in their lives where they went and wallowed in garbage, certain that no one would see, or not caring if anyone did. My father thought that the warning "For Mature Audiences" was a laugh. People who watched that stuff were anything but mature.

Catholic Wedding

Moreover the attitude in the Conway house was that movies in general had gotten too sleazy. Between my tenth and twenty-first year, I did not enter a movie theater. At home we watched classic movies from the past. When The Long Gray Line or The Quiet Man or Going My Way was shown on one of the five broadcast channels, it was an event, a reason to hurry home. My life was filled with Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Constructivity.

However I did watch I Claudius when it was broadcast on PBS in the late 1970s. A few seconds of toplessness was not uncommon on Brit shows in those days. I didn't think of those programs as being pornographic then. However today, because of the childish nudity and other reasons, I find them unwatchable just as I find Beatles music unlistenable.

My teen years also saw the start of my journey away from television. I now only watch a couple hours a week and that's mostly British detective shows (which, believe it or not, no longer have nudity), Hogan's Heroes and that family of cops who still have Sunday dinner.

Oh, I have every episode of Naked City on DVD, but that cop show from the early 1960s was grossly misnamed.

Next, for the sake of not leaving anything out, I'm listing Walker Percy's book, Lancelot. When Lancelot came out in 1977, a Social Studies teacher at Georgetown Prep assigned it to us juniors in his class. Some parents complained, I understand, but there was no ruckus.

Does reading a Walker Percy book amount to consuming pornography? In a world of artists who are atheistic, hedonistic and relativistic, Walker Percy was a believing practicing, pro-life Catholic who lived in a flyover city, drove a Caprice (I suspect) and wrote a pro-life novel, The Thanatos Syndrome. He brilliantly foresaw, a few years ahead of time, the sexualization of pre-teen children. In Lancelot, Percy's first-person narrator, Lancelot Lamar, describes the sexual activities of his unfaithful wife and her moronic moviemaking friends, including an episode of what is known as yin-yanging. For those who can't visualize the text, a diagram is inserted.

Over 20 years I've developed a habit of daily prayer. I consume wholesome and edifying media and culture. I contribute to that wholesome culture. I do constructive things. I've been a lector. I've sung in the choir. I am, for the time being, a eucharistic minister. My fellow Catholics don't give a damn about any of that.

Percy's work raises the question: What about pornography employed by a Catholic author to make fun of pornography, of the tawdriness of the sexual revolution? For that is what Percy did. He elaborated on pornography the way my father would have elaborated on it had my father imagination and writing talent.

Does a little bit of pornography ruin a whole work? There are a few moments of gratuitous nudity and orgiastic sex that mar the movie Cold Mountain (2003). However while I would not include Cold Mountain on my list of movies for Catholic family viewing, I think it is the greatest movie made so far in the 21st century. The genuine goodness and heroism of the main character, Inman, and of the people who help him on his tortuous journey back to his true love -- albeit contrasted with extreme cruelty -- are of another movie age. Despite the nod to shallower moviewatchers' need for prurience, Cold Mountain is about enduring love, fidelity and marriage. And at the orgy, Inman doesn't take what is put in front of him.

Moving on. Well into adulthood, I watched Louis Malle's Black Moon, figuring that it was artsy, but discovering that it was pornographic. The whole production built up to the moment when Rex Harrison's 16-year-old granddaughter, Cathryn, unbraziered herself. Along the way there were little nods to pedophilia. I felt icky watching it. I wondered how Doctor Dolittle and his son could let their lovely (grand)daughter do that. But if you look at their lives...

So there you have it. One man's history of watching porn. Other than the above, I've seen the pornography that we are all exposed to. Perhaps I am less exposed because my habits keep me away from the crap that other people devour. There's a theater neighboring my workplace which decorates a good quarter-mile of underground passageways connecting the buildings with posters of its past productions, many of them Shakespeare's dramas. If this theater put on You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, the actors would all be costumed in studded leather. Scrolling down Ebay listings I sometimes glimpse naked-woman model railroad figures. There's not much detail in 1:43 scale. Like the X-rated movie in Chattanooga, they do not make me want more.

