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Fifty Shades of Porn

In case you haven’t heard, the most popular books on the planet right now are the Fifty Shades of Grey series by E.L. James. Not because they contain fine literature, but because they contain explicit sex scenes with characters engaging in sadomasochistic bondage. Given our culture, it’s no surprise the books are flying off the shelves and onto Nooks and Kindles at lightening speed. What is surprising, however, is that so many Christians are openly reading and even promoting these books to friends and family.

Well, why not? Fifty years ago, pornography was considered immoral at worst, unseemly at best, but clearly something in contrast to Christian values of fidelity, chastity, and self-control. But today, it’s not even morally neutral, but something people actually recommend to improve a relationship or marriage. The prevailing attitude is that in moderation, it’s harmless. And as an occasionally-used tool, it can actually bring a couple closer and enhance their sex life.

I might buy this, except I’m no stranger to porn and its consequences. I was first exposed to it at the tender age of five, when an adult male babysitter showed me scenes from the film he was watching. At 10, I was cleaning another family’s basement and found an issue of Playgirl. The explicit images shocked and disturbed me, but I still squirreled it away for later viewing. At 12, I found the porn channels on our satellite dish and watched every time my parents ran errands without me. I even stole sexually-explicit paperbacks from my aunt, which were just as effective in piquing my interest and libido as films. (Which is how I know Shades of Grey is just gussied up smut.)

But this was all child’s play compared to the porn I encountered at 17. My 30-year-old boyfriend, Dan, had amassed a large and varied pornography collection. His insistence that porn was just another tool to spice things up in the bedroom is almost certainly why it became a part of every sexual relationship I had after that. It helped that men were impressed I was so “cool” about it. It even seemed normal to use pornography during the first few years of my marriage.

I don’t think these experiences are unusual among my peers and young people today. Most people have adopted Dan’s progressive attitude about pornography–that it’s a harmless diversion that can ultimately lead to better sex and thus, stronger relationships. Except it isn’t true. Experience, statistics, and science tell us a very different story about porn.

Porn changes the brain. And not in a good way.

Research shows that pornography use causes the same kind of brain damage as substance abuse. Like opiates and other drugs, porn triggers the release of dopamine, a vital neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. The massive dopamine release then greatly reinforces your body’s memory of the experience, spurring you to want to do it again (and again). This is why it’s so easy to become addicted to porn, because just like with drugs, our brain then wires our body to desire that extreme sexual high.

The dopamine released with porn use also causes your brain to process the images (real or imagined) in such a way that they’re stored in long-term memory and replayed repeatedly in your mind. As anyone who has regularly viewed porn can attest: these images are burned into your brain forever. I can still vividly recall scenes in books and movies from nearly 30 years ago. Many of these scenes were grossly immoral and I would love to purge them from my memory, but the brain damage is, unfortunately, permanent. No one tells you that when you watch a porno, you’re going to have to watch it forever, whether you want to or not.

The other thing they don’t tell you is that just like someone who takes drugs, you’re going to need more and more porn over time to get the same fix. Dan had been using porn for 15 years and the tame stuff just didn’t do it for him anymore. Near the end of our relationship, I discovered he possessed videos that featured bizarre fetishes, beastiality, incest, and sadomasochism. What people are using today is not your father’s Playboy stash, researchers say. It’s hardcore, scary, and it seriously warps you.

Porn harms men.

Men are wired to be stimulated visually, which typically makes them more prone to concupiscence (a fancy word for lust). To sustain a healthy, give-and-take relationship with a flesh-and-blood woman, a man must learn self-control, self-giving, and self-sacrifice. He must treat the woman as a person with dignity, not just a thing to be used for his sexual pleasure.

But the message of pornography undermines those goals and as we’ve shown, those messages send down deep roots into a person’s psyche. In porn, men and women are not rich, complex persons with hopes, dreams, and emotional needs, but things that use other things for personal pleasure. Sexual desire is portrayed as an animalistic, uncontrollable urge that you have a right to indulge. There is no expectation of fidelity or consequences for being unfaithful; monogamy is a joke.

It should be no surprise then, that men who imbibe a steady diet of pornography have problems maintaining a healthy relationship with a woman. Men see plastic, sex-crazed women in pornos, then get disappointed when their girlfriends and wives don’t look or act that way. (And nothing turns a woman on like knowing her guy got turned on by another woman.)

