Recently, I watched a 3-part documentary series called Brain, Heart, World. It was produced by an organization called “Fight the New Drug,” which describes itself on its website as: a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts. Use of pornography in contemporary society is disturbingly widespread, and it has affected in obvious ways the content of mainstream entertainment as well (just try to watch a show on Netflix without fast-forwarding!). To understand the extent of the problem, consider the fact that 40 million Americans regularly visit pornographic websites, and that 35% of all internet downloads are related to pornography. The world’s largest purveyor of online pornographic content reports that it gets 28.5 billion visits per year and has 68 years’ worth of content uploaded on its site. The Huffington Post has reported that the average age at which people are first exposed to pornography is 11 years old. So, the statistics reveal that the use of and exposure to pornography is pervasive, especially among young people – though not just among the young. Yet, the nature of the issue makes it difficult to talk about. That’s why I think Brain, Heart, World is a helpful resource for those who want to understand why pornography is so harmful.
The series is effective because it features doctors, scientists, and sociologists who share clinical research that demonstrate the powerful bio-chemical effect that pornography has on the human brain (Part 1: Brain). It also introduces the viewer to people, both men and women, whose pornography viewing has affected their self-worth and threatened to ruin their relationships with others (Part 2: Heart). Finally, the series concludes by showing the ripple effects of widespread consumption of pornography, including human trafficking, violence, and the dehumanization of those involved in the pornography industry (Part 3: World). Far from harmless, the use of pornography ruins lives. It changes people, threatening marriages and families. It coarsens our culture. It leads to loneliness, sadness, and heartbreak.
Brain, Heart, World intentionally does not treat pornography as a moral issue. It’s important to remember, however, that the use of pornography is always immoral. That’s because every human being is made in the image of God. When we use pornography, we reduce the image of God to an object for our own possession, thereby distorting and degrading it. At the same time, we must acknowledge that a large number of men and women are struggling with the use of pornography. So many of them want to be freed from it, but the addictive nature of pornography and its ubiquity online, makes it very difficult to overcome. But it is possible, especially with the help of others. In recent years I have been very impressed by the number of young people, including high school-aged kids, who have formed accountability groups with their friends, in which they encourage each other to avoid pornography and to strive for growth in chastity. They speak about the importance of the sacraments in the struggle – especially frequent confession and the Eucharist. They seem to know that the virtue of chastity leads to greater happiness, because it helps us to see the fullness of the humanity of our neighbor, freeing our hearts to love them as Our Lord commands us.
If you’re interested in watching Brain, Heart, World you can view it for free at https://brainheartworld.org/ It’s probably not appropriate for children or more sensitive viewers. But parents should seriously consider watching it with their teenagers (screen it first!) so that they understand that pornography is not harmless and certainly not healthy. It is in fact a grave threat to building up a good society, consisting of healthy people in healthy relationships, and to growing in personal sanctity, the very thing for which we are made.