The problem of pornography: Church recognizes harm, seeks solution

| Bridget Ryder | March 21, 2018 | 0 Comments

Parker Hymas of Fight the New Drug, an anti-pornography organization, talks about the damage pornography inflicts on its viewers to attendees of the Archdiocesan Men’s Conference March 10 at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a two-part series on pornography.

Pornography use has exploded in the decades since the advent of the internet. The harmful effects of new generation, widespread pornography are clear, and the local Church is responding.

“The use of pornography is a growing crisis in our society,” said Shawn Peterson, associate director for public policy at the Minnesota Catholic Conference. “Pornography has become normalized and is seen less and less as something that should be avoided, and increasingly as a form of harmless entertainment.”

In 2014, the Barna Group, a Christian research organization, found that among American men, 63 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds view porn at least several times a month, followed by 38 percent of 31- to 49-year-olds and 25 percent of 50- to 68-year-olds. Researchers also found that half of women under 25 seek out pornography. The rate is one-third for women over 25. A survey released in 2016 also discovered casual attitudes about pornography among youths. Eighty-nine percent of teenagers and 95 percent of young adults talk about pornography in “a neutral, accepting or encouraging way,” Barna found.

In light of these facts, Catholic entities in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are bringing pornography’s harm to the forefront. The Minnesota Catholic Conference has made pornography a legislative priority this session, and the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization’s annual Men’s Conference March 10 included a breakout session on the problems with pornography.

Toxic to mind and heart

At the men’s conference, hundreds of attendees learned how pornography can rewire the brain and damage the heart.

“It puts a strait jacket on your mind,” Parker Hymas told the men during presentation at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights.

Hymas is with Fight the New Drug, a nationally recognized anti-pornography group. In addition to its website, social media campaigns, swag and online addiction recovery program, its leaders’ main focus is giving presentations across the country to youths and adults. The organization recently gave its first presentation to a Major League Baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Speakers look at the harm of pornography through brain science, social science and psychology to expose how pornography negatively impacts individuals, interpersonal relationships and society as a whole.

Hymas pointed to research showing how frequent pornography users have brain patterns similar to drug addicts. In both cases, the reward receptors of the brain are smaller than normal. Just as cocaine gives the user a more intense jolt of pleasure than normal pleasures offer, pornography provides a “supra normal” sexual stimulus. This causes an overload of dopamine that shuts off the neuro connectors, shrinking the reward system.

“It’s almost as if the brain is saying, ‘I like pleasure, but this is too much.’ You’re killing it,” he explained.

The brain then requires more stimulus to get the same arousal. This means seeking not only more porn, but more insidious porn. This phenomenon has intensified as pornography has changed from magazines purchased in a store to free online videos that make pornography use more “affordable, accessible and anonymous than ever before,” Hymas noted. As more people view porn and continue to seek increasingly intense images, pornographers are compelled to produce more graphic scenes to keep audiences coming back.

“It’s more violent, abusive, degrading and distorted than when it was [just in] a magazine,” Hymas said.

Pornography also affects the heart.

“Our concepts of what it means to love, to fall in love, are not biological,” he said. “Our sexual tastes are molded by experience and culture.”

He shared research that shows how viewing porn changes “how we love, who we love, how we think about the people we love and how we express love.”

Pornography viewers become more critical of their spouses and less satisfied with their romantic partners. Essentially, the viewers start to prefer pornography to the real-life love of their spouse. It also causes objectification of spouses.

“You no longer think about what makes them unique or why you love them, but you think of them as a collection of body parts,” he said.

However, Hymas also emphasized that healing is possible. Science is learning that the brain is more malleable than once thought, making it possible to recover from the effects of viewing pornography.

Fight the New Drug connects recovering pornography addicts with Fortify, a web-based platform that offers video lessons, an online community and coaching options to help users “find freedom” from the addiction.

Hymas’ talk resonated with conference attendees.

Eric Russek, 46, a parishioner of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Delano, attended with his three sons, Weston, 15; Walker, 19; and Wyatt, 22.

The director of faith formation at his parish, Russek has used material from Fight the New Drug to talk about pornography with youths.

“I can always go at it from a faith perspective, but going at it from science — the combination is really powerful,” he said.

Weston agreed.

“All you hear about it is the religion standpoint. [But] when you bring the facts and the science into it, it makes it easier to not do it,” he said of viewing pornography.

Policy approach

Just two days before the men’s conference, the MCC won a significant victory in its fight against pornography in the public square. Bills sponsored by the MCC that would require the collection of information on the link between pornography and sex trafficking passed in their respective House and Senate committees of the Minnesota State Legislature.

During the committee hearings, both law enforcement personnel and victims of sex trafficking drew the link between pornography and sex trafficking.
Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder shared what he has learned in the last four years of running Operation Guardian Angel, which has led to almost 1,000 sex-trafficking-related convictions during that time.

“One of the big things we have seen through this data is the high level of pornography use among these guys, not only as sort of an introduction to the idea of sexual exploitation, but also as a rehearsal,” he testified.

Terri Forliti, executive director of Breaking Free, a survivor-led organization that helps victims of sex trafficking, added that the pornography industry fuels the demand for paid sex by creating sexual addictions, normalizing sexual violence, grooming young girls into prostitution and blackmailing women who try to leave the industry.

Peterson said the bills still need support from several legislators before becoming law. He encourages Catholics to contact their legislators to support the bills. For more information, visit http://www.mncatholic.org.

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