From Pornography to Persons

I worry that we frequently confuse the longing for beauty (which includes the longing for another’s beauty) and the sexual urge which ultimately seeks orgasm through the use of another. One way in which this confusion occurs is the way in which we think about pornography. We frequently think of the longing for and use of pornography as solely one’s expression of the sexual urge, but I believe it is often much more a complex coping with one’s unlived erotic life.

In my own experience, the longing for pornography isn’t simply a voyeuristic desire to facilitate the activities of sexual organs. The contexts in which such a desire arises and is pursued suggest something else. I sometimes think back to a comment about pornography that a priest once made to a friend, “It makes sense that we would want to idolize the image of God.”

We all long to have our erotic lives pursued in relationship. And pornography can give the illusion of such a pursuit. The fact that pornography isn’t just about “getting off” can be seen in the various ways pornography is frequently consumed. Many users search for specific situations, scenes, and actors. Sometimes they return to the same ones again and again. Websites cater to specific desires, and users cultivate visual relationships with particular situations and persons (or “types” of persons). We find here not simply a desire for orgasm, but something more complex and contextual. It’s a desire for erotic experience connected to various aspects of life and personhood.

The problem is that, for many young people, pornography is discovered as the primary way in which to cultivate one’s erotic personhood. Without certain experiences of art, prayer, and relationship [1], the erotic life which dwells in every man feels suffocated or impotent. Each man has a longing for that feeling of “being fully alive,” the freedom to be as one is most deeply, in both body and soul. And pornography can become the only context for such a feeling, illusory though it may be. [2]

For some of my friends, the pursuit of such a feeling in pornography has been overcome through the pursuit of romantic relationships. The authentic experience of falling in love can be so overwhelming that one almost forgets what that previous desire through pornography was. I myself remember being in a relationship for several months where the desire for porn was almost entirely absent, not because of any loss or alternative pursuit of sexual desire, but, I believe, because I experienced such a fullness of life that I didn’t need to dig around for it anymore in the gutter.

Ultimately, we shouldn’t use others as a means by which to “fix” a porn problem. But I do believe an openness to relationship might help relieve the burden of our erotic energies that we put into porn. I think of the gay men I know who have problems with pornography, and I wonder whether their churches’ condemnations of “same-sex relationships” (whatever that even means) [3] contribute to their unhealthy sexual habits, rather than resolve them. And I wonder whether such relationships might not just relieve the longing for pornography but also make the experience of celibacy come alive. [4]


In tomorrow’s post, I will add four additional points on Catholicism, pornography, and homosexuality, drawing partly on my own experiences.

3 thoughts on “From Pornography to Persons

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