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Arrested Development: The Destruction Of Masculinity In A Pornified Culture

The modern world of pornography is a force to be reckoned with: Porn consumption has never been higher in the history of the internet age, with content that is more graphic and violent than ever before.

Porn draws almost 40 million daily users (70 percent men and 30 percent women), comprising almost 40 percent of all internet traffic. According to statistics reported in The Witherspoon Institute’s 2010 report, The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations, 66 percent of men ages 18 to 34 visit a porn site every month, and it is estimated that between 40 and 50 percent of regular internet porn users ultimately develop signs of sexual addiction. More men than women view porn (at least at this point in time): A 2007 survey of American college students showed that 70 percent of the women in the sample had never looked at porn, compared to just 14 percent of their male peers. Accordingly, the porn industry is huge: 4 billion dollars a year is spent on video pornography, more than that on football, baseball, and basketball combined. To put it simply, our culture is oversexed; our culture has become “pornified,” as writer Pamela Paul put it in 2005. What does this mean, and why should we care?

Although religious arguments against pornography abound, increasingly more critiques of the interpersonal wreckage of pornography are coming from secular voices in public discourse. “For most of human history,” feminist Naoimi Wolf wrote in 2003, “the erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn” (my emphasis). Indeed, porn may be determined problematic according to arguments that appeal not only to morality but also to our basic biology.

Dubbed “the new narcotic,” pornography is very much a physical matter, rooted in the biological complexity of our sexual structure, according to neuroscientist William Struthers in his 2009 book Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. Porn sacrifices relationships with real women for the allure of an image of a woman on a screen, a pattern akin to what Struthers calls “a consumption of sexual poison that becomes part of the fabric of the mind.” These effects are exacerbated by the response of the specifically male neurological makeup to porn’s pervasive objectification of the female body.

From a biological perspective, viewing porn fundamentally changes the way that we see each other: The brain picks up sexually relevant cues, triggering arousal and a series of events that deepen neurological pathways of habit formation. Each time an unhealthy sexual pattern is repeated, this pathway is neurologically (and emotionally) eroded into a trough. So when an adolescent male uses porn, he begins to set in place a neurological habit that creates a strong neural association between the images, arousal, and sexual release. When activated simultaneously over and over, this constellation of environmental stimuli reinforces a neurological groove that makes viewing porn pleasurable in a biological sense.

Furthermore, the male brain on porn increasingly generates testosterone in order to heighten sexual desire. If porn is viewed often enough, the brain can be thought of as always in a “ready” state to interpret just about anything as a trigger for sexual fantasizing (whether it’s explicit porn or a girl in class whose skirt is a bit on the short side). These neurobiological findings of porn have dizzyingly high social costs for men in particular, including: lower attraction of females to male porn users, real-life sexual incompetence and dissatisfaction, increased rates of depression, desensitization to violence, and habituation to increasingly extreme forms of porn.

Underlying these costs is the broader argument that porn prevents the formation of masculinity and healthy sexual identity in adolescent males, the most impressionable users of pornography. The dangers of porn are only amplified by increasing cultural confusion about what “being a man” really means (cf. any tongue-in-cheek BuzzFeed listicle), as well as a worrying lack of male role models through broken family structures and modern technological isolation from wider communities. This leaves the young adult male essentially alone in his attempt to construct a model of authentic masculinity. The sense of the masculine grows as it is challenged, but without frequent and instructive challenges (ideally, from fathers or father-figures) it runs the risk of becoming at best, stagnant, at worst, warped. The most pernicious form of this warped masculinity comes in the temptation of pornography, which Struthers says “hijacks a man’s mental world” and impedes his progress toward becoming the best man he can be. As a result, we have today a generational arrested development of young males who remain in the emotional stages of boyhood.

Moreover, our culture has repeatedly diminished a crucial aspect of manhood by misconstruing it as “feminine”: that is, the male need for intimacy. Based on a relational anthropology of the person, we ought to examine how this misunderstood aspect of the masculine makeup contributes to the way in which young men relate to one another, and in so doing, form their own sense of masculine identity with which they present themselves to the world.

