Pornography, US bishops and feminists

Naming it “corrosive” and a “dark” sign of contemporary American culture, the U.S. Catholic bishops approved a document this week condemning the production and use of pornography as a mortal sin.

Reaction from the bishops’ critics didn’t take long. Some said the bishops themselves have very serious problems with pornography; others pointed out the not-so-distant sex abuse crisis.

The upshot was that the bishops ought to have different priorities.

One could be forgiven for confusing this disagreement with one from the 1980s.

Didn’t it play out over a generation ago — with the result that our culture basically accepts porn as part of sexual liberation?

Perhaps. But the era of magazine and video porn has been replaced by online porn, and this may lead us to wonder if Catholic teaching on this topic is worth a second look.

Indeed, the bishops’ new initiative resisting porn is likely to gain many unexpected allies, including many feminists.

The digital age has produced a situation in which on-demand video of virtually any sexual act is available for free at the click of a mouse. Last year, one site alone had 18.35 billion visits, leading some to call porn “the wallpaper of our lives.”

And as virtual reality porn becomes available, it is difficult to see how this trend might reverse itself.

The result has been that porn now dominates the American sexual imagination. What sex is for has been “pornifed.”

The rise of “hook-up culture” is instructive here: Such casual and impersonal sex is, unsurprisingly, very similar to a porn scene.

Feminists — from Andrea Dworkin in the ‘80s to Naomi Wolf today — are among the few allies joining the Catholic bishops in energetically resisting this trend.

The porn industry, it turns out, is overwhelmingly patriarchal and works out terribly for women. Continue reading

  • Charles C. Camosy is associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University.
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