Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This is an issue on which you shouldn't "settle"

Someone on Facebook linked to this article and set off a firestorm of controversy, which firestorm chiefly arose because I disagreed with the article. With one exception on the thread, the others who commented seemed to agree with the article.  I have to admit that I found that shocking. So, having already produced so many pixels on the subject, I decided to make it the subject of a public post. Note: I'll be using the initial p. on this thread for the word p--n because, since this is a public blog, I don't want the post to attract nasty spam bots or other undesirables doing google searches on that word.

The article is by Mark Regnerus, and for the record, yes, I do know who Mark Regnerus is. And yes, I am indeed sympathetic and grateful to him for the abuse he has taken from the gay mafia for a study in which he questioned the wonderfulness of homosexual parenting, which is an entirely different topic from the topic of this article of his or of my present post. So, no, I don't think that his background or any gratitude we conservatives feel toward him for what he has suffered is relevant to whether or not I should critique this article. I'd like to think that Regnerus, being an academic and presumably committed to vigorous, rigorous, non-personal debate, would agree with me that I shouldn't pull any punches because "he's one of us" or "the bad guys hate him" or anything of that kind, which is really just a reverse variant on the ad hominem fallacy--because of who this person is, you shouldn't criticize what he wrote. You will gather from that prelude that such an argument has been made to me already.

Regnerus's piece is oddly unclear. Time and again one wonders what, exactly, he is getting at, and that makes it difficult to pin down and reply to. But I begin with the disturbingly tepid language that he repeatedly uses to describe p.

Explanations provide only modest comfort to the many women, (and not a few men) who wrestle over the meaning of their spouse or beau’s pastime.
They feel hurt, if not cheated on.
No kidding. Wonder why.
Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, women have the right to be annoyed or upset by porn. It’s not a good thing. It’s spiritually draining.
As a ringing condemnation, that leaves a lot to be desired. "Women have a right to be annoyed or upset." Wow! Thanks very much for that permission to be "annoyed or upset." And it's not a good thing! Wow! Talk about an understatement. "Spiritually draining" is a little better, but still pretty weak. And if you think you hear a "but" coming up after that rather lame negative assessment, you're right, and I'll get back to the "but" in a moment. But first, some more examples of Regnerus's ways of describing p.
A crestfallen young woman discovered her boyfriend “struggled” with pornography. I’m never quite sure what “struggling” actually means, since it can be code for anything from shame at taking pleasure in women’s naked beauty all the way up to addiction to hardcore pornography. (There’s a difference.)
"Taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" is so sanitized and artsy a locution that it really gives the impression, perhaps unintentionally, that the man in question shouldn't feel shame! Such a phrase could describe an entirely platonic and appreciative viewing of a nude as painted by a great master. In fact, such a phrase could describe a heterosexual woman's entirely platonic appreciation of a great painting of another woman. The word "pleasure" is a nicely euphemistic way of referring to sexual arousal and lust, and frankly, no Christian should be describing p use of any kind with such a phrase.

There's more to say about that previous couple of sentences. Aside from the fact that the phrase "taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" sounds like it's downplaying the seriousness of the issue involved, what exactly does Regnerus mean by it, anyway? Since he obviously thinks it's not so bad, given the contrast he means to draw in the sentence, what is it? It's supposed to be something that a man could mean by "struggling with p," which makes its meaning rather mysterious. Perhaps it is a euphemism for watching sex videos but only relatively "normal" ones, instead of the ones with all the extra perversions. But that seems an uncharitable reading, given the fact that apparently we're supposed to think this first thing is waaaay on the mild end. So what could it be? Well, my best guess is that "taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" means only lusting, perhaps briefly, over still shots of women who have few or no clothes on and are posed rather provocatively. Light-weight girlie pictures. No videos or anything. No "actresses" actually having sex.

But now we have a further problem. Am I the only one to detect a hint of condescension in the parenthetical "There's a difference"? Since this is being brought up in the context of wondering what this girl's boyfriend meant when he said that he struggled with p, one has to wonder: Does Regnerus really believe that a significant proportion of men who, in this Internet age, say that they "use p," "struggle with p," or "view on-line p" mean only and solely drooling occasionally over a few soft-core, still-shot pictures of naked women? If that's what we're meant to think from this passage, does he have any statistics to back up such an anecdotally implausible insinuation about the meaning of such phrases? And if not, isn't the condescension a little misplaced, since he appears to be the one asking us to be willfully naive?
I would never dream of telling anyone—devoid as I am of information about particular situations—what they ought to do about their boyfriend’s roving eye.
Actually, the main statement of that sentence isn't true, because as we shall see the burden of Regnerus's article is to tell the church collectively what women shouldn't be doing about their boyfriends' "roving eyes."  And there's no point in telling that to the Christian community collectively if you don't actually intend it to influence real, individual people, so let's not pretend that this has nothing to do with what individuals should be doing about individual relationships. But leave that aside for the moment. Roving eye? Good grief, what a Victorian euphemism. No, a roving eye is a man's letting his gaze linger a little too long on the cleavage of an underdressed female colleague. Going to a p site and viewing p videos is not a roving eye.

Okay, I'll throw in one more:
Inside the Church, we still seem to have trouble admitting that men are attracted to naked women.
Not-so-subtle implication: If you are a Christian and think a problem with p use should be a deal-breaker in a relationship, you're a religious prude who doesn't want to admit the facts of life about male sexuality. And using p is sort of like "being attracted to naked women."

Nowhere in the article (go ahead, look for yourself) is there any genuine acknowledgement of the horrific and corrosive harm of p use--to the individual, to a marriage, and to society. Nowhere is there any further indication that Regnerus is aware either of its moral seriousness or of the harm it does to relationships by destroying healthy sexuality. Nowhere is there any acknowledgement of the extreme depth of evil of the p industry itself, with its unimaginably dark exploitation of women, in particular. This is it. These phrases are what we get in the way of an acknowledgement of what p really is.

So let's move on from form to substance. Where is Regnerus going with all of this? His thesis, insofar as one can discern what it is, is entirely in keeping with the soft-pedaled rhetoric.

But we often overlook another casualty of pornography (and the human reaction to it): relationships that fail to launch. Breaking off a relationship because of pornography use can be a rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem—the predilection for peering at nudity online—but such actions contribute in ways not often noted to our broad retreat from marriage.

There's the "but" part of the paragraph I partially quoted up above. What precisely Regnerus means by a "rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem" is a little unclear, seeing as he's about to suggest that one should actually do otherwise for the good of society. Is he suggesting that an individual woman should do something less rational and justifiable in her particular situation, sacrificing her life for the Greater Good? Maybe so.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that little bit between dashes in my list of downplaying phrases: Regnerus summarizes the problem of p use as "the predilection for peering at nudity on-line." Yeah, that shows a real understanding of what on-line p use is. It's "the predilection for peering at nudity on-line." That's one of the best of them all.

Moving on:

Not long before that, I sat around a campfire with a couple dozen enthusiastic young adults, listening to the women recount their list of relationship deal-breakers—porn was of course one of them—while the men sat by sheepishly.
While I’m sympathetic to their concern, I can also promise you that widespread departures—given the dour numbers on porn use—will only accelerate the flight from marriage in the Church and is likely to backfire on women (as many things tend to do in the domain of relationships) who would leave for pastures that may well not be greener.
So tell us, Professor Regnerus, why were the men sitting by sheepishly? Oh, yes, because the men are right now using p. Got it. Well, golly, what a shame. We wouldn't want to make any poor, p-using men feel sheepish, now, would we?

And why is it going to "backfire on women" if they don't pursue a relationship with a man who is presently using p? Oh, wait, maybe because then they will die spinsters, because so many men are now using p. Apparently that's what he means, but why think that isn't a price they are willing to pay? Maybe they know that already. It's not that I think girls should be enthusiastic about not getting married. I'd love to see my world filled with wonderful, romantic weddings between loving brides and grooms. And that is not sarcasm, either. I really would love it, and I think parents should raise their children to want to get married. But there are worse things than not getting married. St. Paul says so. A woman might well be, what was the phrase?, "rational, justified, and moral" for thinking that one thing worse than not being married is being married to a p addict who can't shake the habit. Or even to a man who claims not to be an addict, not exactly, but is an on-going user. Perhaps if those were her only options, then spinsterhood, while hardly a greener pasture, would at least be better than a blasted heath.

Regnerus is somewhat unclear, but not entirely unclear, as to what he is urging.