Erik Erikson, a 20th-century developmental psychologist known for his theory on psychosocial development, provides a helpful structure for the adolescent search for identity in his 1968 work Identity: Youth and Crisis. In the search for a sense of continuity, Erikson says, adolescents must “install lasting idols and ideals as guardians of a final identity.”  In order to combat the uncertainty of this stage, the adolescent “looks most fervently for men and ideas to have faith in, which also means men and ideas in whose service it would seem worthwhile to prove oneself trustworthy.”  Thus Eriksonian personality theory posits that the primary struggle facing an adolescent is that between identity and role confusion. Indeed, successful development of identity in adolescence sets the stage for the next crucial battle in young adulthood between intimacy and isolation.

If no appealing examples of positive identity are offered to the adolescent, then the choice of a negative identity becomes attractive. Such an identity, Erikson asserts, is “perversely based on all those identifications and roles which, at critical stages of development, had been presented to them as most undesirable or dangerous and yet also as most real.” This concept of negative identity, I believe, encompasses the identity gained through the experience of viewing porn, for each entry into the world of porn further cements the idea in the male adolescent’s brain that this is the real world, and that the women in these pictures and videos are real women. The fleeting sense of novelty and control during this experience draws him back for more until these virtual escapes form an intrinsic part of reality and identity for the adolescent. After all, as embodied beings, our thoughts translate to actions, which, when repeated often enough, become the habits by which we understand ourselves and form the identities we present to others.

Erikson’s discussion of the difficulty in adolescence of creating and preserving identity rings truer today, perhaps, than when he first wrote it, considering the current lack of a healthy cultural and social support system for the modern male teen or young adult. The necessary difficulties of navigating relationships with his female peers at school, for example, just may not be worth the trouble when he has constant, free and anonymous access to the objectified women in porn. As he compares the obligations of real-world relationships to the “freedom” from accountability in the virtual realm (all the while battling the insecure sense of identity in adolescence) it should hardly be surprising that he prefers the online world of fantasy. After all, he’s the one in control, right? He may be alone, but at least he calls the shots with each effortless click. Erikson even goes so far as to say that the “youth who is not sure of his identity throws himself into acts of intimacy which are ‘promiscuous’ without true fusion or real self-abandon.” What’s missing here is an opportunity for the young man to be vulnerable in the real world with real women.

Erikson’s work urges us to consider the full trajectory of adolescence and how modern pornography is toxic to the process therein of healthy identity development, especially for young males. The robust ideological commitments that society should present to youth in the form of continued traditions are today either absent or rendered meaningless in an individualistic and emotivist culture. Navigating the consequent vacuum through the isolating world of porn has severe implications for the adolescent male, whose isolation spurs withdrawal from the social interactions and commitments needed to develop his relationally masculine identity. We must call for a renewed culture that will mitigate the struggles of youth by offering instead an account of “the good life” as it relates to the person conceived as rational, volitional, emotional, and ultimately relational.

Such a conception of human nature and culture is reflected in Covenant Eyes, an internet accountability software company that began in 2000 based on the concept that behavioral change related to viewing online porn comes through relational accountability rather than the superficial use of technological filters. Instead of using a “filter mentality” that simply blocks access to porn sites, Covenant Eyes holds its customers accountable for their online histories by setting them up with “accountability partners,” often family members or close friends, who have access to their online activities. Accountability without filtering, according to this logic, allows us to choose virtue freely of our own accord—striking the root of the problem—whereas filtering without accountability is simply a “prison of safety,” a flimsy Band-Aid solution that is hardly sustainable. Companies like Covenant Eyes help to renew our culture and our place in it because they operate on an anthropology of the person that respects the autonomy of the individual within the broader context of relationships with our family, friends, and communities. Initiatives like these can effectively help those troubled by porn, especially young adolescent males who crave both freedom and relationships with others.

I’d like to expand on the arguments I’ve sketched above in a final reflection. We do live in a “pornified” culture that at our every turn pressures us to choose such instant pleasures of the modern age. In gratifying these temptations we run the risk of warping the alignment of our will with what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful. It does not follow from this fact that we are passive products of our society, and thus excused from the choices we make. Rather, we form ourselves through our own choices, which impact both ourselves and the communities of which we are a part. Wrong action is never private, simply because we are not private beings, but relational creatures whose happiness is contingent on the happiness of those around us. Although to some extent we are all products of the culture in which we live, we are, each of us, individually accountable for the choices we make. And here enters the blessing of being human: Although we may choose incorrectly, we are never so far removed from our human agency (aided by grace) that we cannot still choose the light shining in the darkness.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the Irish Rover on April 4 and was adapted from Ratiu’s presentation for a panel on pornography at the 2014 Edith Stein Conference at the University of Notre Dame. It is reprinted with permission.