A significant number of men are also plagued by anxiety that they don’t measure up–literally or performance-wise–to the men they see in pornos. One study found that less than half of all men (45%) felt they were adequately endowed. As one man put it, “I wasn’t able to perform unless I thought I was the biggest. In my mind, I couldn’t see why a girl would want to be with me if she could have someone bigger.”

Porn hurts women.

Few people realize that that nearly 30% of sex addicts are women, with some studies showing that one out of six women–including Christian women–struggle with an addiction to pornography. Not that you have to be addicted to be damaged by porn. A recent study confirmed what women have known for years: that pornography leaves women feeling dismissed, unloved, inadequate, and betrayed.

Porn destroys marriages.

Patrick Fagan, director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion, calls pornography a “quiet family killer.” A good description when you consider that a spouse’s porn addition is a factor in 56% of divorces today. Divorce attorneys have confirmed this stat: at a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, two-thirds of the 350 lawyers said porn had contributed to more than half the divorces they’d worked.

***

But all that’s neither here nor there, Shades of Grey fans will say. Erotic fiction isn’t porn. It doesn’t involve real people, so it’s not harmful like visual pornography is.

When I was a newly converted and spiritually immature Catholic, I used those same excuses to justify reading porn instead of watching it. But then I realized I read the stories for the same reason I’d watched the movies: to get sexually aroused. I just used my imagination instead of a television, but the end result was the same. Pornography, whether it’s tucked away in the back room of a video store or between the pages of a bestselling novel, has only one purpose: to incite lust. Christians especially should remember what Jesus said about that: “I say unto you, that every one that looks on a woman with lust has committed adultery already with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

When we use our sexuality as God intended–in an act of mutual self-giving with our spouse–we get good outcomes. We bond with our spouse, we bring new life into the world, we forge strong marriages and families. But pornography turns what should be a most profound exchange of love into a solitary, selfish grasping for pleasure. It fosters sexual anxiety, damages our ability to have healthy relationships, and destroys marriages and families. Lust–and thus, porn–is sinful, folks. And we need to stop pretending there’s anything gray about that.

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About Misty

Misty converted to Catholicism from atheism 10 years ago, just a week after becoming a mother to her first child. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she worked full-time as a magazine writer and editor. She has been married to her best friend for nearly 15 years and looks forward to many more decades by his side. Her days are now spent cooking, doing laundry, freelance writing, and homeschooling her four children. After spending so much of her life in spiritual darkness, she revels in the joy of being Catholic. Without a doubt, the Lord’s greatest gift to her has been saving her from a life without Him.

June 7, 2012 - 8:35 am

Martina - Thank you for sharing this! With all the chatter about this book {I had not read any reviews, only read friends’ opinions on the book}, I was curious to know more about the connection between this kind of smut that was almost “acceptable” by many elderly Christian ladies I knew in my youth and porn, in general.

It takes sex and reduces it to the equivalent of choosing to eat from a dumpster vs. choosing to eat from the banquet {the healthy fruits that come from a marriage centered in God’s love}.
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June 7, 2012 - 8:42 am

Chris Williston - Amazing post Misty. Thanks for your transparency and your insight. I shudder to think how many women will read the 50 Shades series and have it increase their desire to be objectified by their lovers. This can only further the disordered nature of our cultural perceptions of love and sexuality.
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June 7, 2012 - 9:19 am

Wilma - Having read the trilogy, it seems as though you might have missed the point of it (or perhaps not have read it?).

Spoiler**The trilogy follows the development of a relationship between a couple from an unhealthy sexual relationship to a loving, caring relationship. It helps one of the characters work through problems he had as a result of an inappropriate sexual relationship in his mid-teens and from abuse and abandonment as a child.

I imagine that the most attention is giving to the discussion of the BDSM that occurs in the book. However, most of it is rejected by the couple as they work towards a healthy, loving relationship.

You might not have enjoyed the book (or books), but they don’t work towards objectifying the female character: it’s the opposite. She starts as an object in the male character’s mind and changes as she helps him get over his issues and see her as a full person.

While these books do contain sexual interactions between characters, they are not porn (subjective term though it is).

