The Soul vs. Pornography

The sad case of Tiger Woods offers the familiar spectacle of media and the public setting a celebrity on a pedestal, then taking gleeful satisfaction in knocking him off. If this episode has redeeming value, it’s the reminder that even in this sex-obsessed culture, sexual delinquency still matters.

Strictly by accident, the Woods episode coincides with publication of a major new study, The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family, and Community, showing why it should. It is the work of Patrick F. Fagan, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and director of its Center for Marriage and Family Research.

“Powerful and deep” is how Fagan sums up pornography’s capacity to “undermine individual and social functioning.”

The merit of this heavily documented review of social science literature lies in backing up conclusions with serious scientific sources. No one who takes the time to read it can buy the liberal cliché that pornography does no harm (a companion piece, incidentally, to the conservative cliché that guns don’t kill people, people do).

As a matter of fact, pornography, like the abuse of handguns, does great harm: to its users-especially, those who become addicted-as well as to marriages, to family life, and to society as a whole. Internet pornography is a serious threat to the nation’s children, including both those who become users and those victimized by sexual predators.

In brief, says Fagan, “habitual consumption of pornography can break down the relational substrates of human interaction-family, friends and society.” (People who want to read this important document can find it at

Those are psychological and sociological dimensions of the problem. Beyond them lies the dimension of the ascetical struggle. Let me explain.

Lately I’ve been writing a book about a book. The book I’ve been writing about is a small volume of meditations composed by the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva, and called The Way. More about that another time.

Here I note what might seem an oddity of the book. The chapter on chastity comes way up front-fourth of 46 chapters-and the topic itself receives a generous 28 “points.” Considering that other virtues are treated much later in The Way, why such prominent billing for chastity?

The reason is simple. The model of the interior life used by St. Josemaria is the inclined plane-start at the bottom and work your way up toward union with God. With regard to chastity, he takes the tough, realistic view that spiritual progress can’t even begin in the case of somebody who habitually and, as it were, complacently sins this way. Someone who falls occasionally, repents, resumes the struggle, yes. Someone for whom unchastity is a way of life, no.

Looking for an explanation for many seemingly unrelated problems in the religious world today? You’ll find them here — in self-deception and rationalization concerning unchastity as an obstacle to interior life.

But the idea of chastity isn’t an easy sell now, not even in religious circles. I think of a man who told me cheerfully he’d been assured by his brother, a religious order priest, that it’s impossible to sin seriously against chastity by looks. Really? The New Testament quotes Jesus like this: “I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5.28).

My guess is that many people have either forgotten that or don’t care much. Anyway, keep Tiger Woods and his family in your prayers.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • Richard Bell

    You know something is going on when the most recent issue of Cosmopolitan dedicates a page to ‘His sexual problem that could affect you’ and specifically identifies a man’s consumption of porn as a potential barrier to a couple’s intimacy.

  • You read it in Cosmo? Just yesterday I was in line at the grocery store and I saw the latest issue. Can you believe they put those things low enough so that small children can read the explicit and offensive covers? Maybe Catholics need to begin a campaign to convince store managers to keep the Cosmos wrapped in brown paper and behind the counter like the hard-core pornography. It belongs in the same category.

  • Cyclist443

    I sincerely hope you do not believe that guns kill people, rather than people with guns. How is it a “conservative cliche” to say that people abusing guns is the real problem? (In fact, you admit that people are the real problem when you say in the next paragraph “the abuse of handguns”). I am deeply offended that you would compare those who believe in the safe use of guns to those who approve of pornography. Much of the time, an anti-gun attitude stems from a profound lack of knowledge about guns and gun safety. Perhaps you could contact your local police force for information about gun safety classes. Maybe you would begin to see how safe guns are when properly handled, just like teenagers take driving lessons so that they can use cars and see them as a safe means of transportation rather than as a 3000 pound train wreck waiting to happen.

    Take care and God Bless

  • kent4jmj

    Almost every man I know has been affected to some degree by pornography. All of them are uncomfortable with those experiences. This study reinforces that our concerns are well grounded.

  • loey

    Your article caught my attention and I began to read it with great interest. As a woman I have long found the objectification of women in pornography to be deeply disturbing and, now, its effect on couples’ relationships is becoming apparent. Hopefully, this information will reach the general public so that pornography will cease to be viewed as harmless men’s entertainment. However, I fail to comprehend the similarity between pornography and responsible gun ownership. Pornography demeans women, devalues human sexuality, and causes immeasurable damage to couples both emotionally and spiritually. When used properly, a gun may serve as a necessary means of protection and self defense and the majority of legal gun owners regard the privilege of gun ownership very seriously. There is no redeeming aspect to pornography.

  • lkeebler

    As long as pornography brings in billions of dollars it will be with us (like so many other ills). People are being deceived by the millions and herded into the slaughter house like lost sheep… to make some rich. They are constantly bombarded with so much mind junk (especially the young) until their standards are so low they will (buy) believe and do anything. God help us!

  • kel3at

    Good article except the handgun comparison is unreasonable. How can you compare a physical product with a spiritual sin. A handgun is just a hunk of metal and plastic, a camera is also just a hunk of metal and plastic. They cannot think and they cannot sin. You cannot blame a camera for porn and you cannot blame a handgun for murder.

  • plowshare

    There is an unfortunate “is” in the following sentence: “The merit of this heavily documented review of social science literature is lies in backing up conclusions with serious scientific sources.”

    My wife complained to the management of one of our supermarkets about the explicit covers on Cosmo and a number of other magazines, and she got results: the ones at the checkout counters now have an opaque plastic shield covering all of the magazine except the title. This is made possible by the way each magazine has its own separate rack into which the shield is inserted on top of the stack of magazines in the rack.