Readers are invited to discuss essays in argumentative and fraternal charity, and are asked to help build up the community of thought and pursuit of truth that Ethika Politika strives to accomplish, which includes correction when necessary. The editors reserve the right to remove comments that do not meet these criteria and/or do not pertain to the subject of the essay.

  • Charles Russell

    Congratulations to Octavia Ratiu, M.S., on her inaugural piece for Ethika Politika! As always she presents a well reasoned, towering indictment of pornography usage.

    Contra Ratiu’s conception of a Covenant Eyes culture that upholds authentic anthropology wherein human freedom is established, it seems rather CE shames its users into pseudo-goodness. For, though the Christian is called to particular way of life, it is not simply a matter of keeping up appearances. It remains, however, that pornography usage is something for which shame is indicated, and that shame ought not to be eschewed as evil. But shame does not engender freedom, it rather causes man to hide from the one who can unfetter him completely. Thus, as Dr. Margaret Schlintz wisely said, “The only [human] way to overcome pornography addiction is to develop a hatred for it.” What we need then is a culture of authentic intimacy. And it is precisely articles such as the present one that espouse a concrete connection between the use of pornography and the destruction that is wrought by that selfsame usage that help us to do that.

  • Daniel

    Good to see that all the women have not suffered from their porn usage.

    • Charles Russell

      Women suffer just as men do from porn usage. Unfortunately, there is very little data about porn usage among women. The only reason I know it’s a problem for women is because priest friends have asked me about it, saying a growing number of women are bringing it to confession.

      • Steve D.

        The alarming number of female teachers having sex with their students, and the fact many women now dress like porn stars is proof enough that porn is an equal opportunity evil.

        • Charles Russell

          I see what you’re saying, and I agree that there are some serious social evils that may or may not coincide win the advent of the porn industry. I’m not certain I would have tied those things to porn, though. They certainly may be, of course, but I can point to other plausible reasons for that behavior apart from porn.

        • 8:23


  • Great article. Congratulations. I’m from Switzerland and I work with adolescents (as an anthropology teacher). Is there a way (email) to contact the author of this article. I would be very interested in getting more material. Thank you and congratulations again!

  • Aaron Taylor

    Psychology of the modern variety is a post-industrial revolution pseudoscience that tries to dominate people by planting a mechanism of social control inside their mind (unlike, say, the discourses of law, which attempt to restrain from without). Its part of the same network of capitalistic oppresion as the porn industry. Both porn and modern psychology are evils to be resisted, barriers to true human freedom.

    • RaymondNicholas

      Could you please restate in simpler terms what your ideas are without all the modern psychobabble? Also, broad conclusions without examples, without cause and effect, and using inductive reasoning to boot, is never compelling.

      • Aaron Taylor

        Well, i just said that i don’t consider psychology to be a real science. And i did not use any psychological jargon except from the word “psychology” itself. So accusing me of psychobabbling is a bit like accusing an atheist of priestcraft.

        • RaymondNicholas

          Psychobabble meaning nonsensical jargon, get it? You also did not respond to my last sentence, which is the usual when a person cannot defend their statements with proofs.

          • Aaron Taylor

            “Psychobabble” means “jargon used in popular psychology” (Oxford Dictionary), not “nonsensical jargon.”

            And I didn’t respond to your last sentence because it makes no sense. My original statement wasn’t “inductive reasoning.” Nor was it “deductive reasoning.” I just stated a conclusion, not premises. So you can’t possibly tell whether its inductive or deductive.

            If you want to use terms (e.g., “psychobabble,” “inductive reasoning”) please learn what they mean beforehand.

          • RaymondNicholas

            You make meaningless technical points regarding my application of the terms in question. Jargon: dominating people (implying intentional control) by planting social controls in the mind. How is this domination done exactly? Am I taken in my sleep unknowingly and subjected to the Alex treatment? Would like examples of the effects. If true, how does it make for capitalistic oppression? More examples please. And what do you mean by capitalistic oppression in the first place? Who is oppressed in the capitalistic markets, generally speaking? Are the laws governing our capitalistic system immoral? If so, more examples, and further, where is psychology, other, than say, in marketing techniques, used to force us or trick us to work in an oppressed system and to buy things in an oppressed system? If there is any force of control in today’s world, it is the exchange of unearned free goods, taken by the government from free taxpayers, and given to those who have not earned the right to those goods, in exchange for votes and compliant bodies. If anything, it is government force, not the capitalist system, which makes for loss of free will, loss of reason, and loss of inspiration. You think that Huxley is not alive and doing well in the modern world? Porn is mind-numbing and makes a person compliant. Who really benefits from a compliant mass of non-thinkers?