June 7, 2012 - 9:38 am

Jeanne - I’ve been afraid to post about this on my wall since the book is so popular among many of my coworkers right now.
I actually added my two cents to one conversation last night and said, “I’ve seen reviews that it is soft porn, so I won’t be reading it.” My statement was received with “duh” looks- they already know this. Just a confirmation how our beliefs are truly becomming more and more counter cultural. Sad.

June 7, 2012 - 10:33 am

Alice - Impressive article. Thank you for sharing so many personal stories. I have become even more conservative about what I watch and read over the past few years because of my concern at what I’ve heard from other Catholics–conservative, home schooling moms–about entertainment. Many have said that because they are good, Catholic women, they can discern for themselves what is okay for them to read–as opposed to considering the opinions of other Catholics, priests etc. I find this puzzling myself. I feel that people who are serious about the faith should know that the devil wants nothing more than to get an inch so he can take a mile. Dabbling in entertainment that does not point to the good, the true and the beautiful (aka God–even if not overtly) is just plain dangerous and, for people who should know better, sinful.

June 7, 2012 - 10:54 am

Misty - Wilma,
I’ll admit that I did not read the books. I have heard enough about it and read enough synopses of the books to know that they contain material that is not good for my soul. That is not good for ANY person’s soul. I’ve also read enough books exactly like it–where the characters start out in S&M but then love conquers all–to know the end does not justify the means.

There are porn films out there that attempt to weave the sex scenes into a love story. But, it’s still PORN. Even an overarching plot where the characters evolve from dysfunctional to functional doesn’t justify the parts that are graphic and explicit. These books are not wildly popular because they’re fine writing, or because they contain a compelling love story. They’re popular because they’re sexually explicit and people are getting aroused by reading them. Haven’t you seen the jokes about how there will be a “Fifty Shades of Grey baby boom” in a year? People know these are sexually stimulating and because it’s under the guise of literature, its pornographic effect is being ignored.

The Bible says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8). Reading books and watching movies in which the sexual act is degraded, in which what ought to be sacred between two people is graphically exposed for the purpose of inciting lust…this is not something that as Christians, we ought to be doing ourselves or promoting to others.

June 7, 2012 - 11:03 am

Holly Murphy - Thank-you so much for your blog and your clearly personal stories. I live in a little bubble and have infrequent contact with adults so I have not heard of the series. However, my children live completely in the world and I am sure that my daughter must have heard about it. I agree with most of the readers. I enjoy the comments almost as much as the article in many case. My fear is that it is, as one commenter wrote, a book that ultimately talks about the dangers of unhealthy relationships and practices. The fact that a couple in a fiction book turn their relationship around is not the norm. Most people will read it for the parts that stimulate unhealthy desires.
Any way, glad to now know about this series…
Holly
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June 7, 2012 - 11:31 am

Val Bianco - Misty,

In regards to your comments to Wilma, and, of course with you post, I couldn’t agree more. I have, as a writer, followed the marketing success of these books with great sadness. There is absolutely no question that the books are being purchased because of the sex scenes. As a man, father and grandfather, I must confess that I am shocked at the utter descent of the female psyche.

It is no wonder that there is no such thing as a “bad” girl anymore. Our world has come full circle, from Eve to Our Lady, the new Eve….all the way back to the old Eve.

It started with cowardice, when we abandoned our kids souls in favor of their “education”. So we now send them to school to get drunk, laid, and MAYBE, a degree in something that can actually provide a living. And we excuse their behavior because we are too selfish and cowardly to confront them as they destroy their innocence.

Heed my warning, young mothers. Follow your instincts, protect your children as long as you can, for If 50 Shades has become acceptable ” Mom’s” poolside reading…we are not far from the end.

June 7, 2012 - 11:59 am

Melanie - Thank you! There are better ways to show men can be cured of the objectification of women than this trilogy. How about she refuses to consider his proposal, she refuses to be humiliated by him and she chooses not to hop into bed with him almost immediately? What about he has to pursue her, woo her, work through his problems without her humiliations? Yet another book to add to that delusion that we can fix men.

June 7, 2012 - 12:06 pm

College Bound - You are been given incredible graces to share this, Misty. Thank you so much. I can tell you have truly nailed this to the Cross because you’re able to be very honest. I’ve never struggled with pornography, but I can remember several instances of reading material (“romance novels”) that, by the grace of a good conscience, put down before getting to far into them. As a young adult I now realize the need to take this to the Sacrament of Confession. You’ve given me a lot to think about as well as a lot to share (perspective I don’t have) with others. God bless you, and thank you again! Praying for you, dear.