However, I have no trouble or qualms in declaring that collectively a categorical call to leave spells doom. Young adults are waiting longer and longer to marry, and fewer are doing so.
To counsel further flight is like asserting that our Christian ancestors should have headed to the hills, as wealthy Romans did, to avoid the plague. You can’t flee far enough, and the Church grew by gutting it out, staying put, and caring for the sick. On the matter of men and pornography, the data suggest you cannot flee far enough. Lots of “prudent” decisions to leave will still lead us to the same place—a widespread marriage avoidance. There’s nothing wrong with being unmarried, but we fool ourselves if we think this is the obvious solution.
I gather that by "further flight" he means what those women around the campfire were doing: Refusing to date men who are using p. That "spells doom," girls, because you don't have all that many options, so better pull up your socks and rethink your dating priorities if you don't want to be responsible for the Doom of the West.

Isn't the solution to p use in the church getting people (men and women alike) to stop using p? Wouldn't that stop the "doom" by giving the non-negotiators more potential spouses to consider? Oh, yes, I know, how terribly naive. But perhaps the women around the campfire do not consider their refusal to be a solution to the collective problem of male p use at all. Maybe that isn't the point. Perhaps they just consider it better for them as individual women with valuable individual lives not to be married than to marry a man who continues to use p. Yes, even if he admits that it is wrong and wants to stop. I cannot possibly blame them for thinking that way. In fact, I would counsel them so.

Regnerus is not-so-subtly implying that "the church" is supposed to respond to the epidemic of p use among (especially) young men by somehow inducing women to marry the men anyway. (Though he would never counsel anyone about a particular relationship!) Presumably hoping to help them stop. The most charitable interpretation is that the women aren't exactly just supposed to put up with it and learn not to mind but that they are supposed to accept and assist prospective mates with this problem so long as they acknowledge it and are trying to work on it. This interpretation is confirmed by the last paragraph of the article.

But the gritty reality remains—the Church will have to learn how to navigate this, and press forward with grace and truth. Men and women have to forge relationships—marriage—with each other recognizing human weakness and fostering each other’s sanctification. While pornography is certainly a problem, we cannot collectively bail on marriage. It’s too important to the future of the Church. Without a marrying culture in the West, chastity will falter on a scale we have not yet seen.
Since when is that a good thing to counsel? Is that how you would counsel a beloved daughter who has saved herself for marriage? To forge a marriage with a man who is presently using p, hoping to "foster his sanctification"?

Let's be blunt: Nobody (I hope) would say this if the issue instead were beating women. Suppose that a man slaps his girlfriend only occasionally. He engages, in a manner of speaking, only in soft-core girl-beating. And suppose that somehow this had become endemic in American society so that even many Christian men were doing it. Suppose, even, that we had to tell our daughters, helping them to be realistic, that they might not get married at all if they made it a non-negotiable that they would not date a man who slapped them around in the course of the dating relationship. Should we then write articles urging the church not to "run away" from prospective wife-beaters, meaning by that that women should "navigate this" and "forge marriages" with such men so that there aren't too few marriages taking place?

What is astonishing about all of this is that there is a much more obvious and straightfoward approach: Tell the p users, just as you would tell women-beaters, to stop it. Stop it first! Then, when you've gotten rid of this terrible habit, which nobody should be negotiating with you about, seek someone with whom to forge a relationship and a marriage. Sure, there may well still be baggage, as there is for anyone with sin in their past (past sexual relationships, for one thing). And the baggage may, sad to say, scotch the relationship in itself. Such is the nature of sin that it leaves earthly consequences. But it should be a sine qua non, a bare minimum, that a person seeking to date and marry does not presently have a serious, on-going, destructive problem, especially not a problem that strikes at the very heart of the prospective couple's sexual relationship.

There is an interesting dilemma here for the downplayers who want to urge women to "foster the sanctification" of men presently practicing p use. On the one hand, they want to stress that there is a big range of what can be meant by "p use." (One sees this in the sentence analyzed above from Regnerus's article.) This means that they are sort of implying (without quite saying so) that they aren't really urging women to date and marry men who are really addicted, who have that bad of a problem. On the other hand, there is their odd reticence to address the problem via the Bob Newhart method. STOP IT!

Why? Why be reticent about telling the Christian men to stop first, before seeking mates, if you're only asking the women to date those who don't have such a bad problem?

See, here's the thing: Either the people you want them to date are at least somewhat addicted or they aren't. Suppose that they aren't. Then, apparently they don't think stopping is that important, or else they would stop. So then we have a very straightforward theological and moral problem, and this should be a non-negotiable. Nobody should be even considering marrying somebody who just doesn't want to stop using p, who doesn't think stopping is important. Suppose, on the other hand, that they can't stop so easily. Then they are addicted. Then all of the words Regnerus is saying about not "running for the hills" are in the service of suggesting that Christians should be considering marrying mates who are p addicts, at least to some extent, which is manifestly unreasonable. (Lest anyone wonder, yes, I would apply exactly the same recommendations and say exactly the same things if the p user were a woman.)

So which is it? I think this dilemma is unanswerable. Either they're addicts or they're not, and either way, no Christian should be dating them, much less marrying them, until they STOP IT.

Then, too, there is the element of deception. What about all those sheepish men sitting around the campfire? If they were p users, and they knew how the women felt about it, should they have been dating the women? There is an element of moral and emotional blackmail involved in deliberately leading someone to fall in love with you and only then revealing a dark, on-going behavior problem that you know will cause them great anguish, revealing it only after they feel at least somewhat committed to continuing the relationship and are loathe to hurt both of you by breaking it off. That sort of emotional blackmail is not right. That's why you should STOP IT first, and truly get past it, and be sure that you can love a normal woman and make a real, loving, physically consummated marriage, before seeking someone to fall in love with you. (Compare: If a woman already knows that she hates the very idea of sex and is going to be frigid and make her husband's life miserable in the bedroom, should she be dating? I say, absolutely not. And that isn't even a sin. Some people just shouldn't get married, cruel though that fact may be.)

Moral equivalence is going to be the bane of this debate. It's the whole pobody's nerfect thing. Nobody's perfect, we're all imperfect beings, we all have "human weakness," we all need to "foster each other's sanctification." Etc., etc. But moral equivalence is wrong. Wrong in the sense of wrong-headed, misleading, false, and inaccurate. It's especially wrong when it is applied to practical matters. Whether or not one maintains at some heady, theological level that all sins equally condemn us before God, it is dead obvious that all sins are not equal in their real-world consequences, and especially not in their real-world consequences for that most delicate of human relationships--marriage. Gluttony is not the same thing as a critical spirit is not the same thing as recklessness is not the same thing as violence is not the same thing as homosexuality is not the same thing as p use, and on and on and on. Each sin is different, and some are vastly more worthy, if "worthy" is the right word, to be regarded as deal-breakers in a prospective mate.

So, I disagree with Regnerus. Run for the hills, ladies. And gentlemen, for that matter. I'd give the same advice to a young man whose girlfriend has a present p problem. If the prospective spouse really gets over it later, perhaps the relationship can be resumed. But until then, a deal-breaker it is and should be.

And what can the church do? The church can help people to stop. (There are such things as church-sponsored anti-addiction programs. And for those who aren't actually addicts, clear counseling and catechesis should be more than sufficient.) Moreover, the church can teach that marriage is not therapy. Chastity should be a way of life, in or out of marriage. Nobody has a right to marriage. In particular, nobody has a right to marriage as therapy. Young people seeking marriage should not be continuing in destructive behaviors while waiting for a prospective spouse to come along and act as a savior girlfriend or savior boyfriend. The church, of all institutions, should not be encouraging them to do so. Rather than addressing solemn admonitions to the church to (somehow) encourage Christians to undertake marriage with people who have a p problem, let's strategize about dealing with the underlying p problem directly.

Whatever else we do, let's not settle, either individually or corporately.


Beth Impson said...

Amen. Thanks, Lydia.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you, Beth.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that pornography use constitutes marital infidelity? If so, is it justifiable grounds for divorce?

Lydia McGrew said...

1) Yes.

2) That depends on whether one thinks there are ever grounds for divorce and, if so, what they are. A debate I don't propose to enter into on this thread.

Greg said...

Lydia, this is one of those topics where addressing the wrongness of the vice is much simpler than fixing it. Merely offering that men should "stop using p" belies that the vice isn't a serious problem at all; it's behaving as if a young man's biological urges and fallen nature could be cured with a stern warning.

