Bishop Fred Henry

April 11, 2011

"What the world needs now is _______."

If most of us were asked to fill in the above blank, we'd likely say "love" and would likely echo the Luther Vandross lyrics of "What the world needs now, Is love, sweet love, It's the only thing, That there's just too little of."

However, as good as that answer might be, today, I'm inclined to fill in "a good theology of the body."


I was recently introduced to statistical data collected about the pornography industry:

  • Size of the Industry $57 billion worldwide = $12 billion U.S.

    Adult videos $20 billion; escort services $11 billion; magazines $7.5 billion; sex clubs $5 billion; phone sex $4.5 billion; cable and pay per view $2.5 billion; Internet $2.5 billion; CD-Rom $1.5 billion; novelties $1 billion; other $1.5 billion.

  • Porn revenue is larger than the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises.
  • U.S. porn revenue exceeds the combined revenues of ABC, CBS and NBC ($6.2 billion).
  • Child pornography generates $3 billion annually.

Facing the reality of pornography can shock at any age.


  • Pornographic websites 4.2 million (12 per cent of total websites).
  • Pornographic pages: 372 million.
  • Daily pornographic search engine requests: 68 million (25 per cent of total search engine requests).
  • Daily pornographic emails 2.5 billion (eight per cent of total emails).
  • Average daily pornographic emails/user 4.5 per Internet user.
  • Websites offering illegal child pornography: 100,000.
  • Sexual solicitations of youth made in chat rooms: 89 per cent.
  • Youths who receive sexual solicitation: 20 per cent.
  • Worldwide visitors to pornographic websites: 72 million annually.


  • Average age of first Internet exposure to pornography: eight.
  • Nearly one-third (31 per cent) have a computer in their bedroom and one in five (20 per cent) have an Internet connection there.
  • Largest consumer of Internet pornography: 12 to 17 age group.
  • Fifteen to 17 year olds having multiple hard-core exposures: 80 per cent.
  • Eight to 16 year olds having viewed porn online: 90 per cent (most while doing homework).
  • Seven to 17 year olds who would freely give out home address: 29 per cent.
  • Seven to 17 year olds who would freely give out email address: 14 per cent.
  • Children's characters linked to thousands of porn links: 26 (including Pokeman and Action Man).

Pornography offends against the divine plan for the body and for the intimacy of sexual union. It fixates on certain normal bodily functions in an immodest and obsessive way. It offends against chastity generically and in ways that reveal its specific evil.


Following the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can identify several ways in which pornography harms both those who produce it and those who use it.

The Pontifical Council for Social Communications (Pornography and Violence in the Media: A Pastoral Response, nos. 14-17). describes the evils of behaviour or character that result from pornography, such as:

It can have a progressively desensitizing effect, gradually rendering individuals morally numb.

It can be addictive, causing some viewers to require progressively more perverse material to achieve the same degree of stimulation.

It can undermine marriage and family life since it demeans their sacred value.

In some cases, it can incite its users to commit more overtly violent crimes such as rape, child abuse and even murder.


We come to know one another through our bodily experiences of seeing, talking, and listening to each other. God intends the affective and aggressive drives to support each other in maturation toward strong, faithful and self-giving love.

When the affective drive turns to lust and the aggressive drive to violence, both the integrity of the person and communion between persons are lost.

Issues involving sexuality, which offers the prospect of the most intimate experience of the drive toward social communion, are not easily addressed. Even within morally-deformed acts, there can lurk a hint of the ability to satisfy humanity's powerful longing for intimacy.

This is the promise with which pornography often ensnares a person.

The pleasure it gives is offered as a substitute for genuine intimacy. The result of this pleasure is not intimacy but a disconnection from oneself and from others.


It can even become addictive. The body and its functions, including sex, are reduced to the object of increasingly bizarre fantasies that must be taken in larger doses to reproduce the thrill of the initial involvement with pornography.

In dealing with pornography, it is important not to treat only the symptom. As an illegitimate response to legitimate desires for emotional and physical intimacy, pornography must find its remedy in a conversion to an understanding of the body and sexuality found in their intrinsic meaning as well as in revelation.

This conversion culminates in an active witness to the dignity of our embodied existence. It includes sensitivity to each person's need for the bond with others that God has placed in us. Such a witness enables us to overcome the deceptions of pornography that separate us from a true appreciation for our bodies.

Isolating sexuality from a moral context and using it to titillate or degrade others for one's own profit or pleasure is always wrong.