On Pornography: Temptation, Addiction, and Loving Thy Neighbor

May 4, 2022

I recently wrote a screenplay for a Christian film. I know, I know, the chances that it would ever get produced are rather slim. Writing it was an atonement of sorts. I’d so eagerly panned several Christian-inspired films in an article published last year by the National Catholic Register and realized shortly afterwards that I’d never yet made any personal attempts to write a meaningful story in that very genre.

The main character of this Christian screenplay is a former Muslim who, lacking necessary Christian fellowship and support, descends into alcoholism and depression in the decades following his conversion to Christianity. He seeks redemption by taking a young and newly converted Christian (another former Muslim, recently disowned by his family) under his wing to prevent this young man from following the same dreadful path.

The antagonist of the story is a Muslim college student, a cousin of the young convert. Due to failing grades, this young man cannot go to medical school as he’d wished. To compensate for this loss of face, he becomes increasingly radical in his faith, eventually leading to the climactic confrontation.

Figuring out the story arc for any character means having to figure out what would make sense. With the character being as he or she is, that one event in the plot naturally leads to the next. What could cause the antagonist to follow the dark path of radical Islam? Considering his age, the catalyst for failing grades, and subsequent shame which could lead to radicalization, it was rather easy to figure out: pornography addiction.

In the internet age, this particular struggle has become one of the most common denominators for us men. Our moral development has simply been too slow to keep pace with our technological development. For those of us men who are tempted to look or struggling to quit looking, it certainly doesn’t help that our culture has become so saturated with sexual imagery over the past few decades. Triggers for relapse are commonplace.

This demon (and I don’t mean that just figuratively) doesn’t ask any of us about what creeds we believe in.

Most anyone who’d bother to read an article published by the Catholic Gentleman understands that pornography is evil, even if he happens to be struggling with the temptation to indulge in it. Unfortunately, there are many millions of men and women who are reluctant to figure that much out.

The consumers of pornography share in the guilt of the performers and producers. Who gives the producers incentive to keep on flooding the internet with more (and increasingly violent) pornography? Who gives the young women and men who perform the illusion that they would gain some sort of prestige by performing?

We’ve already received reports of the many physical and psychological consequences of pornography at the individual and corporate levels. This epidemic has, in fact, gotten so out of hand that the outright lawful prohibition of pornography would very much be warranted.

The #MeToo Movement has gone to great lengths to expose sexual misconduct. Though “prohibition” is widely considered to be a dirty word, many of our politically correct neighbors find it rather chic to prohibit a great many (often benign) minor details, all the way down to the nicknames of sports teams. And yet public debate over whether to criminalize society’s greatest stimulant for sexual misbehavior still remains practically nonexistent. Why is that? Is it because pornography is known to be so popular that lawmakers shy away from proposals to ban it?

The lawful prohibition of pornography would certainly be a pretty interesting addition to the campaign platform of someone running for office (and the Founding Fathers, by the way, didn’t have smut in mind when they wrote the First Amendment). If I ever were to run for office, I’d certainly like to add that one to add some flavor to my campaign. But we may still be years, or even decades, away from any such movement taking flight. So what are those of us who are struggling with the temptation to look supposed to do in the meanwhile?

I’ve learned from my past struggles that it can take time, much reflection and prayer, and several failed efforts, to finally starve that demon. Eventually, even the temptation to look withers away. Sanity can indeed be recovered to the point that the very thought of seeking a pleasure that is so obviously staged and artificial is finally exposed for the despairing act it truly is. By making a firm and deliberate resolution to remain chaste, a man can even realize, in only a matter of days, that much of men’s casual gawking and conversation concerning women is very ugly.

It’s important, whenever the temptation to look does arise, to remember what looking would do to one’s self (it’s never pretty). Who, in their right mind, would want to jeopardize a real relationship, live with a mind that’s warped and unfocused, or experience physical symptoms due to its influence? (Today, many young men, only in their twenties, experience erectile dysfunction.)

Our Lord gave to us two Commandments, explaining that the second was “much like” the first. He commanded us, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

We should ask ourselves, “What would my own, presumably private, consumption of pornography do to my neighbors?”

Whenever we look at pornography, we become active participants in its standardization, and the adult industry has become so standardized that current estimates now claim that it makes $100 billion in annual revenue. The consequences of our participation in this standardization affect our neighbors just as much as ourselves. On the flip side, each one of us that quits and/or abstains from looking can become one more example for our neighbors, many of whom we know are struggling. They can then say, “Well if he can refrain, then maybe I can, too.”

We don’t have to take part in our culture’s escalating objectification of women or robbing of authentic manhood.

But what does our participation in the standardization of pornography do in the extreme? How does our own participation contribute to the dark descent of minds which are already deeply disturbed?

I remember watching, out of morbid curiosity, the YouTube video posted by Elliot Rodger back in 2014. He’d posted this video shortly prior to the Isla Vista killings, in which he was the perpetrator, expressing angry frustration that he remained a virgin (which is actually a good thing) at the age of 22. “Who was it that had given him the idea that that was something to be so ashamed of?” I’d wondered. Rodger’s first exposure to pornography was reported to be at the age of 11, which is a very typical age today. I suddenly felt guilt upon realizing the answer: practically all of us.

The disturbing cases of Grant Amato, Robert Aaron Long, Paris Bennet, and Michael Schechterly each also cited pornography addiction as having contributed to their descent and the dark deeds which followed. Several serial killers, such as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, and Jeffrey Dahmer, all professed having an addiction. We are all so deeply interconnected that the heinous deeds of one man reflect the sins of us all. Does it help to know that in being responsible for each individual person, and for all of mankind, you could very well be helping to save the life of a stranger by refusing to look?

The Muslim world contains several countries with some of the highest rates of consumption in the world (unfortunately, our very own country is by far the largest net producer). Intelligence reports reveal that computers which once belonged to jihadists, and which were recovered by American or Allied forces, contain pornography (and often a lot of it) in the overwhelming majority of cases. Most all of us are old enough to remember hearing reports of the huge stash of pornography which belonged to Osama bin Laden, discovered by SEAL Team 6 following his demise. And so it made sense, while writing my screenplay, to make the antagonist’s descent begin with his addiction to pornography.

Pandora’s Box had been opened, long before any of us were even born. We were born in this age, and God alone knows the true degree of culpability for any of us. But we know that our God has also dwelt among us and that He understands our own temptations very well. We know that He gave us the sacraments that we may live our lives without shame, knowing that in His deep love we are eagerly forgiven, so long as we’re prepared to admit our own faults. He has shown us the righteous path. He has called us to follow Him, that we may know what it is to be in the world but not of it.


Zubair Simonson, O.F.S., is a convert who was raised Muslim. He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and has also lived in New York. He received his B.A. at the University of Michigan, majoring in Political Science. He is a professed member of the Secular Franciscan Order. The story of his conversion was included in the book My Name is Lazarus, published by the American Chesterton Society. He has several books available on Kindle, including The Rose: A Meditation, a narrative guide through the mysteries of the Rosary, and Stars and Stooges: A Christmas Tale, a humorous take on the three wise men. His website is zubairsimonson.com. Follow on Twitter at @ZubairSimonson.

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