June 7, 2012 - 12:29 pm

Brittany - Exactly Melanie! I personally feel it is silly and a “bury my head in the sand” tactic to defend this trilogy because of the love conquers all storyline. The books would have garnered no interest if the heroine would have cared more about her soul and salvation.

Great article Misty!

June 7, 2012 - 1:05 pm

Rebecca - One thing few women will talk about (and something that really ticks me off), is that MOST of the married coworkers I know who are reading this would be absolutely OUTRAGED if they found their husbands watching XXX movies or perusing a Hustler magazine in the living room. They would feel betrayed, angered and would be livid with their husbands, not to mention hurt.

These women have NO problem though reading THIS smut and other “novels” that contain an element of romance followed up by lots and lots of very explicit sex. The fact is that they are doing EXACTLY the same thing as their husbands.

Men are sexually aroused by visual stimuli; pictures and video. Women, on the other hand are more stimulated by an element of romance and by reading, their arousal is more mentally stimulated than visually. And yet the effects of either are the same. Arousal, and lust. Most of the women who read these “novels” fail to see the sheer hypocrisy in their objecting to their husbands’ or boyfriends’ visual pornography while they stock up on filthy novels.

God help us all as a nation.

June 7, 2012 - 1:14 pm

JulieF - Misty,
I recently went to a book exchange and most of the women were raving about this book. These “saved” Christian women told me what the book was about as I had never heard of it. I was shocked these women had read it, let only PROMOTING it. I do not care if by the end there was some turn around and everyone lives happily ever after. The end does not justify the means. This will make some women even more delusional about the type of man they seek out, because they might save him in the end. I am 27 years old and deeply saddened by our culture. Can we go back to a time when “Casblanca”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and “I love Lucy” reigned? It is possible to be truly entertained with out being straight out of the gutter. Trash is trash, thank you for your thoughtful synopsis.
Pax Christi,
JulieF

June 7, 2012 - 2:17 pm

[email protected] - Thanks for this review. I am a Kindle owner and saw that this was the top seller for quite a while now but didn’t know what it was. Honestly, the only hot-off-the-press books I buy are Catholic non-fiction. Anything else comes from the yard sale, library, or Kindle freebies.

That being said, I’d also like to address the topic. Regardless of the so-called “story-line” in this book, if the characters are practicing in alternative sexual “styles” that are against Catholic teaching, that is the number one reason to leave the book alone. Although details of the sexual act are not necessary in any GOOD book, we, as Catholic women, should at least acknowledge that we should not read about anything against the teachings of the church. I will be the first to admit that I am FAR from perfect but it my journey, I have learned that I must be very careful about the outside sources that I allow into my life- A smutty book being one of them!
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June 7, 2012 - 3:16 pm

Bill T. - Misty,

This is a phenomenal post, and I can easily say that it hits the nail on the head. I can personally attest to all you have stated about the dangers of pornography.

I am a 33-year old Catholic male, with a loving, forgiving wife and four amazing, beautiful children with that same loving, forgiving wife. Pornography, and all the horror that comes with it, has had a deep and profound impact on my life. I started finding it around the house when I was in my early adolescence, and never looked back. It was also viewed by my brother and most or all of my five sisters, and I have no doubt it had an impact on all of them as well.

I can’t be too specific with how it has affected my marriage, but needless to say, it is purely my the miraculous and perfect Grace of our Lord that my wife and I are still together. I am without a doubt a sexual addict, and my faith is the only reason I am able to ever have self-control, for pornography is, by every account, one of satan’s sharpest and most deadly weapons in the fight for our souls.

There is no doubt, a vast portion of the things I have read AND seen in my life, are easily recalled in my head, at times when I least expect or desire it. Those images are indeed burned there, and will be there until I pass from this life. My wife herself used to watch porn with me, and grew up in the same sort of environment, so it took a long time and a lot of bad things to happen, for her to realize the true threat pornography poses to man and to marriages, particularly to Christians wishing to follow the Will of God.

Thanks so much for your thoughts and testimony, and may God bless you richly with His Love and Peace.

Yours truly,
B.T.

June 7, 2012 - 3:38 pm

marisol - you were 17 years old and dating a 30 year old?

