As Millennial’s previous piece on the subject noted, pornography is pervasive in our society, particularly among teenage boys and young men.
In addressing this, the focus is often on convincing these young people to embrace the virtue of temperance. Those trying to break away from pornography struggle to live a life of greater purity and resist lustful temptations that would hinder their progress. The focus is on self-reform.
Of course, there is also a great deal of discussion about the impact of pornography on the viewer’s immediate relationships. Often the costs of pornography—including its negative impact on intimacy and the sexual relationship of spouses—are framed in terms of the way it damages the relationship between husband and wife.
But the consumption of pornography is also a social justice issue. It is tightly connected to the objectification of other persons, who are used instrumentally for a rush of endorphins. Many feminists would note the negative impact that the widespread objectification of women has, creating an obstacle to the full flourishing of women.
The thing is, this is not just an issue of virtue theory or feminist theory. It is an injustice that affects real people. It involves the objectification and dehumanization of actual people (typically women). Often actions that seem personal in nature have a social impact. The drug user who purchases narcotics, giving drug dealers cash that is used to fund terrorism in Afghanistan or violence in Mexico, is complicit in the destruction of actual lives. So too is the consumer of pornography, whose actions fuel an industry that ruins lives. This consumer is providing the market for suppliers who prey on the vulnerable and use nefarious practices to convince people to engage in activity that is dehumanizing and that many will one day regret.
Some would argue that if the porn star has freely chosen their profession, those who provide the market for pornography are off the hook. But Catholics are not supposed to think in such an impersonal, contractual way; the bonds of community are tighter and interpersonal duties are more extensive.
And of course, we have to question what consent means in this context. In “This Is What Happens When A Porn Star Finds God”, Brittni Ruiz, who has left the business, explains why those in pornography often enter the industry:
While in front of the camera or the fans, porn stars often say they got into the business because of how much they love sex, but that’s them playing their character, Ruiz says. Girls usually get into porn because they’re “searching for love,” or for the money.
“I’m being told I’m beautiful and getting attention.”
Insecurity is among the most destructive forces in the modern world. And convincing young people to enter the pornography industry by exploiting their insecurities is an effective way to profit off of their vulnerability. Sure they consented, but what does consent mean to someone desperate for approval, attention, affirmation, or love?
And the results of preying on people like Brittni Ruiz can be devastating:
“In the beginning, I felt beautiful. I felt like I found my self-worth. And after a while I felt destroyed,” she told The View Monday.
“It was torture for seven years. I was miserable, I was lonely.” She eventually turned to drugs and alcohol, and attempted suicide.
When we try to help people break away from the consumption and addiction of pornography, it is essential to get them thinking about more than themselves and even their current or future spouse. Certainly the quest for personal virtue is laudatory, as is a focus on creating better marriages.
But being virtuous also means that our actions are just—that we act in a way that reflects our commitment to the dignity and value of other persons. And perhaps if we add this to the equation—a concern for the lives of those in this industry—more people will understand the gravity and impact of their actions and choose to turn their backs on an unjust industry that devastates people’s lives and offers only a false path to happiness.