        • Octavia Ratiu

          Your comment whiffs of the trolling variety, Mr. Taylor, and merits no rigorous response. I will, therefore, point bemusedly to a difference between accusing something of being a “psuedoscience” and writing it off as one of the “evils to be resisted, barriers to true human freedom.” You appear to have done both in the fell swoop of one vexatious paragraph.

          The irony here, of course, is that modern psychology practiced as an exercise of authentic intimacy (as my colleague Mr. Russell pointed out above) would have plenty to say about your need to liken it to pornography in some capitalist web of conspiratory oppression. Unfortunately, you would have to consult a psychologist to sort all that out. Cheers!

          • Steve D.

            Actually, Mr. Russel seems to be criticizing your suggestion of using Covenant Eyes because of its shaming technique. The solution to overcome porn viewing (as in any sinful behavior) is frequent confession, penance and the Eucharist. It doesn’t take three years of graduate studies to figure that out. Unless psychology is practiced in the context of Christianity, I would agree with Mr. Taylor that it is just another pseudoscience. And your snarky remark at the end shows you still have some maturing to do.

          • Octavia Ratiu

            Thank you, Steve. Mr. Russell’s constructive criticism notwithstanding, he and I are classmates who share the same view of modern psychology and proper anthropology of the person, which is why I referred back to his very good point about intimacy.

            I agree that psychology should be practiced in a faith-based context, and agree with Anscombe’s statement half a century ago that we must develop an adequate philosophy (and theology) of psychology. No argument here. Mr. Taylor’s comment I believed to be inflammatory and unhelpful to the sort of discussion I would have liked my article to spark.

          • Steve D.

            Okay well said, I think we’re in agreement then. Not to sidetrack the issue too much, but since you’re classmates you might find this Catholic psychologist’s website to be of interest:

          • Charles Russell

            Cool resource. Thanks for sharing!

          • Steve D.

            You’re welcome, Charles. Dr. Richmond does not beat around the bush. He lays it out directly what we must all do to heal from the consequences of original sin and our fallen nature. It’s not easy, for sure.

          • Aaron Taylor

            If you’d like to discuss irony, I would say the richest irony here is that your bio says your “research interests include the elimination of the stigma of mental illness,” but then you try and dismiss my comment by implying I am mentally ill (i.e., I need “to consult a psychologist” to “sort” myself out). Perhaps a more accurate bio would read: “Her research interests include the elimination of the stigma of mental illness, except when she can use that stigma to her advantage as a cheap rhetorical trick in an internet combox.” And it is indeed cheap to suggest that those who don’t share your view of the worth of psychology are mentally disturbed. Its roughly akin to radical pro-choice feminists who just shout “woman hater!” at everyone who doesn’t share their view of the worth of abortion.

            Claiming that psychology is a form of social control is completely different from imagining a “conspiratory” web, and it is not a claim that psychologists, as individuals, are more interested in controlling people than anyone else. It is a simple claim about how psychology and its truth claims function within the superstructure of modern Western culture. You could deny this, of course, but I think only an ignoramus can deny the simple fact that psychology does reinforce certain concepts of normality under the rubric of ‘mental health’. It is not really a controversial statement at all (and most people probably regard this as a positive function of psychology).

            What is a controversial statement, I admit, is my contention that psychology is a “pseudoscience” (i.e., that it presents things that are not objective scientific facts as if they were). However, it is a statement that has been made by many other people (e.g. Foucault), and I would argue it is pretty hard to rebut when you look back at history and see how definitions of what is mentally ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ shift fluidly with whatever the social consensus happens to be. Of course, you may disagree with such a statement, but that hardly means anyone who makes it is trolling.

    • Charles Russell

      What a wildly fascinating thing to say! Perhaps an unhappy forum for this discussion, but I wish to respond in depth.

      Taylor is correct that modern psychology arose after the post-industrial revolution. Therefore, original psychological conceptions of the human person were very reductionistic based on mechanistic ways of thinking that were typical of the time. Yet, I am a bit confused by the suggestion that there was something before modern psychology.

      Law is external, as Taylor says, and can never change the heart of itself. Though no act of Congress can legislate against the misdirected desires of the human heart, what those legislators attempt to do is provide a pedagogy that acts as a mirror in which one can measure his moral stature in comparison to his society. This is not a barrier to freedom, but a guide. If we understand freedom as “freedom from restraint” we must necessarily hold that all laws are an objective and unconscionable violation of the human dignity of peoples. If, however, freedom is “freedom for goodness”, then law becomes a good in its own right because it attempts to direct our inner dynamisms toward what satisfies, goodness.

      Psychology is a completely different kind of inquiry, as is obvious, from law. It begins with different premises and comes to different conclusions because it looks at the world in a particular manner. I must surmise that, if Taylor believes psychology is a pseudoscience, then the commentator has likely embraced the worldview of positivism which upholds that truth is in the measure, and anything that cannot be measured cannot be logically upheld as true, like the intentions of people, for example. This purview banishes certain sources of knowledge to the extraneous fringe, simply because such sources are not subject to positivistic inquisition. Yet, personal experience and measurability are not the sole arbiters of tenability, either. There is universal truth, and all knowledge, if it is true, fits into a unified whole, in the sense that it cannot contradict other truths. Intriguingly, such a defense of objective truth obliterates neither the subject nor the reality of his personal experiences, leaves room for paradox, and allows for reinterpretation when truths are in conflict.

      Therefore, it is in everyone’s interest to uphold the rights of individuals to conduct their method of inquiry according to the standards of their own discipline. One discipline cannot impose its own method upon another without doing irreparable harm to both. For, how effective can history be if it must conform itself completely to geography, even to the extent of adopting its lexicon? Certainly, as experience shows, geography plays an undeniable role in how human history unfolds, yet there is more to history than geographic concerns alone. What is more, geography suffers grave impairment by believing itself to be the sole source of truth. Yet, these two specializations are not so divergent that they have nothing to offer one another: each seeks truth. And we acknowledge truth from wherever it comes.

      Having said as much, it would be a mistake to assume that I agree with the commentator’s belief that psychology, “tries to dominate people by planting a mechanism of social control inside their mind.” Taylor wants to believe that the point of psychology is social control. This suggests that he has embraced a kind of Nietzschean “will to power” understanding of human motivation. Adding to this notion that psychology is part of a network of capitalistic oppression smacks of Marxist ideology, though I’m no expert on that topic. For, how does one make sense of modern psychology in China, then?

      Thus, it seems Taylor approaches life assuming that people want to control the lives of others and that control is bound up with economic concerns. It makes sense then that Taylor would disavow psychology. If the motivation were money and power/control, disavowal would be indicated. Nevertheless, my own practice of clinical psychology is very different from the manner in which Taylor understands it. I do not attempt to control my patients. Admittedly, they have come to me for assistance with a particular kind of suffering and so that places me in a certain position of power, but my goal is not even to change my patients. They come because they want to change, and I help them uncover the blockages to that change. It is they who see their problems as inhibiting freedom, and I use psychology to help restore freedom when it has been lost.

      • Aaron Taylor

        I do not think psychologists are out to control people, any more than saying law has a function as a form of social control means I think lawyers and judges have particularly controlling personalities. Its a point about the role psychological discourse plays within our culture.

        I also do not see how you can be confused by the suggestion that there was something before modern psychology. If you read Plato, or St. Augustine, or St. Thomas Aquinas, they clearly have what we might call a “psychology” (a body of ideas about the internal workings of the human mind, human motivation, etc etc.), though they are of course very different from the ideas of Freud or Jung.

        • Charles Russell

          Perhaps you can speak to your understanding of and misgivings about the role of psychology in our own modern culture, and how it is used as a mechanism of social control. I would find that helpful because I genuinely want to understand your point of view.

          Certainly there are notions we might consider psychological prior to the advent of modern psychology! Robinson does a fine job of looking at those ideas in his, “An Intellectual History of Psychology”. Nevertheless, it was not a codified body of knowledge, but an idiosyncratic understanding (which is perfectly acceptable) of persons. Those ideas are not without merit, though they are at times wrong. In much the same way, the ideas of Freud are not to be embraced with untempered adulation. His error was in being too wedded to certain presuppositions that closed him off to truth, but he began a trail that humanity is still forging.

