The pointlessness of pornography
Note: This is part five of a five part series on pornography
Part I: My porn addiction
Part II: Porn, devil or an angel?
Part III: Three ways to kick porn out of your life
Part IV: The fight for sexual sanity in a world awash in porn
December 13, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - A quote of dubious origin, but often misattributed to G.K. Chesterton, goes like this: “The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” It is a somewhat shocking claim, but is, I think, nevertheless true. And the corollary is obvious: that every young man or woman who searches for pornography on Google, is unconsciously looking for God.
I do not believe that most people who look at pornography do so because they are particularly interested in sex, per se – at least not at first. Women, especially, are likely to confess that their interest in pornography is not so much about body parts, or how they come together, but is rather an expression of their deep craving for romance, affirmation, and relation. They don’t so much care about seeing nude men, as they do about fantasizing about having a satisfying love affair, in which all their unspoken needs and ardent desires are anticipated and met.
And while men, naturally more promiscuous, have earned a reputation as sex-obsessed brutes, I’m not sure that the reputation is entirely deserved, or that our motivations in viewing porn are any less “sublime” than those of women. Certainly in the beginning, I did not go to porn in search of sex, for I was not completely clear about what sex was. All I knew is that I increasingly found women beautiful, and that I wanted to see more of them.
There is, in men, a reverence for the female form that I think would be difficult, if not impossible ever to fully convey to a woman. For the average man, the female body is imbued with a sense of mystery and of meaning that rises very nearly to the level of the mystical. Every detail seems to whisper promises of happiness, of excitement, of mystery, of adventure, of fulfillment. This, of course, is why our advertisements are so packed with photos of beautiful, and often scantily clad women. Advertisers are not simply making their ads “attractive” by using these attractive women, they are cynically associating the aura of mystery and meaning that surrounds the female body with their banal and useless products.
Many great poets and artists, citing Genesis as backing, have claimed – with, I think, good reason - that woman is the pinnacle of physical creation, God’s final and greatest masterpiece. Perhaps this is why many men look to the female form to satisfy their deepest cravings. They have surveyed the earth and found nothing more beautiful, nothing more exquisite, nothing more sublime: and so have devoted their lives more or less to pursuing this most beautiful thing.
Why, then, does it fail to satisfy? Because it does fail to satisfy.
What man who has given in to the craving to view porn can ever honestly say that he has found the happiness that he hoped to find? Almost inevitably he has found disappointment. At first, it is true, there is the excitement, the anticipation, and then the thing itself, and finally (since masturbation typically accompanies viewing porn) the climax. But then there is the aftermath – the sense of deflation, of waste, of emptiness, of pointlessness.
In time the porn addict may come to accept those brief, highly intoxicating moments of anticipation as the nearest thing he will ever experience to happiness. But if he is being honest he will admit that he has settled – that he really craves something much, much more satisfying, but does not know where to find it. Again, here I am speaking from personal experience as a man, but I have heard women speak of the same thing – the sense of repulsion that follows a bout of viewing porn and masturbation, and which ironically drives them back to porn in the hope of erasing that sense of emptiness and recapturing the ecstasy that briefly seemed akin to happiness.
There are, I think, two reasons for the sense of pointlessness associated with porn. The first is the most obvious.
Sex is designed to bring two people together, to unite them, to bridge the gap between them. And it is also designed to be creative, to have the potential for new life. Porn, on the other hand, is simply an attempt to fool the body and the mind into thinking that sex has occurred. But the body and the mind will not be fooled. Porn is to sex what the Twinkie is to food. The first few bites of the cellophane-wrapped bundle of oil and sugar may be delicious, but the taste soon cloys, while the Twinkie provides no meaningful nourishment to the body. Eat only Twinkies and you will soon lose your taste for real, nourishing food, and you will become sick. Porn is sex without an object, sex without nourishment. It is a parody of sex. It is like winning a lottery, only to be told the prize is in Monopoly money. Porn does not, and cannot satisfy, for the simple reason that it is not real: it is fantasy, a shadow of the real thing, a mockery of sex.
