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This is the first article in a series on modesty in a culture of shamelessness.

April 7, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — Much of current fashion, especially for women, is an assault upon the ultimate good of those who wear such clothing. It is cunningly designed not only for attraction, but also for enticement and seduction, reinforcing the great lie that dominates modern consciousness. This lie tells us that the body is simply an object we possess as our own, to do with as we like.

Semi-nudity has become commonplace on magazine covers, advertisements, at swimming pools and beaches. Total nudity is becoming more frequent in media such as television and film, and is rampant in the vastly more popular “private” cultural consumption of the internet. Juxtapose with these near-universal phenomena the fact that a large and growing number of marriages now end in divorce or separation, that self-denial and sacrifice have become widely discredited concepts, and that the pursuit of happiness through the avenues of sensual satisfaction have produced a profoundly disordered society. No people in history has been so richly rewarded with pleasures, and no people in history has ever been so unhappy.

The images of electronic culture offer us an alternative world of experience—based in root human expriences which in former ages were guided and protected by social traditions and moral norms, by healthy family life and by the wisdom of the older generations. In our times, however, these vital safeguards have been increasingly neutralized by an imposed social revolution and the overwhelming of consciousness (and conscience) by a simultaneous media revolution. Sexuality as “virtual reality” has become immediately accessible, immediately pleasurable, offers an epicurean banquet of unrestrained sensualities, and can be plunged into without any accountability to other human beings (as long as it is kept secret). It is so much easier than the long labours of building relationships of authentic love.

According to a 2007 study, the pornography industry in the U. S. A. went from one billion dollars a year in revenues to 3 billion a year within the preceding two-year period. Now, eight years later, the pornography industry in general takes in 97 billion dollars per year worldwide, including 13 billion dollars in the U. S. alone. Three billion of the latter is through internet sales of pornographic images and videos. While these statistics are startling enough, it should be noted that 90% of all pornography users exclusively access free online material, which means that the volume of consumption (and addiction) is far higher than the monetary statistics indicate. Agencies monitoring internet usage state that there have been more than 542 million searches for pornography during the first three months of this year, 2015.

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Though various studies differ by a few percentage points, it is now estimated that approximately 66% of young men view pornography at least once a week, and 18% of women view it at least once a week. These percentages rise still higher according to the length of the study period: for example, to how many people view pornography at least once a month or sporadically during the year. And lest we presume that Christians are immune to its power, numerous studies have arrived at similar findings: Familysafe Media, for example, reports that 47% of Christians polled say that pornography is a problem in their homes. According to a recent poll by ChristiaNet, 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women regularly view pornography.

The Internet Filter Review and other Net Accountability surveys claim that 17% to 25% of Christian women in the U. S. regularly view pornography. In a recent poll by the Global Christian Center, 50% of the Evangelical pastors surveyed admitted to having viewed pornography during the preceding year. While a reliable study of pornography use among Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline Protestant pastors is difficult to find, the clerical sexual scandals in which pornography is involved indicate that it is a widespread and growing problem, even among people of strong faith and morality. Such is the power of this medium and the corrosive atmosphere in which we are all immersed. Catholic priests have said that pornography is now one of the sins most frequently brought to them in the confessional and in counseling.

In short, we are living in the midst of a plague of epic proportions.

Michael D. O’Brien is a painter, novelist, and commentator on faith, family, and culture.