          In another place you replied that psychology is pseudoscience because ideas have changed over time and, presumably, that wouldn’t happen in a real science. Thus, you seem to believe that science is only science if it is fixed, an unchanging body of knowledge. Math then would be a true science. I’ll assume you believe medicine is a real science, too. I charge you to take a gander at the Physician’s Desk Reference. This very helpful volume details pharmacological information for prescribing physicians about drugs available in the US. A large number of medications say, “unknown” under the heading “Mechanism of Action”. We know the drugs work, but have no idea why or how. That reality girds an important point about epistemology: Ideas and understandings change as the general body of knowledge grows, because truth is one. That means that sometimes what we had believed to be true was, at best, inaccurate. But those ideas made sense and had merit while they flourished.

          There is, admittedly, a difficulty when speaking about psychology in this regard. In psychology, one is dealing with idiosyncratic human beings who present with a limitless array of life experiences, temperaments, and pathologies. To further confound the accuracy of my craft is the fact the psychologists, too, have their own experiences, temperaments, and in some cases pathologies. Therefore, the practice can get messy. We see this in determinations such as those who attempted to have pedophilia removed from the DSM-5 as a psychological disorder. This would be a mistake, of course, but the change isn’t just a political move but reflects the idea that we’ve been wrong all along about pedophilia, that the previous codification of it as a mental illness reflected cultural norms not hard facts. That is problematic because, as in this case, the search for truth can get hijacked, but that liability does not relegate the whole endeavor to frivolity.

          Foucault and others like him argued against a contest of will, because he presupposed that life was for power. While not sharing his presupposition, I find the breaking of wills to be rather odious, and entirely lacking in modern psychology. I am not, however, trying to write him off. He had reasons for believing that about psychiatry. Nevertheless, Catholics (assuming you are) are exquisitely aware that wrongs committed by some do not undo the truth. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The reprehensible acts committed by early psychiatrists are condemned, yet their failure as humans does not derogate from the good of psychology. Well, perhaps I totally lost track of your point, Mr. Taylor.

          • Aaron Taylor

            Thank you for your response.

            By saying psychology acts as a mechanism of social control, I am not trying to imply there is some kind of elite conspiracy to use psychology to control the unsuspecting masses. As Foucault pointed out, power is immanent within social networks rather than being — in the manner of crude Marxist analysis — simply something that is used by one group against another. What I am saying is that psychology has come to be the primary vehicle through which different interest groups in society try to achieve moral ascendancy for their ideas.

            America (and one could extend this to other parts of the modern West) is a fragmented society that doesn’t share a coherent common morality, yet, of course, like every society, it needs to have moral conversations. It does, however, share a common faith in “objective science,” and so, over time, it has developed a discourse that masks its moral conversations in a scientific disguise.

            Therefore, while individual groups within a society (Catholics, say, or Mormons, or whatever) might share a moral code and have explicitly moral discussions, as a society, we could not possibly any longer have a discussion about whether pornography was “good” or “bad,” or about whether its usage made citizens “virtuous” or “vicious” persons. Instead, we have a discussion about whether it leads to “healthy identity development.”

            Your comments about how some psychologists are attempting a “political move” to have pedophilia declassified as a mental illness are an illustration of my point. I agree with you that the likely motives behind such a move are, of course, grotesque, but stop and ask yourself: why would these people even bother attempting such a move if it weren’t for the fact that the discourses of psychology have a tremendous amount of social and political *power* to either normalise or abnormalise certain behaviours? No zoologist, for example, would ever think they had scored a political victory by reclassifying a kangaroo from marsupial to mammal.

          • Charles Russell

            I think I better understand you point; thanks for clarifying.

            Every group, in the manifold arenas of life, attempts to achieve moral ascendency. People need a reason to live. Without a reason for being, however mundane or inane, people die. If you didn’t feel the way you’re living is the best, why would you life that way?

            I follow your argument, and I think you make some very interesting and noteworthy points. From a Catholic perspective, however, it doesn’t matter how one speaks the truth, but that the truth is spoken. So if we couch it in terms of morality, virtue, physical or mental health it doesn’t matter. Porn is bad for people. Psychology has become a useful tool because it gives us a framework for saying why it’s bad, what it’s doing to people, without just touting a medieval morality with no basis. Furthermore, I think the reason this happens is because, contra Foucault, not everything is about power.

