Why Catholic colleges should ban access to pornography

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Despite—or perhaps because of—its prevalence, pornography is an uncomfortable topic to talk about. So it is notable that 82 male students (as well as a separate group of female students) at the University of Notre Dame signed their names to a letter in October asking the school to bar access to pornographic material on campus internet networks.

Not every viewer of pornography is an addict, but neither is every decision to view porn a perfectly rational one. Many students end up doing so because of loneliness, romantic frustration or even plain boredom. Putting the onus on students to purchase their own internet filter, or to rely on sheer willpower to avoid temptation when it strikes, seems like setting the default in the wrong position.

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Not every viewer of pornography is an addict, but neither is every decision to view porn a perfectly rational one.

Colleges should limit access to pornography on their campus infrastructure and thus make it easier for students to live up to the best version of themselves. Even raising a few mild hurdles to accessing porn could reduce the tension between what students say they want for themselves and what they actually do—what behavioral economists call “dynamic inconsistencies.”

Some of the thoughtful opposition to the idea of barring access does not defend pornography as such but instead raises questions about the practicality of a ban and its potential spillover effects. How would an anti-porn policy be enforced? What about threats to legitimate academic research?

These concerns are overstated. Students who might trip the filter while researching sex trafficking, National Geographic archives or Renaissance art could be asked to fill out a simple form and receive a research waiver from filtering. (Plus, anyone who has ever tried to stream a World Cup game at work knows that no filter is foolproof.)

Colleges should limit access to pornography and thus make it easier for students to live up to the best version of themselves.

The idea is not to create a vice squad to kick down dorm room doors and check browser histories but to nudge students toward living up to their own expectations through a healthier view of human sexuality than is found in the exploitative underbelly of the web.

New research finds that young men spend nearly an hour a week viewing porn, on average, and a 2007 survey found that about half of college students viewed it at least every other day. Even secular colleges should think about what this widespread consumption is doing to gender relationships. But church-affiliated colleges, in particular, have a duty to care for their students’ souls, and their unwillingness to infringe on dubious components of personal freedom for fear of being called puritanical borders on negligence.

Some may ask: Why not let students train themselves to avoid pornography? After all, we trust college students to make their own decisions in all sorts of realms, and the days of in loco parentis are long gone. And isn’t some sort of internet filter removing the ability for students to build up the moral fiber to say no on their own?

This argument might have held more weight before we knew how easy it was for a mistyped URL to bring you to a bazaar of sex and nudity that even the most straightlaced altar server might have a hard time clicking away from. Particularly in the #MeToo era, the assumptions and decisions made without thinking about how we are teaching students to view each other deserve more scrutiny.

Pornography teaches a person to view the other as an object for one’s own sexual gratification, and its value to any community, particularly a university one, is zero at most. Making it even marginally harder to access would be a concrete way colleges could demonstrate their commitment to a fuller account of true human dignity. It would also make the statement that the crass utilitarianism of pornography’s view of the human person is not something they want to promote through their IT infrastructure.

If a group of students asked for a public health initiative to increase their ability to say no to the temptation to abuse drugs or alcohol, we would applaud them. Catholic universities owe their students no less than to take their requests seriously when it comes to a less noticeable form of harm and potential addiction.

Frank T
1 week 4 days ago

Here we go again passing judgement on human sexuality. Have we learned nothing? The only thing different between porn and other adult sexuality is that there is a third party present holding a camera, and afterwards, everybody gets a paycheck. Let us not continue to alienate young people, especially the best and brightest by forcing teaching and learning institutions to parent them. Provide these young people with education in various ways (perhaps about addictive behavior, etc) and then leave them alone.

John M
1 week 4 days ago

"The only thing different between porn and other adult sexuality is that there is a third party present holding a camera, and afterwards, everybody gets a paycheck." If you truly believe this, you have a very low view of human sexuality. Believe it or not, young people want to believe that sexuality can be a meaningful, loving, and ultimately transcendent experience. And to be frank, its people with views like yours who cause them to think this is impossible.

