June 16, 2024

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By Mikaela Pannell

This month, we continue our three-part series about pornography and marriage. The final installment will be in the June edition of The Bishop’s Bulletin. Before we dive back in, it’s important to acknowledge that pornography is a difficult, triggering and/or sensitive topic for many people. If that’s you, take heart! Know that God loves you and wants you to live the most fulfilling life possible. He is the ultimate healer.

The short answer to that question is, no, pornography does not have a place in marriage. And that’s for a whole host of reasons, which we will explore.

The Sacrament of Marriage has four essential parts: it must be free, total, faithful and fruitful. Father Kristopher Cowles, parochial vicar for Pastorate 22 and co-founder with Father Kevin O’Dell of the Chastity Support Group, uses these four essential parts to illustrate the harms of porn to his couples in marriage prep.

Father Cowles is co-founder of the Chastity Support Group.

“Pornography is not free, total, faithful or fruitful. It’s none of those things,” Father Cowles says.

In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of all those pillars of marriage. Let’s break down how it goes against each pillar.

Free

One of the questions couples are asked by the priest at their wedding is: “Have you come here to enter into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?” This is imperative, both initially when a couple enters into marriage and every single time they enter into the marital act.

Pornography infringes on a person’s individual freedom due to its addictive nature. According to Father O’Dell, “It’s probably one of the most addictive things in existence.”

Because porn is so addictive, it attacks the freedom necessary to make the decision to enter the marital act, even when a person is trying to rid themselves of the addiction.

“In the attempt to quit, they believe, ‘Well, if I just use it in a controlled environment with my spouse, then everything will be alright,’ but it isn’t,” Father O’Dell says. “Every time you access that stuff, you’re increasing the dependence you have on it, and on top of that, you begin to look at human beings as spray painted pictures because that’s really what pornography is. What you’re seeing on the screen is not a live person. It’s [an] airbrushed-over photograph or movie that has been doctored to have no imperfections in it.”

If there is dependence on pornography, freedom is missing.

It is also not uncommon to hear of situations where one spouse sees a particular activity while viewing porn, and then wants to try it out with their spouse, who doesn’t actually want to do it. This infringes on the freedom that is essential to marriage, and inevitably brings harm to the couple. Father O’Dell, parochial vicar of Pastorate 18, points out that “they can both start using and become equally addicted.”

Even if both spouses “sign off” on using porn together, odds are there was some part of them that didn’t actually fully desire that decision but felt like they had to agree to it. And so, there is a lack of complete freedom.

Father Kevin O’Dell is co-founder of the Chastity Support Group

Total

Pornography tends to be used in secret. Secrets have no place in marriage, where the spouses are meant to give themselves completely to the other. Additionally, porn causes a person to seek their own pleasure over the wants and needs of their partner. This goes against the call of a spouse to be a total gift of self. As Father Cowles reminds us, “Love never seeks to use the other person. Love always seeks to appreciate and give themselves to the other person.” He points out that when a person uses porn, they are not being a gift of themselves; rather, they are only receiving.

Father O’Dell explains what happens to a person’s view of their partner in a relationship when porn is involved. “When you look at your spouse, you don’t look at some idealized picture, you look at a real human being. And what is pornography all about? It’s about presenting an altered understanding of reality by presenting a perfect body that has no problems and is not marred in any way, shape or form … you start entering into false relationships because nobody can measure up to the airbrushed picture that you have in your head. It brings a sort of expectation into the marriage that no person can even compete with, let alone match.”

This prevents a person from loving their spouse totally. You can’t completely love someone when your view of them isn’t even real. Additionally, there is a part of you that is held back in your relationship when the chains of addiction are involved.

Faithful

Father O’Dell really hones in on the fact that pornography use is an unfaithful act.

“If they’re looking at pornography, each of them is fantasizing [about] a person on a screen that appears to be perfect,” Father O’Dell said. “And so they’re being unfaithful with each other by viewing someone who is sexually arousing to them even though they may never have sexual intercourse, even though they may never see the person live; they’re still doing something that is against the marriage vows.”

Even if the two of you are viewing porn together and are only having intercourse with one another, you still aren’t being monogamous. This can be an incredibly difficult fact to come to grips with for some couples.

In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That’s a pretty clear-cut statement. While Playboy and PornHub didn’t exist in Jesus’ time, his teaching still applies.

Married people who use porn, whether it’s together or separately, can really struggle with acknowledging this.

“They’ve got a hundred-and-one excuses why it isn’t adultery, but it is adultery. Any time you step outside of the bonds of marriage … to do something like that, it’s infidelity,” Father O’Dell says.

Fruitful

Using porn as a way to pleasure oneself cannot create a life the way that sexual intimacy between spouses does. There is also a link between pornography use and masturbation, which is an action that is closed off to life. It’s not possible to create a new life by viewing pornography like it is when a couple enters the marital act.

As Father Cowles points out, “[Pornography] is sinful, and introducing sin into a relationship of love is going to poison instead of strengthen a relationship.” Poisoning marriage with pornography withers away the fruitfulness of a relationship that seeks to get both parties to heaven.

Within marriage, there is both your personal call to holiness, and the call to help your spouse pursue holiness. If a couple is truly striving for this, one should never knowingly lead their spouse into sin.

“You’re giving them a poison knowing that it’s a poison, and knowing that it’s going to have harmful consequences for them,” Father O’Dell says. It’s a spiritual poison, one that will destroy a marriage if it is allowed to be brought in.

There is no room for pornography in marriage, especially in a marriage striving for heaven. Thankfully, the Lord is always ready to heal anyone who asks for it.

Mikaela Pannell is a freelance writer and a parishioner at St. Therese Parish in Sioux Falls, where she serves as a lector. She is married with two young children.