Day 52. A Discomfiting Question: SSA, Pr0n, Theology of the Body

As one who struggles with a porn addiction, I am constantly learning about the addiction itself. Matt Fradd’s The Porn Myth was my introduction. It’s an entirely non-religious argument against the use of pornography. And it talks in data points and psychology, brain chemistry, and feminism about the addictive properties of porn, about the objectification of women, about the destruction of marriages, and the harm it does to the user. Although at a few points, it talks about women using porn overall it assumes one thing: the user of porn is most often a heterosexual male. As I know porn is as common in the Gay community as rainbow flags, I began to wonder why this book (or any other book/blog/podcast/morals lecture, etc) did not hit on this same-sex angle of porn.

A more recent meditation on this topic was sparked by Episode 90 of Clerically Speaking on Pope St John Paul’s Theology of the Body. Around mark 43:53, Fr Anthony is talking about “using the other person as an object instead of another person.” In porn we objectify people, not considering their personality or being, in fact acting as if they have neither of these things: we begin to think about what we want to use the “thing” for more than the “thing” (person) themselves.

For a long time, I’ve been mulling over a rewrite or a reformulation of Matt’s thesis, but listening to Clerically Speaking it finally reached full-formation:

If a straight man, viewing such material, develops a warped perception of women in his fantasy life and eventually caries that perception outward to all women, what then does a same-sex attracted (SSA) man learn from such material? The abused party in same-sex porn is a man just as is the viewer. Is it possible that the viewer learns an internalized, man-directed version of the outward-directed hated of women described in Matt’s book? Gay erotica almost universally focuses on the passive partner: his experience, his facial expressions, things done to his body by the active partner. Abusive material is even more so focused on his pain, his trauma. Even the active partner in an abusive sexual encounter is – when viewing porn – trained (hypnotized) into seeing all men including himself as, basically, sex machines whose only purpose and happiness is more sex. The viewer learns to objectify himself, to hate himself, to loath his desires not as sins, but as a further corruption of eroticism – to feel “sexy” about that.

If this is true, one would expect to see sexual adventurers looking for bigger and bigger “hits” of sex, eventually falling into self-abuse and drugs, capped off with loneliness; all of which will get insistently described as happiness and an exercise in personal freedom.

Check.

Check.

Check.

And double check.

To this let’s add a new spin (for us as Christians): the link between drugs and the search for a more exciting “hit” has given rise to Satanism. I’m not sure why Satanism and meth use or poppers use has gotten linked, but it has. No one actually believes it, mind you, – because no one believes in anything now – but black magic always makes things more exciting, right? There’s also a huge uptick in online pixels dedicated to this sort of content. It’s right there next to the “regular” content. Oh, you like that? Maybe you’ll like the satanic form as well? And so the hater of souls is welcomed as their liberator. And as always, where he is named, self-hate rules. And the self-hate is eroticized: I’m a worthless failure and that’s sexy. Let me find a real man to beat me up. This does get called “happiness” and “freedom”.

As mentioned back in February, Chasity is not just about a “rule” but rather about embodying the Kingdom of God. I could follow all the rules and still never manage to embody the Kingdom of God on Earth. Fr Harrison and Fr Anthony, following Pope St John Paul, reminded their listeners that the human person is, as it were, the sacramental presence of God in the world.

Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within him the interior dimension of the gift. With it he brings into the world his particular likeness to God, with which he transcends and dominates also his “visibility” in the world, his corporality, his masculinity or femininity, his nakedness. A reflection of this likeness is also the primordial awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body, pervaded by the mystery of original innocence.

Thus, in this dimension, a primordial sacrament is constituted, understood as a sign that transmits effectively in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial. This is the mystery of truth and love, the mystery of divine life, in which man really participates. In the history of man, original innocence begins this participation and it is also a source of original happiness. The sacrament, as a visible sign, is constituted with man, as a body, by means of his visible masculinity and femininity. The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.

Theology of the Body, Pope St John Paul

We damage this presence, no, worse… We desecrate this sacrament when we destroy the sign of God’s primordial sacrament in the world, that is the human person. All sin is both personal and also corporate. We each sin in a way that hurts us as individuals. But all sin also hurts the human collective as we are all of one nature. Each individual’s act of virtue strengthens us all in the battle against sin. Each individual’s act of depravity weakens us all in that same battle. Yet I do not bear the culpability for your sin. Your sin cannot cause my damnation: for that, it takes only my own sin. All porn engages the sin of lust, yes. It also tends towards sexual objectification and destruction. This injures the interconnectedness of human nature, the relationship of men and women, and lends to building a culture of death. Opposite-sex content causes lust to arise in the first person with objectification directed towards the second person which eventually may rebound on the first person. I cannot be a “subject” while making all around me objects: eventually, I will become an object as well. Same-sex content, however, causes both of those results are directed towards the first person. I objectify myself, I hate myself for being an object but being an object is hot. Both of the “falls” are manifested in the one observer.

There are no Catholic books out there on this topic. Where clergy try to help men away from porn they do so not thinking differently about men who experience same-sex attraction, not thinking about men who are attacking themselves directly with this content. I raise this once at a Courage meeting and the reaction was a stunned sort of silence. With no theology to back this up, it would seem that this is content more pernicious to the human social framework in that it is a double attack on one “link in the chain”, but that’s just my idea.

Ending this here, for now, as I’m on a steep learning curve here, but the TL:DR is the person is the image, icon, primordial sacrament of God in the whole world. Destruction of that icon – either in myself or in you – is an attack on humanity’s role in the economy of salvation. Porn is a very serious attack that can, in cases of SSA, cause a sort of double-whammy where the viewer becomes both the attacker and the attacked in a self-destroying cycle of despair.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.