The Catholic Church is a wee bit obsessed with sex in that they believe it’s only acceptable on their terms. No birth control because reproduction is important. No abortion because reproduction is important. No sodomy because reproduction is important. No same-sex marriage because reproduction is important. Don’t worry about physical attraction or orgasms because none of it has to do with reproduction.
Shorter version: “MAKE MORE BABIES, PLZ.”
This message isn’t new and probably won’t ever go away, but in an extension of this line of argumentation, the Catholic Church decided to get real specific. The Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a report that really isn’t surprising except for its tepid inclusion of actual science. Their target? Pornography.
We read it so you don’t have to. (You can thank us later.)
The 28-page report may be the Church’s most robust statement on the subject to date. A lot of it repeats the refrains of its other sex-related stances, but it is perhaps distinguished by the inclusion of positions that secular psychologists defend as well. It talks about abuse and exploitation associated with pornography production. It talks about how pornography can reinforce the idea of women as property or objects existing solely for male gratification. It talks about the scope of the industry and readily admits that Catholics are likely a substantial part of its profit margins. It talks about addiction. It talks about how the consumption of porn may have a physiological impacts on sexual performance.
All good stuff, but the sweeping brush used to make these arguments and the contextualization of the issues mitigates the potential positive impact of the message and makes it impossible for me to get on board with the advocacy.
For starters, the statement has a rather, um, interesting view of what should be considered pornography:
Pornography does not consist only in visual images (which can be real or virtual, including computer-generated) but can also be in written or audio forms (e.g., certain romance novels, erotic literature, phone conversations, social media, online video chats, etc.). It encompasses what is sometimes distinguished as “soft-” and “hard-core” pornography. This is an artificial divide; all pornography is harmful and wrong, while the effects on a person may vary depending on the intensity of the content. Pornography is not art.
Annnnd we’ve started to go off the rails. Under this definition, any depiction of sex — including sex that fits into their married conjugal paradigm — is considered pornography. This is unadulterated bollocks. Sex is often central to character development or plot or exploration of complex issues in novels, plays, and films — ya know, art. This kind of art can be pivotal in cultivating a deeper understanding of sexuality, intimacy, and self. Obviously, not all forms of artistic expression are so profound, and in some cases the depiction of sex can be troubling (no, Christian, there are no 50 Shades of Grey in your toxic relationship), but to automatically dismiss any media representation of sex as smut is laughable. And so very Catholic.
They’re not just targeting high brow sexual deviancy, either. Phone sex is out. Don’t you dare sext. Skype is a recipe for disaster. Heaven forbid you engage in any conversation about sex via social media. It doesn’t matter if the interaction is consensual with an aim of mutual satisfaction. It doesn’t even matter if the participants are married and of the same sex. All of that would render sex something to be enjoyed rather than contributing to an effort to reproduce, which is clearly a violation of God’s will. Sort of like masturbation, which the bishops kindly remind us here is “gravely contrary to chastity and the dignity of one’s body.” Again so very Catholic.
(Personally, I don’t get it. If their God supposedly made all of us and didn’t want us to get off from a bit of bodily friction, why use a biological design that makes it feel so good? Wouldn’t seeking an orgasm be a celebration of that design? Plus, their God theoretically made us in his own image, yeah? If that’s so, I can’t imagine he doesn’t rub one out now and then.)
There’s been some moaning from religion reporter Jim Davis over what he sees as a lack of coverage for a laudable move, but why in the world he thought it would earn the Church coverage is beyond me. This really wasn’t news. Yes, it’s a long document condemning pornography, but we already knew the Church didn’t like it. Yes, they make some valid points about pornography and some of the problems surrounding its production and use, but that discussion is a sidebar to the proselytizing about acceptable sexual expression. They take a message that could be universal and spoil it with dogma and characterizations of sex that are far from universal.
That’s not news. That’s par for the course. And we’ve stopped caring.
(Image via Shutterstock)