by Theresa Notare
October 15, 1999
Call me naive, I've always assumed that most people consider pornography to be wrong. So imagine my surprise when I read a somewhat approving article on Hugh Hefner in the Washington Post (October 10, 1999). "He is still living the fantasy," the article boldly proclaims He parties, has celebrity friends, lots of money, and many lovers. Although the long article alluded to some disgruntled former lovers who, it said, "detracted" from Hef's record of "loving generosity" (these women said he was possessive and even manipulative), the tone of the article was upbeat and even admiring of Hefner's "accomplishments." No negative words about the pornographic empire he built. No disapproving phrases about the orgies he hosted. The admission by one woman of having been involved in group sex with Hefner and others was reported blandly. Not even a hint of surprise. The article ended with a quote from Hefner, that summed it all up: "I pride myself that the way I have lived my life--unorthodox though it may be--is ethical and moral."
Although Webster's Dictionary describes pornography as material intended to cause sexual excitement, I use it here to include any misuse of human sexuality. Can pornography ever be ethical and moral? Should good people ever acquiesce and casually dismiss the "lifestyle" of Mr. Hefner as simply that of a free spirit? Our reply should be a resounding NO!
Our culture has desensitized most of us to the evil of deviant sex (including sex outside of marriage). TV brings distasteful programs like the Jerry Springer show into our living rooms. Prime time features situation comedies in which "sex-starved" characters are perennially looking for a quick sexual fix. One recent show highlighted a young man's interest in observing lesbian sex--in prime time family viewing. We can point to licentious magazines, including Cosmopolitan's new publication targeting teenage girls, gross lyrics in popular songs, and an endless list of similar assaults on moral behavior. Pornography permeates our culture. This darkness parades as "enlightened" thinking thereby creating a perfect environment in which evil can thrive.
Pornography is a corruption of the good that is human and the good inherent in God-given sexual energies and procreative actions. It brutalizes women and children. It helps make men shallow and selfish, and inhibits their ability to experience real love in a real adult relationship. Those who oppose pornography are labeled puritanical or "up-tight." The Church, in particular, is seen as maintaining an archaic stance against pornography. But that stance is motivated by an understanding of the utter sacredness of each human person. Why protect an unborn child? Because human life is sacred. Why care for those who are old or dying? Because human life is sacred. Why insist that the government should not use capital punishment? Because human life is sacred. People are not to be manipulated, abused, exploited, vulgarized, or oppressed. Pornography does all of these.
Each person is of inestimable value--that's what Jesus taught us. The fundamental pro-life stance is to reverence the sacredness of every person--a sacredness that flows from the image of God within them. Pornography (in all of its forms) distorts the true, the good, the holy.
In our culture this darkness presents itself as respectable--but it is not. It fools the very people who participate in it, warping their sense of the good (hence Hefner's claim that he's led a moral life). Only the light of faith can pierce this darkness. Is sex natural? You bet. But does this mean that all people of any age at any time should be engaging in sexual activity? No. Does this mean that groups of willing people should have sexual relations with each other? No. Does this mean that we should talk about sex as casually as we would talk about buying a new pair of shoes? No.
We need to reclaim a sense of the innocence that allows sex to be the ultimate expression of human intimacy that it was meant to be. We need to resurrect our sensibility that there is a special privacy about sexual feelings and actions. It's time that Americans put aside exaggerated and misplaced claims about freedom of speech and admit that some things should be shunned in a civilized land. Our nation would benefit from a reflection on the real nature of sexual activity.
Theresa Notare is the Special Assistant of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.