Before we can cure the problem, we have to understand why it is so pernicious. This is something that many women do not understand due to their biological make-up.
Regenerus is spot on here:

The bottom line is that p*** is cheap sex—meaning that it mimics real sex at no cost and no effort, and that many men will track in that direction unless prevented from doing so.

Thus the double-bind: cheap sex is easy sex, making the uncertain journey of courtship and marriage less appealing to men; and cheap sex has disastrous consequences for budding and fledgling relationships, making courtship and marriage less appealing to women.

But the reverse is true as well. Marriage provides a healthy and fruitful place for men's sexual behavior, while restricting the motivation and appeal of "cheap sex," and it provides women with an institution where relationships best flourish.

A healthy Christian marriage is one of the strongest weapons against the evils of cheap sex. This is what he was getting at.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, Greg, I disagree if you are implying that that is _all_ he is getting at. You see, as far as I can tell, I _disagree_ with Regnerus. I don't just not understand what he was getting at.

I may disagree with you as well, but I'm not sure yet.

You see, as I said in the post, marriage is not therapy. A man, urges or no, must _not_ be engaging in promiscuous sex up until the day of his wedding and hoping that the wedding will cure him. And no woman should be considering marriage with a man who is.

Your own comparison of p to "sex on the cheap" fits together well with what I am saying. Because I _hope_ that we wouldn't tell a girl that she should marry a man who is running to prostitutes every week or two, hoping that marriage to her will provide him with a healthy, fruitful outlet and stop his prostitute binges. No, we would say that she shouldn't marry a man with that kind of out-of-control sex addiction.

Same with pornography.

I don't pretend that this can be stopped with a stern warning. I do say that nobody should be marrying an addict. So the dilemma stands: Either a man can stop or he can't. If it's _so complicated_ that he can't stop, then I'm afraid he's just that much more unsuitable as a prospective mate. He isn't supposed to be just accepted as an addict and married *in the hopes* that he'll stop after marriage. That would be rank insanity. As it would be with physical promiscuity.

We may disagree on that, but I can't tell yet for sure.

Mike T said...

I wouldn't want my daughter to marry a porn addict, but then I wouldn't want my son to marry a woman who felt it was her moral right to deny him because "she just didn't feel like it." Paul didn't mince words in saying that Christians can only deny their spouses for reasons of piety.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Jesus condemn divorce except in the case of "sexual immorality" (Mt. 19:9)? If this constitutes a legitimate exception--that is, if divorce is morally permissible in the case of marital infidelity--and if you believe that use of pornography constitutes an act of marital infidelity, then you seem to be committed to the view that a woman may justifiably divorce her husband for using pornography.

Jeffrey S. said...

Great post Lydia, although I'm going to push back a bit.

First of all, there was something off about that Regnerus essay when I first read it and having read your response I think you articulated exactly what inchoate thoughts were swirling around in my head -- particularly with regard to some of his coy language about how destructive p. use is (always and everywhere) and how his so-called 'solution' doesn't seem to match up with his description of the problem of p. use.

That said, I think that the model of p. use as an addiction is a good one (not perfect, but a good one) and you are correct that churches should and can sponsor recovery groups modeled after 12-step programs.

But bringing up the 12-steps makes me think of alcoholics and how a woman should respond to a alcoholic suitor who has acknowledged his problem, has sought help and recovery, and let's say has been sober for a couple of years. Would you counsel that woman to avoid such a man as a prospective marriage partner? Being honest, I might counsel my own daughters to 'run for the hills' as you put it; on the other hand if he was a Christian gentleman who had many good qualities and seemed sincere about his recovery -- well, then maybe they could have a successful marriage. Just as a recovering Christian p. addict might be able to have a successful marriage to my daughter.

**Quick aside -- some of those "sheepish men" sitting around the campfire might be men who have struggled with p. in the past (or currently) and know that it is wrong and are currently working on stopping their use of p. But if we take the addiction model seriously, p. use for some people is not something you just stop overnight -- it may take time and effort -- and that's what may make some of those men sheepish.**

There are obvious risks -- in either scenario (the alcoholic or p. addict) could relapse and my daughter (i.e. his wife) would have to deal with a lot of heartache and pain. But every marriage will have its trials and tribulations -- so while I would prefer the guy who is not an addict, I think I might also prefer the Christian addict who recognizes his problem versus all sorts of other possibilities.

Of course, as you say, there is no guarantee of marriage -- although I want my grandkids :-)

So while in general I think we agree on most major points, I think I'm inclined to give a little bit on the question of prospective mates.

Lydia McGrew said...

Jeff, I don't think we disagree much, if at all. I was definitely addressing, in the post, almost exclusively the man who has a current problem. If he's been, as you say, "sober" for some time, that alters things. Is it still baggage? Yes, it definitely is and would need to be considered prayerfully--danger of recurrence, etc. Past physical promiscuity on the part of either partner is also past baggage that has to be considered on a case-by-case basis and that is very sad.

My concern was to argue against asking a young woman to continue dating a man (or vice versa, for that matter, if it happens to be the woman with the problem) and to consider marrying him when she *knows that he has the problem right now* and can't shake it or hasn't shaken it yet. What I very much disagree with is any idea that all that matters is that he's working on it, maybe improving or something, and to cross one's fingers and hope that getting married will be a "cure." I think that's reckless to the point of madness.

The use in the past would chiefly cause concern about what scars had been left in his concept of sex, view of women, etc., and of course inclination to return to it.

Anonymous, if one accepts that exception view, then indeed my "yes" to your question 1 would be relevant. But as I said, I am not entering into that debate here.

Mike T., count on you to bring in some negative tu quoque against women. Did I not say something in the main post about a woman who expects to not want sex not being marriageable? Oh, yes, I believe I did. The sexual relationship between husband and wife is very important and should be cherished and fostered by both parties- Beyond that, I refuse to get into a discussion with you about exactly how much sex a wife owes her husband and all of the rest of it.

Mike T said...

Well, what you said was a woman who knew she would hate sex and be frigid toward her husband. What I was addressing is something much more common, which is the woman who believes that marriage entails no concrete moral obligation to provide for her husband's sexual needs when she "just doesn't feel like it." I don't want to get into matters of frequency either, but suffice it to say I think we can both agree in principle that a couple that is trying to be decent and Christian can figure out a compromise that would leave both parties looking like they cared for one another's needs before almighty God.

That's not a tu quoque as there are plenty of women who do go in with a healthy expectation of being a good wife, only to find that their husband is pretty much an addict to porn and won't pry himself from it. I actually do find them about the same in destructiveness to marriage.

The biggest problem with pornography in the church is that the church will very often not teach the marital debt and make it clear: if you won't honor the marital debt, you are guilty of grave sin. That goes equally for both parties. The church is good at enforcing the marital debt by any other name on men through porn shaming and other things, but the church won't be able to overcome pornography until it gets fundamentalist about the marital debt across the board and openly calls it by its name.

That said, I think one thing that needs to be addressed is the fact that softcore pornography is practically everywhere these days. I went to Digg yesterday and they had a link to some NSFW pictures of Kim Kardashian from a new photo shoot she did. Suffice it to say, Digg is normally no more pornographic than CNN or FoxNews. In fact, many media outlets had no problem hosting thumbnails of the lead photo which showed Kardashian with her dress mostly off and her butt very prominently the focus. Women need to understand that the temptation is literally almost everywhere these days and men who mean well can be doing innocuous things and suddenly find it thrust in front of them.

Lydia McGrew said...

Since I'm suggesting that people (for that matter, male or female) who view smut on-line need to stop *when they are not married*, I'm obviously unsympathetic to the idea that "the biggest problem" with this has to do with men's not getting enough satisfaction after marriage. After all, the unmarried man is supposed to be getting _zero_ sexual fulfillment, perhaps ever, for years, and nonetheless not turning to p. And I'm also suggesting that if he has such a problem, he needs to fix it before marrying rather than continuing to use it up until marriage with the expectation that marriage will fix the problem by his wife's fulfilling his needs.

This doesn't mean that I don't agree that a husband and wife should be working out a good sexual relationship in marriage. I said so above. It just means that I don't agree that this problem in our society is somehow "to be solved" by teaching wives to discharge a "marriage debt," given that single guys need to be refraining altogether. And that means that "p shaming" is fine and dandy as far as I'm concerned, as long as accompanied with offers of practical help to stop. But those practical offers need to be related to unilateral abstinence from p, without "she has to give me x" included. If the church is not telling men that they are excused because they are not satisfied, isn't even _implying_ this by treating the problem as one of "two-way marriage debt," that's the right message. It has to be, or the problem couldn't be addressed morally for the unmarried, so it applies to the married as well.

