By Peter Finney Jr.
The explosion of pornography – statistics indicate the average age of first exposure is between the ages of 11 and 13 – is a major pastoral concern for the Catholic Church for both clergy and laity because of its impact ministry and family life, a licensed psychologist at Saint Luke Institute in Louisville told the Louisiana Priests’ Convention on Sept. 20.
“We are shining a light on it because this is not just about religious belief – this is about humanity and our ability to cultivate healthy, intimate relationships,” said Dr. Emily Cash, who has worked for the last 10 years with priests and religious suffering from attraction or addiction to pornography. “I’m seeing this in my practice, over and over and over again.”
Cash said the pervasiveness of internet pornography took off in 2007 with the arrival of the iPhone and has continued to explode, in part because nearly everyone in America is wired with smart phones, laptops and other electronic devices.
Recent estimates indicate the global pornography business has annual revenues of $97 billion. About 70 percent of pornography websites can be accessed for free. While men and women view pornography, Cash said if affects males more because “men tend to be more visual.”
Because the entrance age into pornography is so young – and since the explosion of internet porn took place in 2007 – Cash said studies are being done on adolescents and young adults to “understand how the effects on children and adolescents intertwines with their sexual identity and sexual development.”
“Chronic, long-term exposure to pornography” also affects seminarians. who are now in their 20s and 30s, in “their ability to live a celibate and chaste life,” Cash said.
Technology always a step ahead
The continual updating and advancement of technology also makes pornography addiction harder to treat, she said.
“How many updates do you get on your computer – one a week and maybe more,” Cash said. “From a clinician’s perspective, we’re trying to treat something and can barely keep up.”
There are estimated to be about 4.2 million porn sites, and pornography represents 25 percent of daily Google searches.
“The darkest side is child pornography,” she said.
What makes child pornography even more dangerous are the severe criminal penalties that can come from its possession. Because pornography users frequently look for different images to satisfy their desires, Cash said, they can easily be lured into looking in that direction.
Tolerance level rises
Most people assume child pornography exists only for pedophiles or for those who need sexual attraction outside the norm,” Cash said. Unfortunately, that’s not true. When people are viewing pornography for a sustained amount of time, in the same way with an alcoholic, one beer becomes three then seven and now 12. Over time, their tolerance to achieve that same buzz increases. It takes more over time. That exact same thing happens with internet pornography.”
Cash said she wants “to terrify (people) into getting help” by citing the potential legal ramifications, including jail time.”
One of the keys in breaking pornography addiction is for the person to engage in “cognitive behavioral therapy” to look at emotional triggers to pornography use such as depression or anger or loneliness.
“One major thing is to have awareness and make a list of alternative behaviors,” she said. “It could be something as tangible as a post-it note, a visual reminder that you can do something different.”
Important resources: Where to turn for help
For more information and resources, go to www.sliconnect.org/pastoral. The Archdiocese of New Orleans has a confidential Catholic 12-step program for men who are struggling with pornography called the “My House Men’s Group.” For information, contact (504) 430-3060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, the archdiocese has a support group for women called the “Pearl Ladies Group,” which is for women impacted by a spouse’s use of pornography. For information, call (504) 343-3359 or email email@example.com.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.