Series written by Katie Sciba under guidance of Fr. Sean Kilcawley, STL
This is the second article in a four-piece series on pornography; the first can be found in the January 2017 edition of the Catholic Connection.
“Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties” (Catechism, 2354). Pornography is found in sexually descriptive literature, movies with explicit scenes, images and videos. Though it is more often used by men, women too can be lured into consumption.
As a multi-billion dollar giant, pornography promises fantasy, yet leaves users and loved ones in pain. Despite its distortion of humanity, there are arguments that pornography is harmless or healthy.
“It’s a problem because every human person is created in the image of God, who is a Communion of Persons; our imitation of that communion is expressed through the sexual union between a husband and wife,” says Fr. Sean Kilcawley, STL, theological advisor for IntegrityRestored.com. “Pornography is wrong because it exploits that which is sacred.”
And it’s an exploitation that attracts, confuses and harms. What can begin as curiosity or childhood exposure can develop into an addiction.
Dr. Kevin Skinner is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) and Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT). According to his professional experience, pornography addiction is “the compulsive attempt(s) to meet legitimate emotional needs through viewing pornography and seeking sexual gratification…” It involves repeated “failure to resist impulses to view pornography,” preoccupation with “fantasy, sexualized thoughts,” acting out in spite of consequences and increased tolerance requiring “more frequent or intense pornography…”
Both consumption and addiction are on the rise with society’s increased use of technology, and researchers have become more interested in its consequential effects. The draw to “use” for a porn addict is no different than that of a drug addict. Pornography use, like cocaine, releases high levels of dopamine, a neurological chemical responsible for positive feelings and reward-driven behavior. Pornography use also releases oxytocin and vasopressin, chemicals involved in memory and bonding.
These forces of nature make pornography addiction a challenge to combat, even when the addict is desperate for sobriety. Withdrawal symptoms like persistent headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, anxiety, jitters, low libido, insomnia and even suicidal thoughts can last from a week to several months depending on the level of addiction.
But pornography affects more than the brain. It wounds the hearts of consumers, often leading to depression, disinterest in marital intimacy, isolation, shame and loneliness – which can trigger acting out.
“Even basic connections with others become difficult,” said Matt Fradd, CEO and founder of The Porn Effect, “One guy came to me and said he couldn’t look women in the eyes anymore.”
The shame associated with porn use makes one prone to secrecy, which not only isolates a person socially, but also makes him susceptible to psychological damage, according to FighttheNewDrug.org.
“What I see most commonly is denial that it affects family,” said Fr. Kilcawley. “Addicts aren’t as in tune with their spouses or children because there’s an objectification that reduces family to just things that live with you.” But kids notice when their parent becomes clean. “One man told me his little boy said, ‘I like the new daddy,’ after he had been clean for two months. He was able to tap into a part of his fatherhood that he didn’t know he was missing.”
The harm is evident, but hope for healing is abundant. According to Fr. Kilcawley, the “three pillars of recovery” are seeing a CSAT, seeking spiritual direction, and participating in an accountability or 12-step group. A list of CSATs in your area can be found at IITAP.com and there are several sexual addiction therapists beyond state lines willing to Skype or phone-in with clients.
“There are people who pray every day and they still look at porn,” Matt Fradd said. “There is a natural component to addictions and if you ignore it, you can’t make much headway.” Which is why a healthy spiritual life coupled with therapy is a more thorough approach than one or the other alone.
“It’s not helpful to tell someone who’s clinically depressed to cheer up, just like it’s not helpful to tell a porn addict to just stop,” said Fradd. “They need professional help and support.”
One of the most important ways to heal from pornography addiction is to understand why it exists, personal triggers and associated emotional trauma. Below are resources for those seeking recovery. Every pornography addict must be assured of the hope of real healing and the love Jesus Christ has for him or her personally. God will offer the grace to step forward in recovery; and beyond the pain and challenges awaits a life of clarity and peace.
Resources – Books
• Treating Pornography Addiction by Dr. Kevin Skinner
• Out of the Shadows by Dr. Patrick Carnes
• Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction by Dr. Mark Laaser
• Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography by Dr. Peter Kleponis
• The Porn Myth by Matt Fradd
Resources – Online
• SA.org (Sexaholics Anonymous)
•The RTribe App and the Victory App
• The Integrity Restored Podcast