CINCINNATI — When Jeff Cavins, producer and host of Eternal Word Television Network's “Life on the Rock,” began speaking about pornography at men's retreats, he found that he opened a hornet's nest.

All of a sudden, men came forward for help. They were “very wounded, weeping, in their bondage [to pornography], but they can't seem to break it,” Cavins recalled. When he would tell audiences about the moral problems with pornography, confession lines at the retreats increased dramatically, sometimes doubling.

“What a lot of men don't realize is that they are created to love in an integrated way with intellect and heart, expressing it through the body,” Cavins said.

By using pornography, “they turn love inward; they are selfish with their love. They become dis-integrated men, less effective with their children” and depriving their wives of part of themselves, he said. “Their relationship with Christ is cut off.”

Pornography has been around for a long time. Vestiges of it have been found in ancient cultures. But what characterizes contemporary society is a constant bombardment of visual images — “a lot of flesh,” as Cavins put it — and easy accessibility to the sex industry. Pornographic bookstores, strip clubs, prostitution and 1–900 sex-talk lines are now joined by an outlet that reaches into homes, schools, libraries and businesses: Internet pornography.

U.S. News & World Report estimated that the pornography industry grossed $8 billion in 1997. The Industry Standard, a magazine covering the Internet economy, said Internet porn last year pulled in at least $1 billion or one-tenth of all money made by business over the Internet. This might invoke images of men lurking around their home computers at 3 a.m. while the wife and kids are asleep. But, in fact, The Industry Standard reports that 70% of porn traffic occurs between 9 and 5, and people in the Eastern time zone account for the largest number of porn-site hits — 30.3%.

Privacy of the Home

Not all pornographic users are adult men. Father John Rizzo, a youth minister with the Fraternity of St. Peter in Sacramento, Calif., sometimes counsels teen-agers — male and female — who are involved in pornography. Often, he said, the youths use pornography to fill an emotional need, whether they're from dysfunctional families or devout Catholic homes.

“They sometimes feel depressed and try to find some avenue to rid themselves of it,” Father Rizzo explained. But the porn-induced good feelings are transient. “Pornography ultimately ends up making them feel more depressed, and some of them end up feeling it's so addictive, they can't get away,” he said.

One boy told him it was “easier hiding pornography on the computer than a magazine in his room.”

While Father Rizzo initially counsels the youths privately, he eventually encourages them to come clean with their parents so the parents can help. “They do feel relieved when their parents find out about it,” but the revelation often stuns the parents: “A lot of time the parents are completely shocked and unaware of it.”

Darcy Taylor, vice president of computer pornography with the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families in Cincinnati (www.nationalcoalition.org), said the Internet is also an open arena for adults to prey on children. He cited one recent case of a 47-year-old man who reportedly induced a 14-year-old girl to send him nude photos of herself and arrange a meeting with him. The parents caught on and when he tried to meet the girl, he ran into the FBI.

Young people may access Internet pornography unintentionally if they type in the wrong name for a site. Taylor said the best way parents can protect their children is to first become educated in computer technology. He also advised them to subscribe to an Internet service provider that filters out porn and to add software filters to their computers as double protection. Parents should also find out what their schools and public libraries are doing to protect children from Internet pornography and push for adequate safeguards, if they're not there.

Catholic teaching has always condemned pornography. “It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2354). “It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. … Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.”

Father Peter Damian Fehlner, a dogmatic theologian and superior of Our Lady's Chapel, New Bedford, Mass., run by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, observed, “When you taste the forbidden fruit, it's hard to get off of it. The saints over the centuries have taught that the vast majority of people go to hell because they are unwilling to give up this kind of indulgence.”

Father Fehlner added, “Pornog-raphy does to the soul what drugs do to the body. It's dangerous to 100% of the population.”

Cavins is blunt with men about pornography. “If you can't handle the Internet, then pull it,” he tells them. “Better to enter heaven without your PC than spend eternity in hell clutching your Macintosh.” He tells them to act like men in the confessional, to fully own up to their sins, not minimize them.

Taylor said pornography gradually desensitizes its users: so-called soft pornography can lead to hard-core varieties, such as depiction of sexual activity and child molestation.

An Addiction

Just as alcohol, drug and gambling addiction have gained visibility in the psychology community and in the public's eye, the issue of sexual addiction has come to the fore in recent years.

Pat Mellody is executive director of The Meadows in Wickenburg, Ariz., which treats sexual addiction. He said a person's reaction to pornography can range from repulsion to obsessive-compulsive behavior that a person persists in “despite harmful consequences,” marital, financial, legal, and so on.

An obsessive-compulsive pornography user may repeatedly battle the urge to use pornography but lose, providing temporary relief followed by guilt and shame, Mellody said. He recalled a man who would go to pornography shops to buy films and a projector, use it, then become disgusted with himself and throw everything out. But the cycle kept repeating itself.

Such obsessive-compulsive behavior can result in adultery and marital conflict, incest, termination at work, squandering the family's money on pornography, and arrest, he said.

Father Fehlner said the self-indulgence that pornography promotes can lead to cruelty and violence. “A person who no longer guides his life on principles of fidelity treats people any way he wants,” he said.

Women Become Objects

Pornography and the whole sex industry debase women, observers say. The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families said studies have shown a correlation between the presence of sexually oriented business and an increase in sex offenses, violent crimes, and robberies in the surrounding area.

Gene McConnell, a Protestant minister and former porn addict, and now the Coalition's vice president for victim services, said pornography depicts women as “devoid of personhood” and frequently “weaves violence with sex.”

He called it “sexualized anger” when women are shown being brutalized during sex acts.

No one has to go far to enter the bizarre world of pornography. Today, “It's available in the privacy of your own home,” said McConnell.

Eric Retzlaff writes from Rotterdam, New York.