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Pornography’s harms from a Catholic therapist’s perspective

The following remarks are adapted from a talk given in November 2003 by Craig W. Fall, Associate Director of Catholic Social Services for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Mr. Fall was a speaker at a conference on the harms of pornography at Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church in Greenfield, Ind., organized by the American Family Association of Indiana.

First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Craig W. Fall, I’m Associate Director for Catholic Social Services. I’ve been with Catholic Social Services for about four years now. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I previously was the Director of Behavioral Health Services for St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers in Beech Grove. While I was at St. Francis I also served as director for there outpatient counseling center an employee assistance program. So I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work with individuals and couples through the years.

Certainly this issue [of pornography] has been present so many times in the counseling and treatment that I’ve been involved in. Because this term “effect” has come up a couple of times so far [in this panel discussion], I think that’s a really good place to start. Often, the argument is, “What [are] the effects of pornography on society and individuals?”

Some people may argue, “Well, pornography’s vulgar, pornography is tasteless, pornography is immoral, pornography is all these things, but, what problems is it really causing society?” And I think that’s where I think you can begin to make a very good argument, because there are so many negative effects. The effects create so much pain, damage, sorrow, broken relationships, unhealthy lifestyles, as well as create major problems with children that are exposed to pornography.

Often, you face situations [that] really hit home about effects of pornography. For example, the wife that calls and says that “My husband would rather masturbate to porn than make love to me. He would rather have a relationship with pornography rather than a close, intimate relationship with me.” And you can hear the pain, the sorrow, and the hurting in the conversation. That’s an effect, a real effect.

You can hear the pain and the sorrow in men that call and say, “I can’t stop this. This has become an addiction. This is a like a drug to me. And I want to stop. It’s hurting me; it’s hurting my relationships; it’s beginning to spill over into work; it’s beginning to affect who I am; I can’t stop this.” That’s an effect.

Then you look at the development of children who are exposed to pornography. We see them acting out (copy-catting) behaviors they have seen in pornographic material and then abusing other children. We see the danger of children becoming sexually active and dealing with unwanted pregnancies. We see sexual disease of all types—the list goes on and on. So if you want to talk about the effects of pornography, the negative consequences, there are many.

I think it’s something that could start out as seemingly harmless, potentially, but once you get caught in the cycle of addiction, it becomes anything but harmless.

… And let’s make no false assumptions. Pornography is generally produced by men, promoted by men, for the consumption of men, although there are some cases where women are involved in the production … Women are seen as receptacles, nothing more.

… I just wanted to add to the Biblical view of pornography, because we really have such a wonderful gift, if we think about it. God has created men and women to be together, to be exclusive and happy. Sex is our wonderful gift in the security of a loving, committed relationship. What could be more wonderful than that? … It’s really sad when we see something like pornography, which sends clear messages to men that faithful sexual attention to one person is not really necessary. Why be satisfied with one? You’ve got to be satisfied with more than one woman [according to the pornographers].

And that’s not to say that we can’t appreciate beauty in women … but that’s not what pornography is all about. It’s about purposefully stimulating lust. It’s about saying to a woman, “You’re there to satisfy my sexual desire” … This can lead to a cycle of addiction and escalation, and in some cases, to acting out, where you then have problems with voyeurism, or compulsivity of sexual practices, in some cases even rape or other sex crimes.

Ted Bundy was addicted to pornography. You’re probably aware of Ted Bundy, someone who murdered at least thirty women … one of his final statements [to Dr. James Dobson] was: Stop pornography in our country, because it got me and I know many, many men are becoming addicted to it.

Now is that to say that every man who watches pornography is going to kill someone or rape someone or becoming some sort of sexual offender? Well, the answer is no, it won’t happen to every man, but there is a connection between pornography and sexual crimes, certainly. And if you look at any pedophile, at any one who is a sexual offender, often you see the use of pornography as part of their lifestyle. The pornography agitates and stimulates them, which creates a greater likelihood that they could act out when they’re in a cycle of addiction. So, is there a connection, an effect, to [these] crimes? Yes. That’s an easy answer.

One other thing we haven’t touched on yet—let’s say that you’re a wife, and you’re worried about your relationship with your husband—what are the warning signs that there could be a problem in a relationship? I have talked with a lot of women who come in [for counseling], and the marriage wasn’t going well; they felt a distancing; they felt that something was just not right, and as we would go through some of the warning signs it would become pretty clear that part of the problem was pornography.

And as home computers became more popular, and more people had access to the Internet, you would see this problem coming up again and again, where men were getting involved with late nights on the computer, going to their office or den, shutting the door … and connecting with pornography that way.

What are some warning signs? [First], any kind of evidence of pornography use on the computer—you leave a history [in your browser] of what [Web] sites [and pages] you’ve visited. A spouse may come across this accidentally. Second, if a person insists on having his or her own Internet account, or an e-mail address—men often will say, “I need this for work.” That can be a sign or an excuse that someone might make.

Credit card bills … where you’re seeing something on the credit card [statement] and you’re not sure what it is, potentially it could be a bill for some type of pornographic material that the person accessed.

We see people who often have unexplained patterns late at night on the computer … That’s one problem with pornography now. It’s affordable, it’s accessible, particularly when you can order it right from your home.

… Often another sign is sudden increases in the demands for sex, or for certain sexual practices that may be uncomfortable for the other person in the relationship … or if a person is no longer really satisfied with a sexual relationship, they need something different, something more, that may be an indication that they’ve been exposed to in pornography.

It can be a sudden decrease in sex. What I often found is that men become more aroused from viewing pornographic material, than with being with their spouse. So there could be a decline in or even no interest in physical intimacy within the marriage.

Then, there can be just the sense that your spouse is not there, mentally or emotionally, particularly during lovemaking, or just a general feeling of disconnect; if there is an increase in moodiness, anger, blaming—all of those things could be warning signs that there’s a pornography problem.

And like you see in other addictions, denial is often present. Certainly the addict is in denial, and then often the spouse is not willing or ready to confront the individual. … I had a guy I was seeing a few years ago—he was concerned about being caught renting videos, so the wife would go out and rent porn videos for his viewing. It was her way of trying to remain part of his life. This is a prime example of being an enabler.

There are many warning signs that something’s not quite right in the relationship. Finding support and dealing with the issue is critical.



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved