Struggling with pornography? Matt Fradd says prayer (and therapy) can help.
Matt Fradd is an Australian-born Catholic lay speaker and authorwho specializes in digital pornography addiction. Founder and executive director of The Porn Effect, where he promotes a pornography accountability smartphone app to young people, Mr. Fradd’s books include “Pints with Aquinas” (2016), “The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography” (2017) and “Pocket Guide to the Rosary” (2019). He coauthored his newest book, “Marian Consecration with Aquinas: A Nine Day Path for Growing Closer to the Mother of God” (2020), with Gregory Pine, O.P.
On March 10, I interviewed Mr. Fradd by telephone about his new book and the potential of Marian consecration to help fight pornography addiction. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for style and clarity.
Matt Fradd is an Australian-born Catholic lay speaker and author who specializes in digital pornography addiction.
Your new nine-day Marian consecration doesn’t address pornography explicitly, but you’ve spoken in the past about Our Lady’s role fighting porn addiction in a digital age. How can Marian devotion assist young men and women overcome enslavement to pornography?
Well, that wouldn’t be my first line of attack! If someone struggling with pornography approached me for prayer advice, I’d want to know some other things first: Are they accountable, are they using appropriate software, are they doing therapy? Sort of human formation things. Too often we skip human formation and jump straight to the spiritual. But I’ve heard people talk about how their devotion to the Blessed Mother has helped them regain a proper, holistic, beautiful image of women that pornography had eroded.
What does “Marian consecration” mean as you use it in this book?
Thomas Aquinas never spoke of “Marian consecration” per se, though he did speak about religious consecration. On the ninth day, we present a prayer that Aquinas wrote in the language of “entrustment.” So when we talk about “consecration,” we really mean entrustment, entrusting oneself to the Blessed Mother. Thomas says in his prayer: I give to you my past, my present, my future, my body, my mind—you know, everything. It sounds a bit like St. Louis de Montfort, but it’s not. The reason I wanted to present this book is that while I appreciate Louis de Montfort, his way of writing never resonated with me like Aquinas. Since there are many paths to the Blessed Mother, I wanted to put this book together for others who find Aquinas helpful.
In the work I’ve done on pornography, I’ve found that the topic is overly spiritualized in a way that other sins and vices aren’t.
What about this Marian consecration might challenge a young person struggling with addiction?
In the work I’ve done on pornography, speaking to hundreds of thousands of teenagers, young adults and parents, I’ve found that the topic is overly spiritualized in a way that other sins and vices aren’t. People struggling with alcoholism and anger issues might pray, for example, but they also seek natural helps such as A.A. meetings or counseling. But when I’d ask Catholics what they’re doing about pornography, they would give me spiritual solutions for a problem that isn’t solely spiritual.
Because of that, while recognizing the efficacy of prayer and sacraments, I began speaking up front about the need to attend Sexaholics Anonymous or therapy to get at the root of why someone might act out. You know, I would encounter young men who would say “I fell into pornography last week because I didn’t pray my rosary,” almost blaming the Blessed Mother. And it seemed to me that prayer alone as a weapon against pornography perverts the spiritual life. If the purpose of prayer is union with God, surrender to God, then that’s primarily what we should be praying for. But so many people coming to me were treating God like a vending machine, as if he’d give them a clean day if they gave him a rosary.
What role can vulnerability play in helping us escape such false notions of spirituality?
For example, going to an S.A. group entails me talking about the things I’m most ashamed about to a group of people and them not leaving. That’s a powerful thing, to share the hell I’m going through and am deeply ashamed about. I say it, I don’t rationalize it, and no one leaves. One of the beautiful things about Christian prayer is that I likewise get to sit before an all-loving, all-merciful God who sees my sin and loves me because he chose to die for me. If I can begin to accept that he loves me, even though I hate myself, I can become healthier and holier.
So many people coming to me were treating God like a vending machine, as if he’d give them a clean day if they gave him a rosary.
How do you keep this Marian consecration, so rooted in individual piety, from becoming detached from real-life struggles for someone struggling with addiction?