Has this all-pervasive porn affected me? What is meant by affected? Does being affected account for my lack of desire to run around Annapolis on lobby night begging Maryland Democrats, including those from Baltimore and Prince George's County, to do something about porn? I think that abortion, Religious Freedom and my freedom to write and publish these thoughts are much more pressing.

While I know that pornography is expression that harms its participants, most people just see it as expression and I think it's hard to make the case for First Amendment freedoms when you're talking about Religious Freedom (murmuring is more like it) out of one corner of your mouth and about banning pornography out of the other.

Vignette vs. mural

The reason that I posted my rather scanty resumé of porn consumption is that my church, the Catholic Church, seems to think that I, as a man, am a porn fiend who can't get enough, that I spend hours looking at semi or wholly naked women online and on my iPhone and have my drawers (desk) stuffed with Hustler (Is that still around?) and Playboy.

I use the iPhone to see when buses and thunderstorms are coming. I actually spend most of my online time visiting Catholic web sites. What I see ad nauseam on Catholic web sites is men and porn, men and porn, Porn Alters Brains, Porn Dumbs Down Men, My Boyfriend Looks At Porn, Porn Wrecks Marriages, Porn Eliminates Desire To Marry, Bishop So'n'so's pastoral letter on porn, the exhortation to "Give up porn for Lent."

I find all the above tiresome and insulting. I find it so because, first of all, it doesn't apply to me and I don't like my fellow Catholics being told by my church that it does. Over 20 years I've developed a habit of daily prayer. I consume wholesome and edifying media and culture. I contribute to that wholesome culture. I do constructive things. I've been a lector. I've sung in the choir. I am, for the time being, a eucharistic minister. My fellow Catholics don't give a damn about any of that. The Cool Catholic Kids don't invite me to their parties.

Secondly, I know that pornography is not a mural in itself, but actually one vignette in the corner of a mural.

Porn, as I see it, is part of the larger problem of being average. By "being average" in this context I mean leading a lifestyle that is not likely to lead to a developing and deepening of faith, of putting on "the full armor of God" against Satan. Satan loves porn as he loves all sins. Arming oneself against the devil requires developing a daily-prayer habit, including prayers to Saint Michael (See sidebar) and Mary, regular reading of Holy Scripture and receipt of the Holy Eucharist and Confession, and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Being average here means consuming cultural crap, living certain other habits and at best, thinking of Mary and Jesus as imaginary friends.

Porn addicts are not butterflies shackled in their chrysalides by smut alone. Not watching porn wouldn't mean they look up in wonder when Venus, Jupiter and Mars align or shiver when they read Tennyson or Longfellow or listen to Vaughn Williams' Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Not watching porn wouldn't stop them from drizzling their urine on toilet seats out of carelessness or perverse glee. Not watching porn wouldn't send them out to build model rockets or birdhouses with their sons or go on father/daughter hikes. Not watching porn wouldn't inspire them to say The Morning Offering when they arise of the Magnificat before they go to bed, nor would they automatically accompany their wives to the church to learn more about the faith or work at a Knights of Columbus fundraiser.

As I say, pornography is not the mural; it's a vignette.

In another corner of the mural is another vignette, accurately drawn as "Mommy porn." Example, Fifty Shades of Gray. In a crisismagazine.com article (1), Lea Z. Singh writes that statistics on porn consumption don't accurately count women because surveys focus on the visual porn that men consume. Women prefer reading trashy romances to looking at pictures. Printed porn can be just as addictive. Singh writes:

Like other addictions, "pornmance" novels mess with women's brains and wreak havoc in their lives. According to therapists, these books can cause women to become dissatisfied with their marriages, to become "dangerously unbalanced," and according to a pornography addiction counselor, to have affairs.