Yes, soft-core p is everywhere. There are various things that can be done, including blocking page elements in the margins on various sites using the custom-block feature on Ad-Block up to installing adult-content-blocking software on a computer and, if necessary, having another party be custodian of the password.

No, that isn't going to remove everything. But it will help with a lot of the "it's just a click away" issues.

The Masked Chicken said...

"Women need to understand that the temptation is literally almost everywhere these days and men who mean well can be doing innocuous things and suddenly find it thrust in front of them."

This is almost, exclusively, a function of the mass media. The first, what we would call x-rated movie occurred before 1920 and things were moving into the dregs until the Hays Commision threatened legal and financial sanctions against the movie makers. They self-regulated and the Hays threat, along with the Depression and a lack of easy birth control, made it easier for movie companies to make G-rated movies so as not to incite lust, especially among couples who could not afford children. There was also the stronger influence of Christianity in the world,mat the time.

Largely because the influence and success of naturalistic sciences in WW II and the behind-the-scenes rise of Modernism in Christian spheres, the Christian worldview began to diminish, to be replaced by a pseudo-scientific religion of psychology and a psychology, still in its infancy, that viewed most problems to have their origins in sexual disorders. This led to a belief that man was, essentially, an animal with a big brain and thatsexual gratification was a natural right, if not treatment for illnesses of the mind - the soul be damned.

Then came TV, which started out innocent, still surrounded by the Hays field, but by the 1960's, with the rise of an iconoclastic youth movement, all prior wisdom, including Christianity, was seen as patriarchal and oppressive. With the rise of Pill and the permission to use it of the more liberal Protestant denominations, the last reason for self-control vanished and, as bl. Pope Paul VI predicted in Humanae Vitae, women became objects and sex and the human integration of it became mechanical.

By the early 1980's, text-based computer bulletin boards were used to disseminate objectionable material among the Intelligensia in a much more coordinated fashion than the simple magazines of the 1950's. Movies pushed the boundaries into blatant sin. Then, came the Internet, which opened the hidden world of 1980's computer networks to the world, complete with graphics.

The only things that will stop the continued spread of this type of material are a threat of both financial and legal action to the mass media - a Hayes Act on steroids or the conversion of the world to Christ or a His return or the discrediting of psychology and science, in general, or the discovery that modern method of birth control causes horrible death (not just of babies in the womb).

One should never taste worldly things because the flesh tends to keep feeding, once it has had a taste. The primary is that people are, for the most part, today, Christian idiots, who have no fear of God or man. I have thought about this, a lot and I blame Christians, both Catholic and Protestant for their retreat from Chirst. The first document of Vatican II was entitled, The Church in the Modern World, but I have to ask: what is modern about sin? Perhaps, if they had focused on that, they might have discerned the true signs of the time and addressed them, forcibly. They did not and, instead of the rioting in the streets that should gave occurred at the presentation of graphic pictures on TV and the Internet, one gets nothing more than a whimper from some and a sigh from others. We will not win this fight until Christ has been re-established in the hearts of men - the true Christ, not so psychologized play-nice version, thereof.

The Chicken

Jeffrey S. said...

"But those practical offers need to be related to unilateral abstinence from p, without "she has to give me x" included. If the church is not telling men that they are excused because they are not satisfied, isn't even _implying_ this by treating the problem as one of "two-way marriage debt," that's the right message. It has to be, or the problem couldn't be addressed morally for the unmarried, so it applies to the married as well."


Indeed, at times it seems as if men's rights champions sound as if men are simply slaves to their passions and the only thing to do for them is to get them a woman who will give them lots of sex, pronto! In the Catholic context, there has been a lot of talk lately about restoring the value for both men and woman of chastity, both before marriage and even within a marriage.

We are not slaves to our passion and should be encouraged to cultivate higher moral virtues.

Steve Polson said...

I agree with Mark Regnarus that "we cannot collectively bail on marriage. It’s too important to the future of the Church. Without a marrying culture in the West, chastity will falter on a scale we have not yet seen"; and I think your position is a too absolutist--"shall I marry this man" is a prudential and personal question that can't be answered with a one-size-fits-all rule book. However, I think you are basically right and I think Regnarus's mistake is that he treats a symptom of the problem as a cause of the problem. Western culture is committing suicide and we are living out _The Children of Men_ (the book not the lousy movie). The cause of this phenomenon is not that young women are avoiding marriage because of young men's porn use, however.

The Masked Chicken said...

Sorry for all of the spelling errors. I was writing on an iPad mini.

Tony said...

Chicken, I agree that nothing will solve the societal problem until people once again embrace the virtue of chastity as a way of life. But we can't wait for the societal problem to be fixed to advise young men and women what to do about their existing (or potential) relationships.

Lydia, you are pretty much spot on.

Anecdotal evidence: in my immediate circle of friends there are 2 Catholic marriages - long standing and with several children each - which have gone up in smoke because of a p habit. The damage to the children is severe and longlasting: kids who have given up on the Faith, kids who are personality wrecks, kids who could no more form a healthy adult relationship than they could design a rocket. Not to mention the emotional and psychological damage to the wives - both on psycho drugs and not all that stable. And the years putting up with emotional abuse because the man constantly tries to justify his behavior by her "faults".

As for Regnerus' theory that as a body, women should consider going ahead and marrying such damaged men: nonsense. The Catholic Church (at least in most dioceses in this country) appears to accept evidence of deep-seated addictions to drugs at the time of the wedding as evidence that the person was unable to form the necessary commitment and the necessary consent for a real marriage to even take place - thus an annulment is possible. While I have doubts about this at the level of theory, I have little doubt that if there is even a SHRED of validity to the theory, then it applies much more certainly to a porn addiction. For one of the explicit requirements for marriage is a commitment to fidelity, and a current, existing, not remediated habit to porn is a DIRECT obstruction to such a commitment.

A person is a liar who presents himself as a possible marriage candidate who cannot BE married because of a known impediment to marriage. A current unremediated addiction to p is such an impediment. A man who holds himself out to a girl in courtship as if free to marry when he is not is a good date, he is a disaster, and she should run.

Even if that theory of addiction (in general) as an impediment to marriage is not completely and totally sound: In general, substantive false pretenses can undermine a contract: if you sell a car that you know has been in a flood, and you don't DISCLOSE that it has been in a flood, state law will invalidate the sale contract. I think something similar might be applicable to marriage, though I am going out on a limb here and expressing what I would say is my unsettled opinion: if a man has such a porn habit, and he gets married without disclosing the habit, that might undermine the very validity of the contract. A woman (and this goes both ways) has a right to the information before joining herself for life with someone. And it is a directly substantive matter to the marital contract.

Any woman should run from a man who has a current, unrepentant addiction to p. And from a man who has a current, unremediated (even though regretted) addiction to p. And this goes just as much in the opposite direction - with a woman addicted.

Tony said...

It doesn't matter in the least if this conclusion has the unfortunate effect of reducing the number of marriages in society below some optimal number, or even if it reduces them below the level of societal survival. If you CANNOT get married in that state because you cannot give valid consent, going through weddings anyway is effectively the same as having children out of wedlock. Even if you can theoretically give valid consent, no woman should take on a man in the state of current and unrepentant addiction because no woman should accept being second fiddle to an addiction in a man's heart. Second to Jesus, yes. Second to corruption and filth? No way. And if that damages society, so be it: it will not damage society MORE than the children growing up hating the Church and being emotional / psychological disasters themselves. Maybe if enough women "just say no", society will change. Maybe enough men will get the message and impose some limits to mass medial.

Then we get into the issue of a man who has undertaken to eradicate the addiction: at what point does he become eligible to fairly and reasonably consider himself marriage material to a good woman? When can he hold himself out as ready for courtship? I don't think I have a definite answer. Certainly he must have a rational basis for thinking that he can beat this habit, which means that his current behavior is that of chaste man even if he struggles with the temptations (by which I mean that he has to fight interiorly with himself for a time before getting to the point of saying "no, I will not go online"). The struggle to get to THAT stage of success, and the implied _repeated-acts-of-consent_ to cooperate with grace and do God's will, are a sine-qua-non of such a rational judgment. And the second part is that at some point while the relationship is still developing he has to disclose - at least bit by bit - the nature of his past addiction. If he is not truthful enough to make this part of letting the girl know who he really is, he is not ready for marriage, because marriage implies a FULL gift of self, which includes a full revelation of self.

