Porn among Friends is no laughing matter 2000-02-14
Sometimes the sitcoms teach us things they didn’t even mean to teach us.
I’ve long been annoyed that, on Friends, the male characters are all
portrayed as avid consumers of pornography. It’s treated as harmless
male fun. In one scene, Chandler wanted to do something nice to
apologize to Joey, and he wondered aloud, “How do you send a basket of
But last week’s episode featured an interesting twist. The gang
mistakenly thinks their cohort Phoebe is starring in porn movies. (It
turns out to be her twin sister, using her name.) When they actually
find a movie starring “Phoebe,” they bring it home to watch it. But Joey
won’t look at it. He sits facing away from the TV, saying “You guys
can’t watch that! It’s Phoebe! This is sick!”
Hmmm. Why is it okay -- even harmless -- to watch those movies when he
doesn't know the people involved, but “sick” when it’s somebody he
knows? Why does everything suddenly change?
The answer can be summed up in one word: lust.
It’s important to understand what lust is and what it isn’t. And,
fortunately, we have John Paul II to explain it to us. Lust, according
to JPII, is not the same thing as sexual attraction. Sexual attraction
is a normal part of our wiring. Men were made to be physically attracted
to women, and vice versa. It’s a big part of the motivation to get us
together to make babies, and thus populate this world and the next.
Sexual attraction, as I mentioned in another recent column, is correctly
ordered when it is part of what JPII calls the “storehouse of virtues.”
In other words, when we see a person as an image and likeness of God,
and feel drawn to give self to that person out of love, then sexual
attraction is correctly ordered.
Lust turns all of that upside down. The person becomes nothing more than
a means to personal sexual satisfaction. Nowhere is that more true than
in pornography, which is absolutely and completely de-humanizing. These
women are not seen as women. They’re seen as things. Sure, Hugh Hefner
may publish a few little facts about his latest centerfold (birthday,
major, favorite flower, whatever), in an effort to humanize her. But I
would imagine those statistics are pretty tough to read while holding
the magazine sideways. It doesn’t work.
And it can’t work. The men who read Playboy don’t want these women to be
humanized. They want them de-humanized. After all, they’re not
fantasizing about having intellectual conversations with these women.
They’re not fantasizing about these women themselves at all, except as
Pornography is degrading. It degrades and denies the image and likeness
of God in these women, turning them into mere means to selfish sexual
satisfaction. But there’s more. In doing that, it degrades the reader,
the “consumer” of pornography, as well.
Sexual images are very strong. They burn themselves onto the mind in a
way that nothing else does. There is a reason for that, of course. The
intensity of sexual images is supposed to be one more thread binding a
husband and wife together. When their sexual images are limited to each
other, then the strength of those images actually contributes to the
strength and vitality of their marriage.
But when those images come into the brain via other means, watch out.
When we de-humanize people sexually in our minds, we de-humanize
sexuality, period. Our brains can’t cordon sex off into two different
realms, “loving” and “using.” It’s all or nothing. So avid consumers of
pornography, over time, lose their ability to give themselves in love
I’ve seen it happen over and over again. A husband spends too much time
on the internet or with his magazines, and he loses interest in making
love to his wife. Often he begins looking for sex elsewhere, with people
he doesn’t know, at the same time. It seems strange, to say the least.
Why look elsewhere when he has a wife at home? But “making love” and
“having sex” are two very different things. Once he’s de-humanized
enough women, the only way to have sex with his wife is to de-humanize
her too. And if he still has enough decency left to refuse to do that,
he’s left with no sexual outlet except with other women he can
de-humanize. Wives, of course, don’t understand this, and take the
rejection personally. It devastates them. But, as I heard one expert
(whose name now escapes me) describe it, expecting someone like that to
find satisfaction by more loving marital sex is like expecting an
alcoholic to find satisfaction by drinking more water. They’re two
completely different substances.
Pornography is not “harmless.” Every woman depicted in those images is
somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s friend. She is an
image and likeness of God. Treating her as less than that degrades her.
It degrades the men who view her that way. It degrades us as a society.
It degrades the incredible, awesome gift of sexuality. I hope Joey and
Chandler figure that out soon.