I think if what the Christian Church teaches is actually true, as opposed to symbolic and mythical—if it’s true that Mary was actually a human being who gave birth to God and breastfed God, and that she intercedes for us—then we get beyond an image of her sinlessness that makes her unable to relate to miserable people. In that case, I think I need some kind of moral perfection even to address her. But if it’s true that she’s the refuge of sinners, that she’s not scandalized by my sin and that she loves me as a mother does, then I can entrust myself to her even if I’m embarrassed about a certain thing. Just as I know my earthly mother’s love exceeds any shame I feel due to a particular sin, Marian devotion is a bit like that, as I bring myself before an all-loving mother who wants me to be saved.
If I can just go to Jesus for help with an addiction, what’s the added value of approaching him through his mother Mary?
If Christians can understand why it might be beneficial to ask another earthly Christian to pray for them, I don’t see why I can’t go to a heavenly Christian for the same thing. I’m not usurping God’s authority by asking Mary to pray for me any more than I’m usurping it by asking you to pray for me. If it’s true that the prayers of a righteous person produce great effects, then presumably having the Blessed Mother pray for me would do the same.
We should seek to eradicate sin with no less enthusiasm than when we seek to eradicate a cancer.
Looking at the nine days of this consecration, can you give one concrete example of how Jesus might use a section of this book to free someone through Mary from sin?
I wouldn’t want to suggest that this book is a silver bullet for any particular problem. I think the hard work of therapy and installing accountability software, of committing to grow in love with one’s spouse, are all very necessary for pornography. One thing Aquinas says is the sinner seeks the spoil, but it’s reserved for the blessed. He refers to that passage in the Gospels where the angel asks the women at the tomb of Jesus: Why do you seek the living among the dead? That’s a good question to ask someone who is looking to pornography to satisfy some particular desire: Why are you seeking what’s good among what’s base? It can’t be found here, it won’t be found here, it’s never been found here, and you know that by experience. Only in God will our desires be satisfied. If we want to be as happy as possible in this life and be saved in the next, we should seek to eradicate sin with no less enthusiasm than when we seek to eradicate a cancer.
What have been some highlights of your talks to porn-afflicted youth?
During Eucharistic adoration at a recent very large conference, a 16-year-old young woman came up to me crying, barely able to speak because she was so overwhelmed. She said: “I’ve done some really bad things. I’ve been coming to these conferences for years, but I’ve been looking at pornography ever since I was six and I’ve never said anything until now.” So I gave her the most affectionate side hug I could and said “my sister I love you, you’re good, the Father loves you and I’m so glad you’ve told me.” Then I said I needed her to go to confession. She went to confession that night. The next morning before Holy Mass she came up to me grinning from ear to ear.
Priests have such a beautiful opportunity with penitents who come to them with things they can barely speak about. They don’t need to be terribly wise or have the right things to say, but if they love them gently and speak truth to them like our Lord, they can really change lives.
What have been some struggles in your talks to porn-afflicted youth?
I would say the fact that parents aren’t as clued-in or as helpful as they should be. I can speak to 1,200 teenagers about pornography’s negative effects, but if parents just give their children smartphones and allow them to access the internet without protection, I sometimes wonder if it’s just a hopeless thing I’m doing. That’s been one of the biggest struggles: Parents not wanting to seem terribly different from the culture around them.
Other than Mary or Thomas Aquinas, if you could pick a patron saint of people afflicted by pornography addiction, who would it be and why?
St. Mary of Egypt, honored in the Eastern Church, left home at the age of 12 and was a prostitute for many years. Sometimes she actually wouldn’t even sleep with these men for money, but because she said she had an irrepressible desire to lie in filth. She had a powerful conversion experience in front of an icon of the Theotokos and went to live in the desert for years.
If you could say one thing to Pope Francis about the internet pornography epidemic, what would it be?
I would emphasize the role parents have in protecting the innocence of their children. Our blessed Lord said that if you cause one of these little ones to stumble, it will be better for a great millstone to be tied around your neck and for you to be drowned in the ocean. I wish parents who give their small children a smartphone without locking it down would see it as a very serious issue. We shouldn’t allow society, family and friends to pressure us into giving children what amounts to a portable X-rated movie. I see the carnage in every high school I visit.