Many of us have been scared by statistics showing the number of teenagers who access pornography on a weekly basis or the number of marriages that have ended as a result of pornography addiction. We know that pornography is a problem and that it is destructive. But, have we ever stopped to ask, “Why is pornography so destructive?”
At the core of our humanity is the fact that we are beings consisting of body and soul. Some describe us as ensouled bodies and others as embodied souls. This understanding comes from from the second chapter of Genesis, when God created Adam. It says, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7, ESV). This pictures humanity as consisting of both material matter—body/dust—and immaterial matter—soul/breath. This is an important aspect of what it means to be human. One of the things that sets us apart from the rest of creation is the immaterial soul that we posses.
We also believe that our body and soul are integrated. In his book, The Meaning of Sex, Dennis Hollinger writes, “a theology of creation affirms a unique wholeness in which the body and the nonmaterial are deeply intertwined.” If people attempt to interact with one another by only “engaging” with the physical and ignoring the soul, they don’t interact with them fully as a human. The same applies if people ignore the physical and attempt to only interact with another’s soul. To fully interact with someone as a human being, people must engage one another both body and soul.
In understanding this, we begin to see why pornography is destructive. When someone engages in viewing pornographic content, they are not looking to engage with a person—body and soul. They are solely looking to engage with a body. There is no desire to engage with this person as an integrated being. Tanya Burleson, a former porn actress, affirms this when she says, “You’re viewed as an object—not as a human with a spirit.” In all reality, the intention of pornography is to separate the soul from the person being viewed in order to view them solely as a physical object of pleasure. When the soul of a person is ignored, they are being viewed/treated as only partially human.
Another core element to our humanity is that we are created to be in relationship—with both God and humanity. This can also be seen in the first two chapters of Genesis. In chapter one it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The particulars of our relatedness to others is worked out in the second chapter of Genesis. After God created man he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). It was not good for man to be alone. He was created to be in relationship with God and with other people. Hollinger says, “this verse also points to an essential reality of humanity: we were created to be in relationship.” Connecting this understanding with our sexuality, Hollinger also states, “Part of the capacity is the facility for a relationship of a special kind, marriage. And in that relationship sexual intimacy expresses the depth, uniqueness, and fruitfulness that reflect relationship in the Triune God.” Therefore, the human expression of sexuality must be expressed in the context of the marriage relationship, otherwise it is not fully human.
When connecting this essential aspect of humanity to the action of viewing pornography, we quickly see another way it dehumanizes. Pornography completely removes our sexuality from any form of relationship, let alone the marriage relationship. Since there is absolutely no connection between the one being viewed and the one viewing, there is no relationship—and no desire for relationship. This means that it is impossible for this interaction to happen in a way that expresses an essential aspect of our humanity—our relatedness—once again, making the interaction to be subhuman.
Another aspect of human relationships is the giving of oneself to another, of which sexual union is the epitome. This is what is spoken about in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The Catechism of the Catholic Church connects this one flesh union with self-giving and truly human sexual activity. It says, “The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” The truly human performance of sexual acts must consist of self-giving and enriching the one with whom we are united.
Once again, one can see how pornography destroys this aspect of relationship, which in turn destroys an essential aspect of our humanity. Pornography is an attempt to engage with someone sexually with neither a desire to enrich the other person nor any desire to give oneself to the encounter. It is the epitome of self-centered self-gratification. This self-gratification rises to the point of degrading the dignity of another person—dehumanizing them—in order to use them as an object for one’s own pleasure. The viewer of pornography dehumanizes the one being viewed by refusing—and being completely unable—to give of themselves and enrich the other in any way through this sexual encounter. The refusal to give any aspect of oneself to the sexual act, and only to take from someone else, is to remove the relational aspect from one’s sexuality—the relational aspect being an essential part of our humanity—and dehumanizes the one being viewed.
Undeniably, pornography dehumanizes the person being viewed. The person doing the viewing is the culprit behind the dehumanization of the other. They dehumanize the person by separating their body from their soul. They dehumanize the person by using that body as a tool for their own personal pleasure. They dehumanize the person by removing the sexual act from any form of relationship—especially from the committed relationship of marriage. They also dehumanize the person by refusing—and being unable—to give any part of themselves to the sexual act. Ultimately, they take a person, created in the image of God, remove any dignity and worth from their personhood, and turn them into an object to be used for their self-gratification.
When we begin to see pornography for what it is, we should not be surprised that it is so destructive.