Marriage cannot be the START to a man's process of eradicating an addiction and becoming chaste, it cannot be the tool that overcomes an addiction. It doesn't work that way, it isn't the right tool for that problem. Yes, marriage can help a man who is occasionally unchaste in thought gradually extend the reach of his self-control, but it PRESUMES a level of self-control that exists beforehand. But even there, the "tool" of marriage doesn't work primarily because the man has a licit outlet for his sexual desires, it helps him extend his self-control by providing a love that his more important to him than sensual desires. Indeed, a man (or woman) cannot make the marital gift of self that takes place in a true marriage if they are so completely lacking control as to be completely in thrall to a specific sexual vice. You cannot say "I give everything to you...except my sexual perversions" and mean marriage.

This is why Regnerus (and Steve above) is wrong: marriage doesn't lead to chastity merely through providing a licit sex partner, even more it leads to chastity by training a man to order his loves in the right hierarchy of goods. Thus mere "marriage" that isn't grounded in an (albeit imperfect) intent to love well is no way to fix society. And that's what Regnerus is asking women to settle for. No, it is better (if it comes to that) for the Church - and society - to shrink than to pretend that marriage is a lesser thing than it really is. It is one thing to ask men and women to settle for imperfect spouses - yes, we have to love our spouse knowing full well they are imperfect. It is another thing to ask men and women to settle for pretend-marriage when really marriageable men are not readily available.

Lydia McGrew said...

Tony, I have wondered about the very nullity issue you raise. It is as if a member of the couple were periodically going on binges of promiscuity just before the wedding and *hoping* to stop after the wedding. Wouldn't that call into question the validity of the vows? The "forsaking all others, keep only unto thee" would seem difficult to intend in sincerity if one knows that one *already* has a problem with repeated unfaithfulness and that one hasn't got it under control prior to the wedding.

Lydia McGrew said...

Based on my conversations elsewhere, I'm afraid that part of the problem is a self-excusing notion of male sexuality. Of course it's _said_ not to be excusing, but in practice it has "excuse" written all over it. This is the idea that "virtually all men are naturally like this" and that, therefore, anyone who expects a prospective (male) mate to be chaste as a sine qua non is a prude and a fool who can't handle the facts about "real male nature." Now, as Tony says, temptation is one thing. Giving into temptation is another.

Add into that the fact that there actually are men who are repulsed by the very concept of p videos rather than being attracted by them.

This whole "you just don't understand men" idea is both an insult to that latter group of men--implying that *they* are the abnormal ones or are even sexless drones--and also a form of special pleading which in practice downplays the wrongness of actually using p and places a confusing burden on prospective spouses who don't have the problem and who consider it a deal-breaker if the other person has the problem currently. The idea being conveyed is that if you (speaking to someone single) are making this a deal-breaker, then *you* are the one with a problem, *you* can't handle the truth about the opposite sex, and you more or less deserve to be single for the rest of your life. Which is pernicious, to say the least.

Lydia McGrew said...

I also think that in practice the distinction becomes very difficult to maintain between "just accept this and put up with it" and "accept a man with this problem as long as he's working on it." How much "working on it" is enough? How much progress should he be making? And, once one is married, is one then stuck with this for life, even if he never gets over it? If one married with that as a known, on-going problem, it would seem that the husband with the problem could always say, "Look, you knew about this from the outset. I'm not happy about it, but it's a problem I have, and you married me with eyes open." At what point all of this slides into a lackadaisical, "Nobody's perfect, and you don't have a right to be my conscience" is a nice question, especially after having formed a marriage and a family.

I was accused in FB discussions of putting the "worst possible interpretation" on Regnerus's article of demanding that women just accept p use of any level as being no big deal. I was careful not to interpret him in that way but to give him the benefit of the doubt, based on the phrase "fostering each other's sanctification," that he means that the person should admit it's wrong and be "trying." But the problem with that is that there is absolutely no bright line, which makes it in the long run much harder to distinguish between "just put up with it" than I think Regnerus's defenders would like to admit and perhaps than Regnerus himself realizes.

All the more so given that, to make this argument, one has to make various, "As long as it's not _too_ bad" noises, which in themselves tend to de-motivate people and make quitting for good seem less urgent.

If one treats this as just another imperfection--like being inclined to eat too much, for example--and if one insists that it shouldn't be a deal-breaker prior to marriage, I'm afraid in all too many cases what this will amount to is that it just becomes a known and accepted part of life.

Paul Cella said...

Lydia's critique is spot-on, I think. Christian young ladies need to be counselled to raise the p question very early in a relationship -- even at the risk of endangering it. The damnable depravity of our age impels this, I'm afraid. Who knows -- maybe a few young men in the very stages of p addiction will be caught up short and preserved from great sin by girlfriends who had to let them go.

One of the really tricky areas for particular discernment lies in that gray area of R-rated movies and HBO dramas: not exactly soft p but verging on it.

Consider one of the the best of the latter: The Wire, arguably the best police drama ever filmed, but one featuring plenty of nudity and simulated or implied sex. It seems rather severe, even excessive, for a young woman to require that a prospective boyfriend refrain from watching this show. Nevertheless, there is enough that is objectionable in this TV drama (not to mention the violence and non-stop profanity) that young women cannot take it lightly. Nor can young men for that matter. In my estimation, not every adult should watch The Wire; some should refrain, no matter how high-quality is the direction, acting, script, etc.

There is also this problem: we need police, investigators and prosecutors to work vice crimes. Even if we were to dismantle all the dubious accretions on First Amendment jurisprudence, which by judicial imposition have thrown the free speech shield around the most vile of stuff, and thus restore to states and communities the authority to harass, impede, and punish p producers and distributors, we cannot dispense with vice cops. Indeed, any man called to enter the police force should, realistically, be prepared to face the full filth and evil of all this without blinders. These men, too, will marry and raise families.

But both of these demurrals are pretty far off to the side of Lydia's very well taken main post.

Lydia McGrew said...

Paul, you raise some excellent points. How and when to raise the issue with a young man is an interesting one. Perhaps a father could get involved somehow in that.

In a sense, on-line dating services raise issues comfortably early. There is a new article responding to Regnerus (she makes an even more negative interpretation than I do) by a 39-year-old, single, Christian woman who has an E-Harmony account. She tells the appalling story of being contacted by allegedly Christian young men (!) who berate her for saying on her E-Harmony profile that she won't date someone who uses p. It is clear from the way she tells it that these young men are implying that it is no big deal, _not_ that they are even saying that she should date someone who is in the process of stopping or is getting help. They call her a prude for having a problem with it. Christians--of some sort.

So the issue definitely needs to be raised early, and this is also a reason for a Christian's dating only _serious_ Christians, not just nominal Christians. And that is true for both men and women. Date someone who is likely to take seriously St. Paul's injunction, "Be not conformed to this world."

Your two demurrals are interesting grey areas. On the matter of movies that have p-graphic scenes but are not simply p-graphic movies--that is, they genuinely have artistic merit--a question arises as to whether the person watching skips those scenes or tries to find some way to skip or not watch them (averting eyes, etc.) Does the person go through those scenes for some degree of sexual arousal or gratification? If so, he is using them as p. Or does he try to get the show in a format that allows him to fast-forward? What is his relationship to the objectionable material? What I am chiefly addressing is the clear-cut case of someone who is definitely viewing p as p.

This also goes to your case of the vice cops. Now, I have to be honest: I consider that such men are in the spiritual and psychological situation of warriors getting shot at all day long. Unfair though it is, it is at least understandable that that might cause a woman to hesitate about marrying them because of the unknown psychological and spiritual harm they might suffer. I suppose a woman could be on vice duty as well, so the same could apply in that direction. Or compare a woman whose job is to be a spy and to (at least) flirt with foreign dignitaries to gain secret information. I could hardly fault a man who was hesitant to marry her, however valuable her work and however pure her thoughts (at least initially).

I've even heard of a case where vice cops actually engaged in sexual acts with prostitutes as a sting operation! But I know that you were not envisaging anything that extreme.

As far as viewing the material, I think that police departments should minimize the extent to which such material is viewed to what is *really necessary* for law enforcement purposes. At that point, it becomes a question of whether the man who must do this for his job is being corrupted by it and what, again, his relationship is to the material he is viewing.

Steve Polson said...


To be clear, I agree with McGrew, not Regnarus. That is, I agree with one of Mark Regnarus's propositions (the one I quoted), his conclusion is a non-sequitur, it seems to me.

Dave Armstrong said...

Superb and truly impressive article, Lydia. I will link to it on my Facebook page. I'm delighted to totally agree with you this time!

