Pornography can give the illusion of what a real relationship is like.
VANCOUVER – Most Catholics know making and viewing pornography is sinful. Many also know that viewing it can become an addiction.
But some may not know it's also become an epidemic that is tearing many Catholic couples apart and, in the process, wounding authentic masculinity and femininity, and polluting the human beings involved.
Father Alan Boisclair, coordinator of the Vancouver Archdiocese's Theology of the Body office, said the purpose of pornography is to disguise the truth and dignity of the person by over-accentuating sexual values.
"Not only is the other person stripped and dehumanized, which is the specific sin of the 'lustful look' forbidden by the Ninth Commandment, but pornography becomes an addictive obsession, an 'insatiability of the gift,' since it merely appeases but never fulfills the deepest desires of our heart."
"We would use the term 'epidemic' to describe the situation," said Peter White, an Abbotsford counsellor who specializes in sex and pornography addictions.
White spoke to The B.C. Catholic recently with fellow Abbotsford counsellor Jake Khym, the founder of Life Restoration Counselling Services.
"I would say it comes up as a daily issue within our practices," White said.
The two plan to work with the archdiocese's Office of Life, Marriage, and Family (OLMF) to develop a program to battle pornography addictions.
"One of the lies is, 'Once you are hooked on pornography you can never be free,'" said Pavel Reid, director of OLMF.
"There are many men who have found help and are no longer addicted."
Khym said pornography "seems like it's fine because of the pleasure you receive, but it's actually very deadly."
Pornography addiction takes God's gift of sexuality and twists what was intended to be good and poisons it, he said.
By making sexuality about pleasure, not persons, "it strikes at the heart of what it means to be human," he said.
Boisclair said pornography destroys unity and love in a marriage by alienating each spouse from the other.
It annihilates both the other and the self as authentic persons, he said. "It is a formula for despair, since it acts precisely against the needs of the human heart for love, and of the human soul for what is sacred."
According to a 2009 study on Internet pornography by Jerry Ropelato, there are roughly 400 million pornographic websites. The study said there were only 1.3 million websites in 2003.
White and Khym said one major reason pornography is so rampant is because of the three As: availability, anonymity and affordability.
"Pornography 50 years ago was a different animal than it is today because of the Internet," Khym said. "Because pornography is so affordable and accessible, there is a high degree of anonymity that allows usage and consumption to go up while the risk doesn't go up."
"It's a world without perceived consequence," added White.
Khym knows firsthand what pornography can do. He struggled with the addiction throughout his life and it almost cost him his marriage.
"Pornography gives you the illusion of what a real relationship looks like," Khym said.
"When something like this comes into your marriage, where your spouse is seeking sexual pleasure elsewhere, it's horrible," said Khym's wife Heather. "I felt like what I deserved and what I had was being ripped away from me."
She said she felt betrayed by her husband for breaking their wedding vows.
"Pornography can affect a woman in all areas, depending on how severe her husband's use of it is," said Melissa Guzik of Guzik Professional Counselling Services in Edmonton.
Guzik said spouses feel they have been betrayed and have lost their dignity. "They feel their marriage has been an illusion and the person they thought they were married to isn't there."
According to Dr. Randall Hyde and Mark Kastleman, pornography is indeed an addiction. The pair authored a white paper that explains how pornography addicts have similar actions to those of addicts of drugs or alcohol.
"Some cringe from labelling pornography as 'addictive' because they believe doing so affords the porn user an excuse: 'I can't help myself, I'm addicted,'" they wrote, noting that view is preposterous.
"There is always a choice when it comes to breaking free from addictive behaviours."
However, that choice to seek help can be difficult for many, especially in the Church, because it is difficult to announce they suffer from pornography addiction.
"A person can pretty successfully stand up in a church community and say they are 10 days sober and would probably receive applause," White said.
But pornography is different, he noted. A pornography addict feels he is discouraged from sharing his struggle. "It requires a boatload of courage, but the payoff is substantial."
"Unlike other moral problems, pornography can afflict men who are serious about their faith," added Msgr. Gregory Smith.
The pastor of Christ the Redeemer Parish in West Vancouver said men become addicted to pornography at a young age before they have significant moral defences.
"By the time they become serious Christians they don't have the full freedom to avoid some of the compulsive aspects of this behaviour."
White cited a study from York University that found teens aged 12 to 17 were the primary consumers of pornography.
Khym, from Abbotsford, concluded the primary culprit behind pornography is the devil.
"The culmination of husband and wife in marital intimacy is the lens through which we can peer into heaven," Khym said. "So if there is anything that the enemy would want to attack it is the window through which we could see what heaven looks like."