Is it mere coincidence that nearly 70 percent of divorces in the United States are initiated by women?

So, Father, porn is a problem among women, too, albeit among a lesser number than among men. Despite the fact that trashy romances are written and read mostly by women, I'm confident that you and His Excellency and His Current Holiness will find a way to blame men for it.

Which brings me to the age-old problem in Christian churches of clergy and women allying against the male faithful. The obsession with porn is also, I think, another bond in this alliance. However my discussion of that lengthy, interesting and explosive topic must occur in another essay about the feminization of the Catholic Church.

Marriage Prevention

Yes, I'm sure pornography alters the brain and prevents men from desiring to make the commitment and sacrifice to marry. I'm equally sure that pornography puts a strain on existing marriages.

However other things also cause marital strain or distract people from marrying in the first place. Running up debt with mindless spending (not generally a male problem) is one cause of post-nuptial distress.

Being too attached to one's family, particularly the parents, is a real disincentive to marry. The stereotype is the grown man who is still attached to his mother. However I've noticed that it's a problem with some women, too. It's less noticeable because the women are usually attached to the whole family, both parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews. Women can further mask the attachment by living hundreds or thousands of miles away from Mom and Dad et al. They have their breathing space, but they're in constant communication with the family and they run home every vacation.

In the age of helicopter parenting, inordinate attachment to parents and siblings is only going to get worse.

So are men the only ones who are not interested in marriage? From where I stand as a single, middle-aged Catholic male, it's women who have no interest in marriage. My Catholic female counterparts want nothing to do with Catholic men. I have tried at various times in my life -- as a young adult, as a middle-aged adult, to start friendship groups of Catholic singles. Some women are interested in the groups and participate, but others are not interested and never join. It's very noticeable that the ones who don't touch such groups with ten-foot poles fit a certain profile.

Feedback that I have received regarding non-participation includes fear of being "pressured to date." Aside from: It (likely) wouldn't kill anyone to go on a date, that's insulting to me because I intentionally worked hard to create a group that, unlike a certain "Alumni Club International," is not a bunch of creepy guys hitting on younger women.

A singles group according to my vision includes friendship, prayer/study and service. Single Catholics are just not interested. They don't want to pray more and do more and be more. If they have such urges, they turn to cults and fakers.

Now to the main point of all this. Just as some single men may be uninterested in marriage because their needs are met by pornography, so some women are uninterested in marriage because their needs that would normally be filled by a man and marriage are satisfied by distractions. I touched on excessive attachment to parents and siblings above, but I think that two distractions that are even more deleterious to marriage are pets and packs of girlfriends.

Animal Insanity

There is a video out there of kittens jumping on and clinging to the jeans on a woman's legs. I saw this video posted with the comment "All the love you ever need." Really? Kittens jumping on your leg is all the love you ever need? The attention of creatures to whom you are a food source and who lick you because of salt on your skin is a substitute for human love?

Catholic Wedding

Human Exceptionalism, the difference between human beings and animals -- another thing that you bishops and priests don't talk about -- has been virtually forgotten. My grandmother with her eighth-grade education knew that animals have no eternal souls, but nowadays people who have advanced degrees don't understand the differences between humans and brutes. People profess to care about animals while knowing absolutely nothing about them, especially the basic truth: Animals are not people.

Pet product commercials speak of "pet parents." A woman in one ad refers to the family dog and her human male child as "My boys." People think of dogs and cats that have lifespans of a mere 15-20 years as lifelong companions. That's insane. That's pathetic.

The nuttiness about animals not only has consequences for marriage and the family, it poses more immediate problems for public health and safety (which, like marriage and the family, are important to civilization). A wildlife rescue shelter refrains from announcing that it euthanizes animals that are vectors for rabies because the staff fears that people, knowing that they euthanize, won't report rabid animals or much worse, try to treat rabid animals themselves.