Titus said...

I believe the premise of Lydia's objection is mistaken. I don't believe Mr. Regnerus is encouraging women to "settle" or to shrug off pornography use.

Rather, Mr. Regnerus is encouraging women to pursue sanctification, not only of themselves, but of their (intended) spouses. If A loves B, and B has a predilection to a sin, it should be A's desire to assist B in resisting and breaking that predilection.

No, A does not want to marry an individual with vicious habits, nor does the fact that she may love an individual mean that she should marry him in spite of a habit that would make their marriage intolerable.

But not all p. consumption is habitual, and not all habits are equal. Not all p. is equal, although we would quickly get off into discussions unfit for mixed company if we examined that at length. Nor is all p. consumption predicated on a deep-set disorder. The stuff is frighteningly easy to come across online, and it's frighteningly easy to rationalize looking at it.

Finally, one has to bear in mind that there are graces derived from matrimony. God gives spouses assistance in fulfilling their vows. A man who admits that the consumption of pornography is evil and desires to refrain from viewing it will receive graces in his marriage to help him do so. He will not receive those same graces as a single man.

The Masked Chicken said...

"I also think that in practice the distinction becomes very difficult to maintain between "just accept this and put up with it" and "accept a man with this problem as long as he's working on it." How much "working on it" is enough?"

This is exactly the problem some Catholics, including myself, have with the notion of, "gradualism." In a blog post on the National Catholic Register, Jimmy Akin quotes St. Pope John-Paul II, in Familiaris Consortio [34]:

"[Married people] cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy.
And so what is known as 'the law of gradualness' or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with 'gradualness of the law,' as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God's law for different individuals and situations.
In God's plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God's command with serene confidence in God's grace and in his or her own will.
On the same lines, it is part of the Church's pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm."

He, also cites the Vademecum for Confessors [3:9]:

"The pastoral "law of gradualness", not to be confused with the "gradualness of the law" which would tend to diminish the demands it places on us, consists of requiring a decisive break with sin together with a progressive path towards total union with the will of God and with his loving demands."

The whole idea of gradualness, which may be prudential in some situations, such as getting rid of over-eating or even smoking, has been a raw wound among some Catholics observing the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family, where some liberal Cardinals tried to argue that married couples in a state if sin should be allowed to receive Communion if they are working on the issues.

That is not how conversion works. Some sins, like adultery or murder do not admit of turning the spigot off, little-by-little. Watching pornography is a violation of the Sixth Commandment, period. One must channel Yoda in giving counsel about stopping: "Do or Do not. There is no try."

The Chicken

Lydia McGrew said...

Titus, I was *extremely* careful in my interpretation of Regnerus *not* to attribute to him the position that women should "shrug off" such use, though I have also argued that in practice it is going to be difficult in a relationship where this is an on-going problem to maintain that distinction. In theory, however, I not only admit the distinction but made it *explicitly* both in my post and in these comments.

I simply disagree that there is any level or type of fairly regular use that is acceptable in a person, female or male, putting himself forward as a candidate for marriage. As Tony shrewdly pointed out, if you do not have a rational basis for believing that you can keep your marriage vows, there are serious questions about the validity of those vows.

I think that you are blurring the distinction between a "predilection" and a current, on-going problem with use, even if it is of the allegedly "less bad" type. That is a very important distinction not to blur. A man may have a predilection but may have been, to use the alcohol metaphor, "on the wagon" for a couple of years, for example, perhaps through the help of accountability partners and rigorous application of software such as Covenant Eyes. At that point, whatever else may be the case, he at least has grounds for arguing rationally that he "no longer does" this and has a reasonable expectation of not violating his marriage vows in this way. There may be other "baggage" that the couple has to work through. I'm not saying this is a sufficient condition for being a good candidate for marriage. I am, however, saying that having stopped *any* sort of regular p. use is a _necessary_ condition for being in a position to hold oneself out for courtship and marriage.

Your "graces given to those who are married," I'm afraid, sounds far too much like using marriage as therapy, and I'm afraid that we disagree there. Compare: Suppose that a man were going to a prostitute approximately twice a month. (Just to pick a number.) One should *never* counsel him to get married, or a woman to marry him before he has stopped doing so in the hopes that the satisfaction of his desires after marriage and any other graces of marriage will "cure" him of visiting prostitutes. That would not only be reckless but, as already discussed, would call into question the validity of the marriage vows.

I believe that any idea that a man can use p. even semi-regularly up until marriage with the hope that marriage will fix the problem is a complete mis-use of St. Paul's words about its being better to marry than to burn. Chastity is a necessary part of life. There will be times even after marriage when intercourse will be impossible--physical and other situational issues that are the fault of neither spouse. If one spouse is counting on the satisfaction of desire in marriage as therapy to prevent p. use, that person is in a terrible position to handle the deprivations that sometimes necessarily occur later in marriage itself.

Moreover, it is right for a Christian to want to marry a godly spouse. Godliness includes not presently using p., having that problem under control. This is true for both men and women.

Lydia McGrew said...

Just to cover all the bases, Titus: You may reply that you didn't mean anything about satisfaction of desire when referring to graces given to married men but not to single men, that you meant something more entirely spiritual.

In that case I will simply say that, however one interprets such graces, there is zero scriptural or rational basis for the conclusion that one can or should count on such graces *in the sense that* one courts and marries without first stopping p use or other perverse and promiscuous sexual habits, on the _assumption_ that "graces of marriage" will fix the problem afterwards.

Lydia McGrew said...

"But not all p. consumption is habitual, and not all habits are equal.... The stuff is frighteningly easy to come across online, and it's frighteningly easy to rationalize looking at it."

Here I think, Titus, that to some degree you invite the reiteration of my dilemma, above, for those who would defend Regnerus's article: Either the person in question has a habitual problem or he does not. If he does not, then it should be relatively easy for him to stop "rationalizing looking at it," since ex hypothesi he has no addiction whatsoever. If he has a habitual problem, then a woman is being asked to date and consider marrying a man with a vicious habit. Moreover, if the vicious habit is merely that of rationalizing viewing the allegedly "less bad" forms, that is still entirely unacceptable and would be a violation of the marriage vows. Therefore (see argument above) must be conquered before one can hold oneself out as ready to enter into such vows.

As far as "frighteningly easy to come across," I agree. Hence, anyone who has *any degree of* problem of this kind, even an occasional one, should take steps. These steps include: The use of Ad Block to block many popups and other inappropriate content that comes up in advertisement. The customized use of Adblock to block page elements, such as the inappropriate "friend suggestions" from scantily clad women that Facebook gives to men. The use of OpenDNS filtering to filter sites with known adult content. The use of Safety Mode on Youtube which, as a bonus, automatically forces safe search in Google to prevent adult content from coming up in search results. These steps *alone* will prevent a lot of the "frighteningly easy to come across on-line" problem if we are *merely* talking about someone who stumbles across the material. Finally, if all of that is not enough, a software such as Net Nanny or Covenant Eyes can be installed and can help a man who has a problem that causes him to do more than just "stumble" across the stuff. To the extent that we are talking about pictures in the margin of news sites, one can customize a blacklist. I'm afraid here that news sites out of the UK are especially bad. If the price of keeping one's eyes from evil is not being able to read stories in The Independent or The Telegraph, and if one is inclined to let one's eyes linger over nearly naked women in the margins at such sites, and if one cannot find any way to block that type of content with customized page elements blocks, then so be it.

zippycatholic said...

NB I haven't read all the comments.

It is probably also not a good idea for a young man to "settle" for a young woman who reads "50 Shades of Grey" or is a fan of "Twilight", "Desperate Housewives", etc. I have argued that pornography targeted at women is actually a much bigger problem than pornography targeted at men, precisely because pornography targeted at men is at least generally recognized as pornography.

But media which has a similar reality-distorting effect on women to what conventional visual pornography has on men is not even recognized as pornography. Obvious graphic porn for men is obvious, and male sexuality is pretty transparent. Equivalently sinful and destructive sexual fantasy for women is not as graphic, and because of that is much more socially accepted. And because it is much more socially accepted, it is more pervasive and dangerous.

Observe of how many men you see nonchalantly reading Hustler or the like in public; compare that to the number of women who nonchalantly read Fifty Shades of Grey in public. There is a much bigger female-targeted porn problem than the male-targeted porn problem, if only because the latter is actually recognized as a problem.

Lydia McGrew said...

Zippy, I agree that a woman who reads that book is using p and that she needs to stop, just as any man needs to stop, before holding herself out as a candidate for courtship and marriage.

