Editor's note: This is an updated version of the May 6 issue column.
Of all the reasons that pornography is harmful to men, perhaps you haven’t considered this one:
It conditions us to be cowards.
Porn creates a world in which men are insulated from hurt and the possibility of rejection. In the storyline of porn, men are cast in the role of “the most important person on the planet.” We are the center of the universe, and everything revolves around us.
Absolutely nothing is allowed into our experience that would challenge our will, play with our emotions or wound our ego. All the perfectly air-brushed and HD-quality citizens of our world are smiling, desiring and accepting, and there is certainly no chance for hurt, pain or rejection. We are given the illusion of intimacy without the risk of vulnerability.
The more a man grows accustomed to this, the more he will prefer safety to sanctity. Having lodged his heart many nights in the all-inclusive resort of the fantasy woman, he will cringe at the idea of an adventurous but dangerous expedition into real love. And when God calls that man to initiate authentic intimacy with a flesh-and-blood woman, the lustful coward will cower in fear, terrified of the sanctifying vulnerability that such a task requires.
Of course, this cowardice almost always goes hand-in-hand with more heinous vices.
The new HBO series Girls just debuted on April 15. The series is described as “a comic look at the assorted humiliations and rare triumphs of a group of girls in their early 20s.” Like a lamentable plurality of new shows, Girls not only follows the rollercoaster relationships and career paths of the four main characters, but their tragic sexual escapades as well. And their lives are certainly not examples to be followed.
Even so, in a recent New York Time’s interview with Jack Bruni, Lena Dunham, the 25-year old star, writer and producer of Girls, mused about the nature and exigencies of sex — and she recognized, not without disdain and a certain shocked disbelief, that pornography affects men and the way they relate to women. As Bruni wrote:
Other sexual complications, she said, are perhaps generational. She thinks young men today are influenced by pornography, which the Web has made more instantly and cheaply available.
“When I first started kissing boys,” she said, “I remember noticing things, certain behaviors, where I thought, ‘There’s no way you learned that anywhere but on YouPorn.com. There’s no way any teenage girl taught you and reinforced that behavior.'
She added that the instant connections a person can make on the Web, which also lets them survey a broad world of possibility, can create a restlessness and an even greater disinclination to commit:
“I knew a guy, and I couldn’t actually believe he was saying this, but he said, ‘Why would I want to eat in the same restaurant every night when the world’s a buffet?’ I thought people said that only on 'Entourage.'"
This relational cowardice, this disinclination to commit to the sacrament of marriage, and especially this reduction of women to selections on a “buffet” — this is utterly beneath the dignity of a man made in the image of God.
The greatest calling we have as men is to love like Jesus Christ. Christ loved his disciples “to the very last” — and in his commitment to love, he suffered; he was wounded; and in the end, he was murdered. True love involves a tremendous commitment to danger.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis put it this way:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Yes, true love involves danger. Yet we serve a God who meets the risk of love with the reward of holiness — and glory! In his vulnerability, Christ accomplished our redemption. In his willingness to throw open the doors of his soul to our sin, he reconciled us. And because he was rejected and forsaken by his Father, he saved us.
I’ve known the safe and sordid pleasure of lust, and I’ve known the breathtaking and dangerous vulnerability of real love. There is no comparison. The worst day of heartbreaking, risk-taking love is better than the best day of self-protective, cowardly lust.
So, don’t do it, brothers. Don’t cower in front of a computer screen or hide in the corner of a porn store.
Anytime we follow Jesus in risking love, we become the men he wants us to be. We become like him. His love was never exercised in vain; neither will ours. Even unrequited love makes us holy, forms us into “men of whom the world is not worthy” and prepares us for that “far better country” and “the City that is prepared for us.”
So, as John Paul the Great reminded us: “Be Not Afraid.”
Throw open the doors of your soul to real love. Bare your heart.
And be MEN.
A former Baptist pastor who entered the Catholic Church at 2011’s Easter vigil,
Vaughn Kohler is currently a marketing and communications specialist
at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.