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Pornography and Mortification

May 6, AD2017 6 Comments

Pornography as we know it is still a very new reality. New studies come out with frequency that reveal pornography’s harmful effects on users. Addictions used to be thought of as only linked to substances, but we now know that what triggers pleasure in the brain without any substance, such as pornography, can also cause addiction.

The drive to hurt another

The most striking feature of pornography is its incitation to violence. A porn user might start with soft pornography, but the innate tendency is to need it to be more and more violent. There are things that you watch that would possibly make cringe or cry watching in real life, but when you are in the middle of a cycle of excitement, the most violent things will excite you. It is a real addiction, and the more you get, the more you need.

I know this unfortunately from personal experience, but there are many studies that point to this strange reality.

A few years ago, a team of researchers looked at the most popular porn films—the ones bought and rented most often. From that group, they randomly picked 50 and analyzed them. Of the 304 scenes the movies contained, 88% contained physical violence. On top of that, 49% contained verbal aggression. In total, only one scene in 10 didn’t contain any aggression, and the typical scene averaged 12 physical or verbal attacks. One action-packed scene managed to fit in 128.

Unlike violence in regular movies where someone gets punched, gets mad, and fights back, 95% of the victims of aggression in the porn scenes either were neutral or responded with pleasure. And while the targets were women 94% of the time, when a man was the victim, he was four times more likely than his female costars to be upset at his attacker.

In other words, in porn, women are getting beat up and they’re smiling about it. (

Ted Bundy and desensitization

I saw the full video of Ted Bundy’s final interview before his death. I was about pornography and it was terrifying, but at the same time made total sense to me. Ted Bundy was a serial killer who killed many women in gruesome ways. What surprised me was that he had Christian parents, who he said were wonderful, and a family of five brothers and sisters. So what would make a man commit the heinous crimes that he did? He wasn’t sexually abused as a child and even seemed to come from a loving family.

He didn’t want to blame pornography entirely, but that pornography played a major role in a drive that turned to killing women. He said that he watched pornography and became more and more desensitized. He needed more and more violent pornography. Finally, the pornography wasn’t enough and he needed to do those terrible things in real life. He said that when he was on that “high” of hunting and killing the women, he was completely desensitized and just pleasure-seeking. However, the next day when he was no longer on that “high”, he felt disgusted about what he had done.

Like other kinds of addiction, I would keep looking for more potent, more explicit, more graphic forms of material. Like an addiction, you keep craving something which is harder, harder, something which gives you a greater sense of excitement. (at 1:08 minutes of video here)

Letting yourself feel pain

Throughout Scripture there are many references to the sinner’s “hardened heart” and to the desensitization that occurs with sin. A heart that lets itself be penetrated by God’s grace is, in contrast, sensitive. As the saints progress in their spiritual lives, they recount that they are able to feel God’s light touch more and more. They also cringe more at sin and at the suffering of others, wanting to take it upon themselves instead.

This is the reverse of the effects of pornography. More contrary still is the mortification at the heart of Catholic spirituality. Fasting or abstaining from lawful pleasures externally, or actions that go against our pride and self-love internally, not only follow Jesus’s example, but can be ways to become more sensitive and even suffer for other’s sins. “If you live after the flesh you shall die, but if through the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Romans 8:13). “You must deaden, then, those passions in you which belong to earth, fornication and impurity, lust and evil desire, and that love of money which is an idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). “…those who belong to Christ have crucified nature, with all its passions, all its impulses” (Galatians 5:24).

Holy men and women throughout the ages let themselves feel pain and sometimes even inflict pain on themselves in order to love God and others better. The drive that pornography stimulates leads people to get excited when others feel pain and even inflict pain on others. It leads to a desensitization in which the pornography user is solely pleasure-seeking, at the expense of another’s pain. Mortification seeks the other’s joy, at the expense of his own pain.

Get pleasure quickly, give beauty slowly

I attended a conference in which the speaker said that the industrial revolution introduced the impatience into our culture of wanting to get things quickly. The sexual revolution introduced the possibility of getting pleasure. With the effects of these two revolutions, our culture can be characterized by wanting to “get pleasure quickly.” The Catholic way of life, however, is the exact opposite: give beauty slowly.

The epidemic of pornography seems to fit within this cultural milieu of “getting pleasure quickly”. Instant sexual gratification is available at a click. Why bother with those painful details of relationships, much less a lifelong, spousal relationship and all it entails? Someone with God’s vision would know immediately that what seems very easy can never bring true joy. It is the way of the cross, the rugged climb up the mountain that hurts every inch of the way which brings true joy and life. Pornography is ugly in every sense of the word, in its essence and in its effects, and contrasts starkly with the via pulchritudinis – the way of beauty.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 32-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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