In fact, I would say that a woman should *just stop* reading any sexually explicit scenes in any books whatsoever.

I am somewhat concerned, and do not know whether we would agree, about the expansion of the term "p" to cover, e.g., books, stories, or movies that teach a wrongful view of marital commitment in other ways--e.g., that glorifies divorce.

In fact, in general I don't like the way that the term "p" gets used for other things--e.g., "food p" gets used for lusting over food. I even saw one blogger refer to women who spend too much time on Pinterest looking longingly at other people's perfect houses as engaging in "p." I forget if she used some phrase like "interior decorating p," but this is just a classic case of term inflation, which is always a bad idea if we want to be precise in our use of language.

To be clear, reading books or watching movies that glorify divorce can indeed be very bad for a person and perhaps especially bad for women. But they are not *the same as* either a man's or a woman viewing or reading materials that are *literally* p-ographic, and the problem should be treated as a separate issue. For example, is the person reading this material in fact being influenced by it? What is her worldview? Does her worldview reflect the wrongful views of these books and movies? Why does she read them? Watching a movie that glorifies divorce is not intrinsically wrong. Gratifying one's lust by reading or watching p is intrinsically wrong.

I am not prepared to agree with your statement that the p problem for women is worse or more widespread than for men "because it is recognized." The fact that something is, among some, recognized as a problem certainly doesn't automatically translate to its being less widespread! More alarming still, there are allegedly Christian men who pressure women (and I am not attributing this to Regnerus, be it noted) to shrug off p use. I mentioned in the comments a Christian woman who gets pushy comments from men in response to her E-Harmony account. They are allegedly Christians but all her a prude for regarding present p use as a non-negotiable. So it's not clear to me that p use among men is as widely recognized as wrong as you seem to be indicating, even (alas) in Christian circles.

Lydia McGrew said...

By the way, it's my impression that a great many non-Christians, especially men, don't believe that p use is wrong at all, at least for adults. So the fact that this is (mostly) done in private doesn't really tell us anything about its being recognized as wrong, much less about how widespread the problem is (e.g., that it isn't very widespread).

zippycatholic said...


The fact that something is, among some, recognized as a problem certainly doesn't automatically translate to its being less widespread!

I conclude as I do - that porn targeted at women is more widespread and more generally accepted by our society (a statement about our society, not a normative statement nor a statement about anyone commenting here) - because of my lying eyes. I see women reading pornography (not "divorce porn" but actual pornography) targeted at women (e.g. 50 shades etc) in broad daylight surrounded by young children in public places. I see porn targeted at women on open display in the checkout aisles. Etc, etc. I see porn targeted at women all sorts of places where porn targeted at men is still not allowed, or is at least frowned upon.

Other people may not see what I see, but I can't not-see what I actually do see. Pornography targeted at women is more insidious, more pervasive, and more accepted than pornography targeted at men.

That by no means makes pornography targeted at men even remotely in the same country of a ballpark of acceptable. If I were king they'd all hang, if they refused to cease producing their filth. But the pushers of feminine porn would not be spared the gallows.

Young men should not "settle" for a consumer of feminine pornography, for much the same reasons a young woman should not "settle" for a consumer of male-targeted pornography.

And if she is a big fan of "Twilight", it ought to give him as much pause as it should give her if he collects the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues.

Lydia McGrew said...

I strongly agree that young men should not settle for a woman who consumes p, even if "only"in book form. We agree there.

Btw, some of the "women-directed" stuff is that disgusting trash in Cosmopolitan, which *isn't even* pretending to be romantic. It's straightforward, physical, and in some ways imitates the male-directed kind. Someone induced my local grocery store to put a blocker on the Cosmo issue in the checkout aisle. I was ashamed that I hadn't talked to the manager (who is a great guy) first and gotten it done before Whoever did it. Kudos to Whoever.

I almost certainly disagree that the female-targeted kind is more widely used than the male-targeted kind (speaking in sheerly statistical terms), because I think that your criteria for drawing that conclusion are flawed. That is to say, it definitely doesn't follow from the fact that something is being read with kids around and is on display widely in stores that more people are reading it. I can see why you would think that, but I think it's a faulty empirical inference. Anecdotally, the male use rate, particularly among secular men, is sky-high. Yes, _most_ of them do it in private, though not all. There's an increasing problem with men using p on public library computers where women and children are walking by--in plain view. But even waiving that, people do _lots_ of things in private in huge statistical proportions that they wouldn't do in public. So the "do this in public" vs. "do this in private" distinction just isn't IMO a good guide to percentage of users.

I think too that there's an ambiguity on the term "accepted." You're right that the lighter-weight, female-targeted stuff is more "accepted" for public display. But I'm not convinced that it is more widely *accepted as not-wrong* in people's minds and practice.

Again, though, I _agree_ with you that a woman's consuming p is a huge problem, even if via the printed word. It is a grave sin against chastity and does harm to her mind, heart, and concept of sexuality.

It may not be *as* addictive or *as* harmful, because less graphic and less likely to lead to darker stuff, but that is a harmfulness issue not a sinfulness issue, and at that point we're splitting hairs. I have no desire to split hairs, as indeed I have refused to do so in all my discussions of this with those on the male side who say they think only that women should be willing date men who use "only soft-core" p or the "not so bad" stuff. I won't play that game with women-targeted stuff anymore than I will with male-targeted.

The only thing I will say is that I think it might be easier to get a woman to _stop_ reading, e.g., Twilight. But she needs to stop, and stop now, and if she shows reluctance to stop, and stop now, and stop completely, he should drop her.

I trust that is strong enough for you.

William Luse said...

Other people may not see what I see, but I can't not-see what I actually do see. Pornography targeted at women is more insidious, more pervasive, and more accepted than pornography targeted at men.

I doubt that either of you can demonstrate which kind of porn is more widespread or frequently indulged, and I'm not sure it's worth arguing. But I do agree with Zippy's point about the insidiousness of the public respectability of porn targeted at the female audience. It's on the grocery store bookshelf, for pete's sake. It's in the drugstore. It's on the TV. I heard 50 Shades being discussed on a supposedly conservative talk show, not as something worthy of condemnation, but as a perceptive window into the different ways that sex is marketed to men and women. The sexual ethic recommended to young women in a magazine like Cosmopolitan is thoroughly pornographic, but there it is, available for purchase by any 17 year old. It is a respectable political talking point to accuse conservatives of a War on Women, the battle cry of which war is the call to a sexual ethic that would deny women their God-given right to sexual license. The hardcore stuff, with its immediate appeal to many men, is more revoltingly graphic, but the more acceptable and pervasive, because mainstream, p-lite sort of stuff is aimed directly at the mothers of the future.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, it's absolutely horrible, and like Zippy I would outlaw it across the board if I could with sharp penalties. It's important to raise our daughters to avoid all that sort of thing entirely.

I would say that women are often creatures of their peer group. If their peer group tells them it's okay, they'll do it. This applies to clothing as well. There's a kind of obliviousness there.

This is just one reason of many why I am so gung-ho on home schooling. It gives young people, male and female, a *strikingly* different group of influenc-ers. The daughters of the home schoolers I know have *no* notion in their heads that such p as in Cosmo or bodice-ripper romance novels is acceptable. They would be horrified at the thought. The young men know that on-line p is wrong.

I do think that parents and young people need to be knocking themselves out more protecting against the on-line stuff, because the very fact that the other stuff is bought in a physical store makes it less private and hence, for a young person who has been raised to oppose it, more embarrassing to buy. But if one has no filter on the Internet and one's child uses it in private, it's easy to find and view p that "nobody knows about." Moreover, what I have read about the addictiveness of the virulent stuff on-line *sounds* stronger (in terms of power of addiction) than that of the lighter stuff. Hence, there is a very real possibility that one's innocent 10-year-old son (or daughter) will literally stumble upon p accidentally on-line and be sucked in, as with a drug addiction where the first "hit" was literally administered by someone else.

I have recently enabled Google safe search for this very reason. I now have to see, though, if it is too restrictive of innocent images (e.g., if one is researching birds or something), but that may be no big deal anyway.

Lydia McGrew said...

I have to admit to being a little puzzled at any sort of "us vs. them," "male vs. female" approach to this issue, especially among Christians and conservatives. We are all opposed to all of it. We should recognize that about each other and not try to prove something by challenging each other: "This is just to make sure that you are sufficiently condemnatory of the kind of p that *your* gender views."