            In my comment about pedophilia, I said it NOT just some political move. People truly believe it’s an acceptable way of relating to children. It becomes politicized by the fact of its prohibition, then becomes a power issue. Of itself, however, it’s not a issue of power. Psychology is drawn into that argument because it happens to be the science that studies human beings on multiple levels. When a person challenges the power structure, those who wield power look to psychologists for our expertise. And you’re exactly right: a zoologist would never consider reclassifying kangaroo as a political victory. Unless of course it were legal to copulate with mammals, for example, and that zoologist wanted to copulate with a kangaroo. In that probably-not-as-bizarre-as-one-would-hope scenario, the issue is made into a power struggle. It’s the prohibition that’s challenged because it is believed to be unfounded. Psychology then explains that foundation or lack thereof. It’s not psychology that’s the problem then, it’s people who try and manipulate it for their personal gain.

            Nevertheless, you and I fundamentally disagree about the primordial motivations of human beings. Regrettably, such a discussion cannot happen in a comment box. All the best to you, truly.

  • Theresa Buch

    Thank you kindly Octavia, for sharing this powerful piece! Though porn absolutely changes the way in which we see one another, your writing inspires hope in those struggling from its ill effects. Here’s to the positive insight, which serves as a valuable agent for meaningful change. Congratulations!

  • slater4families

    Awesome article! The truths in this article are reflected in this 30 min. documentary through the testimony of experts, and youth and adults that have experienced many of the negative impacts of porn in this article (See Why aren’t we talking about the harms of adult porn when it gets into the hands of children who’s brains are hijacked at early ages. Why is only child porn illegal or prosecuted when adult porn does so much damage to both children and adults as depicted in this documentary?

    • Steve D.

      Good point. You can thank Pres. Clinton who had an opportunity to put severe restrictions on internet porn back in the ’90s. Instead he caved to his base that argued it was a freedom of speech issue. Of course, having Bubba in charge of this issue was like having the fox in the henhouse.

  • Tanzanite

    I don’t remember how I came to find out about Ethika Politika, but it has been one of my best finds for 2014. Thank you for making me realize that there are sober people in the world. Thank you for this beautiful article

    • Octavia Ratiu

      Thank you, Tanzanite! Very much appreciate readers like you. Peace be with you.

  • Micha Elyi

    Foolish article! Only by the dishonest denial that so-called romance novels and rags like Cosmo aren’t porn can the author make her foolish claims. Most porn is female-consumed porn, openly marketed and in easy reach of children. Yet because so many prudes deny that it’s porn (to preserve their gynolatry from cognitive dissonance perhaps) they do nothing about the worst sources of the TV, movie, and printed porn that saturate America.

    And then there’s the slutty way most US females dress, paint, and tattoo themsleves. Porn on the hoof, as it were.

    • Octavia Ratiu


      Your points are well-taken, although perhaps slightly overstated. The statistics I cited in the beginning were collected a decade ago, and so the rates of female porn use are very likely higher in the present day. Female porn consumption *is* indeed on the rise at a frighteningly rapid pace, and I’m not here talking about “50 Shades,” but rather hardcore porn. (Furthermore, women are now more forthcoming about discussing female masturbation, which I have observed to have been a taboo until quite recently. Now that the discussion is more open, further dialogue is possible.) Related to this is the growing feminist and LGBT support of the porn industry as “empowering” and a “creative outlet” for one’s sex life. This issue is of great interest to me, and I hope to contribute more to the discussion in future.

      • PalaceGuard

        I believe that Micha’s comment reflects an historic difference between male and female porn, in that women have tended to respond more to a “romanticized” written word than to a visual representation. Nonetheless, particularly when encountered at a young age, a girl can be profoundly emotionally and psychologically damaged by the written word, contrary to what that jackass mayor of New York, James Walker once opined.

  • Chris

    Although this is interesting, there is nothing in this article that goes beyond mere suggestion. At no point does the author “connect the dots”: that is, offer some empirical evidence to substantiate what she is describing on a highly general level. I’m not sure what “pornified” culture means. Does it mean simply that lots of people look at porn, or does it mean something else? What is the evidence for the “destruction of masculinity”? What are the metrics for even measuring such a thing? Etc. There are lots of interesting statements made in this piece, but none of them are substantiated. It seems to me written by an author (a 3rd year psych grad student) with lots of assumptions, preaching to a choir, but with nothing to really back it up.

    • Octavia Ratiu


      Thank you for your thoughtful response. This piece was adapted from a much longer academic paper I wrote for a class. Length requirements to publish it on Ethika Politika necessitated my cutting several sections, one of which summarized empirical studies that show the pernicious implications of even casual porn use on notions of female dignity, marriage rates, sexual health, tendencies toward violence against women, and many other factors. I would be happy to send you the relevant studies, of which there are many, that substantiate my claims and “mere suggestion[s].”