June 7, 2012 - 5:27 pm

Mary - I recently read a book by a Catholic author called In Name Only. This is a story about someone being redeemed from a life of grave sexual sin. She tells this story with more detail than I care for personally, but it is not “pornography” in any sense. No one could honestly look at those parts of the story and think that the writer intended to incite lust or even more mild desire. They are clearly peripheral to the story and I am sure the author wrote them with only as much detail as she thought she needed to to make her point. That is a huge contrast with FSOG, where the author specifically intends to be graphic and people specifically intend to have their sexual interest piqued while reading the book. Pretending that there is merit to these books simply because they happen to have some kind of redeeming plot line is just another way of excusing our society’s unhealthy obsession with sex.

June 8, 2012 - 3:17 am

Fr Levi - A very thoughtful post … very generous of you to share such personal details to make your points … I haven’t heard of these books … I don’t know if that’s because I don’t get out enough or because we have been spared them thus far in Ireland! But based on what others have said in the combox, it sounds as if their primary purpose is to titillate & that makes them porn & unsuitable reading for any human being.

June 8, 2012 - 12:04 pm

Liturgical Renewal Liturgy Vestment Southern Baptist Convert | Big Pulpit - [...] Fifty Shades of Porn – Misty, Catholic Sistas [...]

June 8, 2012 - 1:49 pm

Lee Ann - Thank you so much for this post Misty. I was recently told by someone that I ‘must’ read this book and how everyone was reading it. I’m so glad that I belong to a Catholic women’s book club where we read solid Catholic non-fiction and novels by strong Catholic authors. As a mom of 5, I have little time to read much more than my book club books. I would like to caution people who use the Kindle fire that in the Amazon store under the free selection, there are some really vile pornographic titles (complete with cover pictures that are pornographic as well). I stumbled upon them while searching for free picture books for my children. I contacted Amazon and was told I should use the advanced search (which is not available on my Kindle Fire device but only the website). I suggested that they put a policy in place where one could choose parental controls to block the offensive titles so children could not accidentally stumble upon the material. I was told that they would forward my suggestion to their customer satisfaction team. Just wanted to share with others that this stuff is everywhere you look so beware. God Bless.

June 15, 2012 - 9:28 pm

K - To help heal the wounds of previous sexual sin and reduce the recurrence of images, memories, etc., I would recommend joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, run by the Dominicans (and yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds). I can attest from personal experience that it does in fact work. Their website is: http://angelicwarfare.org/

June 16, 2012 - 10:01 pm

poetcomic1 - “When the mind revolts from God, the body revolts from the mind.”
-Kenelm Digby

June 17, 2012 - 7:40 am

Christine - I had the misfortune of picking this up & reading it. It so mainstream that I thought it was going to be some kind of love story that was a little racy. Let me be totally clear, especially for women like Wilma: this trilogy is nothing but pornography. What’s contained inside is exactly the same as Penthouse Forum. It. Is. NO DIFFERENT. No one–and especially not any Christian–should read this trash.

I’m not pulling punched here because it’s vital to know exactly what you’re dealing with. This is pornography & it’s a mortal sin. To use it to spice up your marital bed is to use your spouse.

I wrote more about this topic on Domestic Vocation a few weeks ago. I’m committed to spreading the word about these book to spare women from the pains of trying to rid yourself of the pornographic images planted in your brain from these books.

June 21, 2012 - 9:36 am

Abby - Thanks for this post. It clarifies my concerns over the book. I am also shocked and disappointed that several of my “church friends” are giggling and promoting this book. Just yesterday, one of these friends sent an invite to a group of us pre-school moms to join her “because she just finished 50 Shades and needs more” to go see the new movie Magic Mike about male strippers. She is a sweet lady and fun, but I’m just very disappointed that once again today’s secular society rules over morals. I will kindly decline, I would rather spend that evening with my husband. I am glad I have your blog to read when I am feeling like a secular outcast. Thanks again!

July 16, 2012 - 10:54 pm

Arby - A refreshingly honest essay. Thank you for writing it, posting it, and sharing it.

November 5, 2012 - 1:31 am

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January 14, 2013 - 6:06 pm

Young men are giving up on marriage - Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Third Parties, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Congress, President - Page 28 - City-Data Forum - [...] honestly – but given the kinds of messages that today's women receive from infancy (just look at what women are reading these days), the ideal lifetime self-fulfillment plan for many educated women probably looks [...]

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