The appeal of so-called animal "love" is that it's unconditional. Yes, dogs and cats "love" you no matter what. With animal companions, a woman can be the selfish free spirit who does whatever she wants. A man might get tired of her never thinking about anyone but herself and dump her, leaving her to moan about how rotten men are and to apply this bumpersticker (to her car): "The more I know of Man [Notice, it's "Man," not "people."], the more I like dogs."

The dog won't care what a bitch she is as long as he gets his dinner.

What Will My Girlfriends Think?

I remember 30 years ago my Mom telling me about the daughter of a friend of hers. I think Mom and the friend hoped that the daughter and I would go on a date. The last I heard about the daughter was my Mom reporting with puzzlement, "X doesn't want to go on dates. She only wants to go out with her friends. That's what they do nowadays."

At the time I probably drew up the corner of my mouth in indifference (From all I heard, Daughter X's father and brothers were idiots.). Little did I imagine back then that Daughter X was riding a little whitecap that has since grown to a huge wave. My mother couldn't understand why young women didn't want to meet young men, have dinner with them, talk to them, see if they click. Because that's what young women of my Mom's generation and generations going all the way back to the wife that Cain knew did.

Yes, Father, porn is a problem among women, too, albeit among a lesser number than among men. Women prefer reading trash to looking at pictures. I'm confident that you and His Excellency and His Current Holiness will find a way to blame men for it.

Women have always had their girlfriends. Cain's wife had them when she and the other women (wherever they all came from) washed and wrung loincloths in the creek that ran through the Land of Nod.

Since then there have probably been moments in human history, long forgotten, wherein women denied men, wherein that denial, really a refusal to receive, threatened marriage and beyond marriage, civilization and the human race. Then someone -- most likely a he or a bunch of he's -- put their feet down.

However through most of history marriage and family came before the girlfriends. Girlfriends did not prevent women from getting married. Nowadays, in many cases, girlfriends pose an obstacle to marriage. Some women avoid men simply to avoid being teased and pestered by their girlfriends.

Other women fill the emotional needs that women normally find in men. Who needs men if 20 of your girlfriends "like" everything you post on Facebook? Who needs men if your girlfriends are constantly begging you to come to this or that, here and there?

From what I've observed, the gravity that sucks attractive, good Catholic single women into packs of old maids are the shy, social-skill-less women, many of whom are man-haters. Because they can't relate to men themselves, these shy women need other women (or pets) for company. They also crave being friends with more attractive women. So they work very hard at earning and keeping their girlfriends. If the girlfriend-gang breaks up because members meet guys, these women will be left alone (as they will be eventually, anyway), so they keep the pack together by love-bombing, flattery and most of all, by fomenting fear of and disdain for men.

See if I'm not right, Ladies.

Conclusion

Are men the average woman meets every day really so awful that she is driven to find her companionship in pets and other women? Or has news about atrocities in the world, about young women disappearing, become unmoored from its rightful place in perspective? Are women confusing the female-butchering plots of popular cop shows, many of which are clearly aimed at female audiences, with reality? Do men whom women respect and listen to, that is Father or His Excellency, go on about porn so much that they sour women on men? One must also ask: If women fear or distrust men so much, what were their fathers and brothers like?

Traditional marriage is in trouble. Any priest, bishop, religious leader should be aware of that. Single women now outnumber married women. The percentage of people under 34 who have never married is now at 46%. If there are fewer marriages today, there will be fewer marriages tomorrow, fewer families, fewer people in the pews.

If you want to avoid having churches empty but for a few old maids huddled together up front and a couple ignored old men in the back, if you want to eliminate pornography consumption, you, meaning priests and women, have to start caring for men. You have to meet them, talk to them, be friends with them, go out with them, pray with them, marry them. You can't shut them out of your dyad of single gals and their priest-boyfriends. You have a lot of other subjects to address besides porn.