The article I was responding to did tend to emphasize the male use and to tell women, in particular, not to make stopping a sine qua non because otherwise there would be "too view marriages." And in Facebook discussions I have found that those who view themselves as defending Regnerus's position tend to accuse someone taking my position of "not understanding male nature." So in a sense it is those who disagree with me who are implying that it is men, particularly, who cannot be expected to stop p use entirely as a condition of dating and marriage. In fact, they will often imply that men, in particular, have a right to hope that marriage will cure them and that women should hold out marriage to them as a potential cure, without expecting them to stop p use *first*.

That is in some ways the background of this post. However, I have been *meticulous* to make it clear that I apply the same standard to women and that p use is also unacceptable in a woman as a prospective marriage partner.

Lydia McGrew said...

I saw a topless pic of some actress whom I'd never heard of in the margin of a news site the other day. Plenty of kids read news sites. Sometimes they are encouraged to do research for school. Many of them have smart-phones, etc. They doubtless spend a lot more time on-line than in the grocery store. It's not as though the margin of a news story is a non-public venue. Mike T. notes the same phenomenon in a comment up-thread. Evidently male-directed, clickable pictures of scantily clad (at most) women are more and more "in your face" these days. So I would say that the distinction between "on-line" and "in the grocery store" is definitely becoming less important all the time as far as what is considered legitimate and acceptable for public display. And then there are TV commercials, which I gather are often very sexy, obviously public, and not (or often not) female-directed. Plenty of people have told me that they have trouble allowing their children to watch sports games on TV for this very reason.

Tamsin said...

Unrestricted smartphone use is allowed in public middle schools now. Laptops really, via BYOD policies which are sweeping the country.

And public schools require online research for homework, now, as print books are insufficient.

It is very hard to monitor and restrict your child's access to the internet if your child is in public schools.

Lydia McGrew said...

Naturally, my first response to that is, "Yet another reason not to send your child to public school." But I do have one slightly more helpful response: Smartphones can also have p-blocking software installed. Net Nanny has whole family policies, as does Covenant Eyes.

That helps. The main problem at that point is the possibility of your child's using someone else's device, which I acknowledge is a serious problem. This is a reason to know who your child's friends are, what their family's computer policies are, and to keep an eye on that and make your rules accordingly.

Yep, this is going to sound "control-freakish" to our secular friends committed to going with the flow, etc. When their kids end up with a hard-core p addiction at the age of thirteen, we can ask them how all that non-control theory is workin' out for them. Of course, a secularist might be schizophrenic on this issue anyway, not wanting an addicted child but at the same time taking a laissez faire approach to adult use. Dawkins forbid we should say that using p is *wrong*.

PSdan said...

It seems that the Regnerus suggestion, odd as it may sound to you, it pretty well aligned with Pope Francis’ many comments on “gradualism”, “mercy” and the Church as a “field hospital” – i.e. a place for people just as they are, not as we (or God) would like them to be. I think you could make more sense of the Regnerus piece with this in mind. Pope Francis discussed much of this in Evangelli Gaudiam (Joy of the Gospel) in which he warns of “spiritual worldliness” (Para. 93-97) whereby, among other things,
“A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.” (94)
A certain pastoral flexibility may sometimes be helpful in ‘fostering sanctification’. One suspects, however, that it’s more likely that Catholics who have never paid much attention to the Catechism will go right on ignoring it. But they’ll be just a bit happier about it. Faithful and observant Catholics, on the other hand, are as bewildered by this as you were in reading Regnerus.
It seems your “Refuse to date” advice is based on the view that use of p is a marker for an inability or unwillingness to be wholly and completely committed to one’s spouse. This is a reasonable response. But I have to ask, would you advise these young women to marry early in life? I was trying to think of the female equivalent to p. I don’t think it’s the woman’s use of p; that is less common and probably less habitual. I don’t think it’s bodice rippers. No, I think an equivalent marker would be the desire to marry in the late 20’s or even past 30. This is following the feminist/secular script (“Getting Married Later is Great for College-Educated Women – Atlantic, March 2013). This is a not-so-obvious rejection of indissolubility and complementarity, or at least a hedging. It is also might be a marker for prior promiscuity. All of these indicate a hedging on the idea of an unreserved and complete gift of oneself. So parallel advice to a young man might be to marry young, and if they can’t then, Refuse to Date someone getting anywhere near the late 20’s.

Lydia McGrew said...

Your "parallel" is completely silly. Not getting married is, in case you hadn't noticed, not intrinsically wrong. Using p is intrinsically wrong. End of discussion.

Hence, your "parallel advice" to men is silly as well, and not remotely parallel. The obvious parallel (but heaven forbid we should be obvious!) is to tell men not to marry women who use p. As of course I have done. Repeatedly.

Do I advise women to marry young? If possible, where "possible" includes finding a godly man and being able to pay the rent. Preferably a godly man who is _himself_ able to pay the rent, especially if the young wife gets pregnant. But good luck with that nowadays in the "new economy." (As you can see from that comment, I'm not entirely blaming the young men for their inability to support a wife and child.) If both have to work for a time, that may be a necessity, but a plan should be in place if Baby comes along. The most important thing, however, is making a virtuous, loving, and Christ-honoring marriage. If that becomes possible at a young age, by all means, go for it. Did I not say that I am thrilled to go to weddings? I would never tell a woman to delay marriage per se for some reason--least of all for career or anything of that kind.

However, it may not be possible, and simply advising people to marry young in a vacuum can also be a recipe for disaster--as in, marrying the first person who comes along without using sound judgement.

This is just one reason of many why your "parallel advice" is so absurd--apparently a result of some kind of bizarre attempt to lasso feminism into this discussion and take a swipe at women in return for what you see as a swipe "at men" (though it wasn't) in the main post.

A man might _easily_ meet a woman in her late twenties or even thirties for whom he was God's answer to prayer, who had been looking for a man like him for a long time, who would make a wonderful wife, and who had not delayed marriage for any selfish or feminist reason.

Lydia McGrew said...

Or even in her forties. I've known many women in my life who are, genuinely, "unclaimed blessings."

Tony said...

"A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace..."

You gotta love Pope Francis here: "There are 2 kinds of people in the world. Those nasty analytical people who waste their energy classifying people into 2 kinds, and nice people." Evangelli Gaudium is perhaps the least coherent encyclical of the modern world - though Populorum Progressio runs a good second.

PSdan, I don't think your contrast class really holds up. If a woman is really interested in marrying, willing, ready and desiring to marry young, and simply doesn't find the appropriate potential mate in her very early 20s, then NO, she should not marry young. She ought to wait until God puts the right man in her life, and there is no telling God when that ought to be, just as there is no telling God who is to be called to the celibate life and who is to be called to married life.

The other thing you neglect is that cultural mores actually effect the proper, due, and godly carrying out your vocation in terms of timing in life. In ancient Jewish times, a young man of 17 or 18 was fully capable of having mastered his profession (carpentry, farming) sufficiently to be set up "on his own" to the extent that the culture provided for a young couple to be "on their own." And a young woman of 16 was, also, psychologically and emotionally ready to become married and start raising a family. So given the cultural environment, it was entirely viable for a 18 year old man to marry a 16 year old woman following God's footsteps for their vocation. But that's hardly true today: a young person coming out of high school at age 18 has had virtually no scope for learning personal life responsibility, much less learning their life's profession. And as a coordinate reality, high school graduates are not really ready psychologically to make an informed, godly choice of mate at that time, they need more emotional, psychological, and moral seasoning before they are capable of that decision-making. Given that, it well behooves a good, moral Christian woman to plan on going to college (carefully selected) before planning on marrying. And, socially speaking, if she does go to a truly good college, she has a much better chance at finding an appropriate mate and entering into a suitable courtship relationship with him during the last years of college and marrying "young" at only 22 or 23 - far earlier than the feminist preference for 32 but far later than the ancient world's 16.

But there is no guarantee that she will meet such a person in college years nor that God wants her married in her early 20s. The appropriate interior attitude should be readiness to follow your vocation as God calls you to it, but part of God's process of calling is borne out within the actual cultural environment in which you life, and molded by that environment. Just as we no longer accept a practice of boys of 14 committing their life to a monastery, so also we no longer think marrying at 18 is a norm of good vocational thinking.

PSdan said...


Never heard of PP. It's pretty out there, but then there were a lot of socialists around back in the day.

I agree that your scenario is a thoroughly good one, but in the world I know about unicorns are more likely.


I have a response but, ugh, it's too long (it's not that long, really) so I'll send it in two parts.