      Metrics for measuring cultural “pornification” or destruction of masculinity are indeed difficult to define, as you cogently said. This discussion goes beyond social science into the realm of philosophy and ethics. (What is masculinity? According to what constructs ought we to think about it? How do we build a healthy culture, and to what extent would an unhealthy culture affect our own flourishing?) Although I am not a formal philosopher or ethicist, the mission of my graduate program is to promote mental health based on a notion of the person as an integrated whole. Such a task requires a psychology defined by — and grounded in — adequate philosophy and theology, so that the emotional, mental, spiritual, and bodily needs of clients are all given full consideration. Psychology practiced without this robust foundation can easily become ineffective, or even dangerous, to the goal of the client’s mental health.

      Your last comment about my alleged “preaching to a choir” I find very interesting. Because I am studying at a Catholic graduate school of psychology, I have the benefit of operating most of the time in a community which shares and upholds my principles and beliefs. The ability to translate my arguments from this environment to the wider public square, and contribute meaningfully to public discourse — secular and religious alike — is a challenge which I take very seriously. The basic “assumptions” I made in my article are: that we are relational beings whose flourishing depends on the communities of which we are a part; that accordingly, our actions, good or bad, are never private, but necessarily affect others; and that as enfleshed beings, what we say, think about (and watch!) has profound effects on our biology (hence, my neurobiological exploration of porn use). These assumptions I do not regard to be taken from thin air, but are “backed up” by common knowledge which all persons can access using natural reason.

      My piece was intended to spark further discussion on this vitally important issue, and, judging by this comment thread, it seems to have succeeded. Much more can be said to “connect the dots” in a more substantial way, as you pointed out. My contribution to this debate that Ethika Politika is hosting will surely continue, and your constructive feedback has given me intriguing food for thought!

      • Chris

        Octavia, thanks for responding to me. I appreciate the intellectual honesty. I would very much be interested in reading the academic piece — the devil, as it were, is always in the details. I am a former Catholic, and I know that EP is a Catholic publication/blog and that the Center for Morality in Public Life is Catholic either in organization or in philosophical bent. But I don’t accept the natural law principles you seem to assume in the piece and in your response. That is very much a philosophical difference, one about which I try to keep an open mind. When I say “preaching to the choir” what I mean is that (1) you’re writing in a Catholic publication, (2) from the vantage point of a student in a Catholic graduate program, (3) to Catholics, primarily (although I admit that is *my* assumption and I don’t have the demographics of the readership). So I think, unfortunately, it’s easy to write an essay like this and not be challenged very much because you are writing to people’s assumptions (the “silo” effect of modern internet editorials and media, I suspect). I have no doubt that there are pernicious aspects of pornography. But I suspect that your essay glosses over the psychological complexities of engaging in it, and rests too much on notions of, for example, “masculinity” that might be shared only by a particular subculture than by any objective idea of what that really is or means. I suspect, for example, that Harvey Mansfield’s idea of “manliness” is different from Nietzsche’s version of the same borrowing from some Greek ideal type from what you are talking about, which to me seems grounded in a certain subset of Catholic theology. And when I note the empirical problems — which begin, I suspect, with the problem of defining categories — I think also about what I understand as the very contested idea of there being an “addiction” to pornography in the first place. I guess my point is that while I am sympathetic to the idea that there are problems with pornography, I am skeptical that whatever objective psychological problems might be associated with pornography are as universal as you suggest, or tied into amorphous and contested ideas like “masculinity” or the “pornification of culture.” Finally, since you say you are trying to address the public sphere, I would suggest shopping your view around to non-Catholic publications (perhaps you have, which is great), where you might encounter more people like me who approach the themes in your essay with skepticism.

        • Octavia Ratiu

          I enjoy your comments, Chris, and would be happy to continue the discussion perhaps over email. Feel free to contact EP Editor Andrew Haines so he can pass along my email address, and I will send my paper to you in full.

  • breadwild

    Octavia, As a person who has struggled with this for 50 years, this piece has helped me understand my issues in a way no one else has been able to articulate. I feel like I’m looking in a mirror. I can’t thank you enough for your work and the way you have expressed it. Forget academia, this is just the simple truth. I know it.