But there is also another, and deeper reason for this sense of pointlessness. No one has addressed this reason better than the British Christian writer C.S. Lewis.
In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis catalogues his encounters with what he labels “Joy.” Joy, in the sense that Lewis uses the word, is that overwhelming sense of desire, the “immortal longing,” which is at once painful and immeasurably pleasurable, that we sometimes experience when we encounter something beautiful. It is, of course, nothing other than the divine discontent, the “restlessness” spoken of by St. Augustine in his Confessions, the pulley of George Herbert’s poem that draws wearied man to the breast of God.
Lewis points out that some irreligious people have interpreted Joy as simply a manifestation of the erotic instinct. Now, this is not an entirely unreasonable interpretation, since Joy very often is associated with sex. A newlywed beholding his bride on their wedding night, for instance, will experience a veritable tidal wave of Joy. But even a newlywed will in time learn that sex, no matter how pleasurable and loving, is not an adequate answer to Joy. Sex may lead to the experience of Joy, but Joy is not the desire for sex. Joy is a desire for something immeasurably more, and those who go looking for that something more in sex, or even worse, in porn and masturbation, will be sorely disappointed.
“Those who think that if adolescents were all provided with suitable mistresses we should soon hear no more of ‘immortal longings’ are certainly wrong,” Lewis explains in Surprised by Joy. “I learned this mistake to be a mistake by the simple, if discreditable, process of repeatedly making it.”
I repeatedly followed that path – to the end. And at the end one found pleasure; which immediately resulted in the discovery that pleasure (whether that pleasure or any other) was not what you had been looking for. No moral question was involved; I was at this time as nearly non-moral on that subject as a human creature can be. The frustration did not consist in finding a “lower” pleasure instead of a “higher.” It was the irrelevance of the conclusion that marred it. The hounds had changed scent. One had caught the wrong quarry. You might as well offer a mutton chop to a man who is dying of thirst as offer sexual pleasure to the desire I am speaking of. I did not recoil from the erotic conclusion with chaste horror, exclaiming, “Not that!” My feelings could rather have been expressed in the words, “Quite. I see. But haven’t we wandered from the real point?” Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.
In other words, the reason porn fails to satisfy, is the same reason anything else fails to satisfy – because it is not God. And the reason we become addicted to porn is the same reason anyone becomes addicted to anything – because we do not possess, and do not know how to possess, God, and thus we frantically scramble about for something to take His place. Woman may be the pinnacle of creation, but even the most beautiful and most fascinating woman ultimately fails to satisfy a man, because creation is not enough – we desire the Creator. One need only consider the endless cycle of divorce and remarriage among the world’s most beautiful people in Hollywood to see how true this is.
If you have ever attended AA meetings, you will have noticed the curious fact that many of those who struggle the most with addiction, are also some of the most passionate, sensitive, and interesting people you will ever meet. AA meetings are packed with people who are anything but “normal” or “boring” or “safe” – they are filled with philosophers and poets and artists, who, in their desperate desire for happiness, have followed the rabbit down the rabbit hole, only to discover their terrible mistake. This is, I think, one reason why the 12-step program puts such a strong emphasis on a belief in a “higher power.” God is the only real, long-term solution to addiction: not only because He is the only thing that can possibly fulfill the infinitude of man’s desires, but also because He is also the only One who can give us the strength we need to fight the myriad temptations we will face, and to catch us when we inevitably fail: he is both the Goal and the Safety Net.
Yes, it may be possible for a certain type of person to beat a porn habit (or any other addiction) simply through willpower and psychological tricks. But in general, I do not believe most people with a porn problem will ever be able to ditch porn for good without developing a relationship with God. For without God we will continue our frantic searching for the Thing That Will Satisfy, a search that will be continually frustrated because there is nothing on Earth that can satisfy. And in our frustration we will return again and again to the thing that promises happiness, but instead leaves us feeling deflated and miserable.
Yes, a porn habit is a shameful thing. But if it brings us to our knees, and reveals our weakness and our need for something – or better yet, Someone – greater than ourselves, then it may yet prove to be our salvation.