I came across something on the internet today, the fact that a disproportionate number of internet searches for pornography come from Islamic countries, including those with the strictest interpretation of Sharia Law and the most repressive sexual ethos. You may read about it here.
I have long noted the coincidence of terror and sexual frustration. Time after time, from 9/11 on we learn that violent Islamists spend their last hours looking at porn and visiting strip clubs. The Muslim psychiatrist who went on a rampage at Fort Hood, atypical not only in being middle aged but in having achieved some worldly success, had a long history of sexual frustration, searching in vain for a virtuous Muslim woman even while spending his evenings drinking in strip clubs. This is a pattern that repeats itself time and again.
Lest Christians boast, I recently saw a poll of evangelical protestant men that showed over 60% of them, and 50% of pastors, regularly view porn. I doubt the results would differ much if the poll was answered honestly by conservative Catholics. And I recently saw a glossy Mormon magazine that had no less than three ads for programs freeing men from pornography addictions.
In other words a conservative sexual ethos not only does not immunize one from the attraction to porn, it seems on the face of it to make one more prone to it.
I am not thereby suggesting that the libertines are healthier. Sex is problematic for humans. It is hard to get it right, hard to integrate such a powerful and personal force.
But what I do say is that the way that most people who see the obligation to strive for sexual purity handle sexual temptation is not healthy either. I know that in my long bachelorhood I did it wrong, by repressing it or distracting myself. But such a strategy is like whack-a-mole. It just pops up elsewhere in a less healthy manifestation. I have seen too much in my many years living at the heart and on the margins of the ‘orthodox Catholic’ subculture to think it immune or to think that Catholics, even the ‘real Catholics’ are any more virtuous than anyone else.
The one time in my younger life when I made some progress was when I was preparing to enter the seminary, when I spent two hours a day in prayer and attended Mass daily. Sublimation works a lot better than repression, but it is hard to sustain, especially when one does not have hours a day to spend in silence.
Sex is at the heart of humanity, eros central to our being. It is the one time most humans are able to experience being and bliss, are able, even if just for a little while, to transcend earthly care. And it is the vehicle for the life-giving Trinity to enter into our lives. To co-create with God is a holy thing.
Eros is also highly problematic and troublesome. Repression always causes chaos. But there is a way to embrace sexuality, to glory in it, without inordinate desire, the ‘coveting’ which is one of only two sexual sins forbidden by the Ten Commandments, the other being adultery.
It is possible for a man to see a beautiful and sexually attractive woman as the flower of creation, to thank God for her beauty, to glory in her without sinning.
That is a discipline that is difficult, especially for young men. But if you do not learn it you can get distorted, and the next thing you know you are googling for some twisted and ugly perversion of the sexual urge instead of glorying in the beauty that God made.
For He did make it. TheDouay–Rheims translation of the Bible says that God made us to live in a paradise of pleasure. That is still His will, that humans experience ecstasy, that man and woman unite in bliss.
Problematic, given the mess we are born into, the traumas and guilt laid on us when very young. Everything human is easily distorted, the good things especially. And love and marriage are notoriously difficult.
But grace is poured out even more abundantly than darkness, if we are attuned to it.
Lord have mercy.