Sidebar: Should Women Help Men With Porn Addictions?

The answer here is going to be: It depends. I remember Dr. Laura Schlesinger ridiculing female advice-seekers for being interested in marrying men whom Dr. Laura called "fixer-uppers." People cannot be expected to be changed by marriage. Therefore the "fixer-upper" is unlikely to allow himself to be fixed up.

On the other hand, all of us, being sinful, need, at least, a little fixing up. And we need the love of others and the grace of God to be repaired. Abandoning men is only going to lead to more dateless, single men. That is going to lead to more men using porn.

First of all, I think a man is more likely to overcome a porn problem if he has discipline. By that I mean he is able to defer gratification and control himself, as evidenced by his earning of a degree or accomplishing something that required patience and sacrifice.

Secondly, a man is more likely to lick porn if he has constructive pursuits, if he makes something, if he does challenging things. A couch potato, a guy who spends his leisure watching sports, reality TV and drinking beer is a guy who's always standing at the gateway to porn addiction.

Lastly and absolutely essential, the guy must have some religious faith and be willing to develop and practice it. He can't be the type who says, "I'm spiritual, but I don't care for church." Nor can the woman in his life have that attitude. He needs God's grace to overcome his addiction. Being a Catholic provides so many advantages and ways to be strengthened by grace because the Catholic faith is so much more than just a "Sunday thing." It offers God becoming present in the Eucharist and entering one's body. It offers God's immediate forgiveness for one's sins through the wonderful sacrament of confession. It provides all kinds of resources for daily prayer such as The Rosary. And the addict must develop a habit of daily prayer and regular receipt of the sacraments.

It's OK to confess the same sin over and over again frequently. That way one is always conscious of the wrongness of the sin and can develop the necessary disgust to avoid it.

The porn addict must meditate on the facts that Satan is a real personal being who delights in porn addiction, as he does in all sin, and that Satan is the one tempting him. He should seek the protection of St. Michael and the Blessed Virgin Mary (as should all of us).

Of prayers to St. Michael, I personally use this one of my own composition:

St. Michael The Archangel
Defend me from Satan.
Defend me from evil thoughts he puts in my head.
Defend me from his distractions.
Defend me from his deceptions.
Defend me from his temptations.
Defend me from his possessions.
Defend me from the attacks of those he possesses.

May Mary, the Mother of God,
Who crushes Satan's serpent skull,
aid you in casting Satan and demons into hell.

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with Thee.
Blessed are thou among women.
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

Here is a great guy prayer to be recited after receipt of The Holy Eucharist. Other than the final stanza, the "Soul of Christ" prayer, which is associated with St. Ignatius of Loyola, most of it was written by a prep-school teacher of mine, Fr. Aloysius Galvin, S.J.:

Fr. Galvin's Prayer After Communion

I have received Jesus Christ true God and true man.
You have come to me and live in me.
I acknowledge you as God, creator of all,
Maker of men and maker of me, Lord, Judge, Savior, Friend.

What do I give you for your visit?
I give you myself, just as I am.
My body: strengthen and quicken it.
My soul: nourish and inspire it.
Thanks: for what I am and have.
My deeds: direct and bless them.

Let me feel the effect of your presence.
Give me purpose and success in my efforts,
Care and understanding for others,
Consolation in adversity, and protection in prosperity.
Wherever I go, precede me. When I get there, act through me.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, run thru my veins.
Water from Christ's side, wash out my stains.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me. Good Jesus, listen to me.
In your wounds I want to hide, never to be parted from your side.
Guard me when the foe assails me. Call me when my life fails me.
Bid me come to you above with your saints to know your love,
World without end.

Amen.


Endnotes

(1) Lea Z. Singh, "Romance Porn: More Women are Addicted Than You Think," crisismagazine.com, July 21, 2016

For Further Reading

The Single Vocation: Why It's A Lie

About Neal J. Conway

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