Frank T
1 week 4 days ago

I was describing what pornography is.
College sex may not be about " love and transcendence." Usually, nowadays it is not.
The problem with parents holding out these ideals is that kids learn to lie and they live with the burden of lying.
That is as unhealthy to the family system as anything can be. It helps neither the kids or the parents.
Also it surely doesn't help the Catholic College to be seen as the arbiter of what they can look at.
Banning anything is intellectually lazy. It only makes old people feel good,
It is people with views like yours that keep the lying and the double standards in place.
Who anymore has the moral edge to ban sexual material, the elitist Bishops?

John M
1 week 4 days ago

"I was describing what pornography is." No, you were not giving a simple description. You made a cynical comparison essentially equating human sexuality in general to pornography. You said the only difference is the lack of a camera and a lack of monetary exchange. The implication in your comparison is that all sexuality is ultimately akin to a business transaction, except instead of money you exchange pleasure. There is no beauty, no love, no transcendence, just mutual using of one another. In my opinion, this is a destructive position that has caused a lot of harm.

"College sex may not be about 'love and transcendence.' Usually, nowadays it is not." That may be true, but that does not mean young people are not seeking something more meaningful than the meaningless sexual relationships they have been told to accept. Something the older generation does not seem to understand is that just because the hookup culture exists, does not mean it's liked. I get the sense the baby boomer generation had meaningless sex as an act of supposed liberation and rebellion; the millennial generation has meaningless sex to escape nihilism and existential loneliness. The hook up culture is chosen as this means of escape because the millennials were never offered an alternative, that is, authentic selfless love. People with your views ultimately led my generation to despair of meaningful sexual relationships.

"Banning anything is intellectually lazy." Yeah, people say this kind of thing, but in truth we ban things all the time. Should white nationalists be banned from placing their flyers on campus? and if so why? Could it be because their message is seen as harmful? There is no reason porn could not be banned for the same reason, for its own harmful effects, especially considering how it denigrates women.

"It is people with views like yours that keep the lying and the double standards in place." Yeah, this is another claim the baby boomer generation has been known to tout. The claim that moral standards on sexuality just lead to false ideals, repression, and deception. But this is simply not true. Certainly, unyielding and dogmatic rigidity on morals is a problematic. However, deep down people are seeking an intimate, loving sexual relationship, not some cheap pleasure transaction. This requires moral standards (virtues) that are maintained and passed on from generation to generation. When this does not happen, you have something like the millennials, a generation seeking something but unable to find it because no one showed them the way.

Randal Agostini
4 days 20 hours ago

A Catholic college disseminating porn? How could this make any sense at all? Intellectually pandering to a topic of this nature demonstrates the extent that secularism has taken hold of society. We are intended to be Children of God - how can this be accomplished if we seek to challenge our creator. "He who is of the World is at enmity with God."

Dennis Galon
1 week 4 days ago

This article, I suggest, lacks focus. In a few hundred words the following notions are dropped, without serious discussion of any of them:
* pornography is bad for various reasons
* college student should not watch porn
* college students watch too much porn
* college student need help resisting the temptation to watching porn, whether they want this help or not
* all colleges ought to filter porn out college-controlled networks
* practical problems with such filters (when access is required, or when the filter trips over a site that is not pornographic) and solutions (presumed easy)

John Mack
1 week 4 days ago

In regard to sex, Catholic schools need to teach ethical and moral reasoning rather than preaching about sin and laying down rules to obey. Sin can certainly be discussed but the desire to avoid sin is not sufficient to enlighten a conscience. Taking an ethical and moral reasoning approach (not particularly Catholic) would stress the meaning of human person and human rights; the obligation of mutual respect in relationships, especially intimate and sexual relationships; consideration of consequences; and the need for consent. Such an approach may lead to Catholic students acting against Catholic teachings on sex. It would also lead to better behavior on sex and better relations between the sexes and respect for LBGT persons. Teaching against sin has done nothing to mitigate the hook up culture that prevails on Catholic college campuses. But at least the hook up culture is far healthier than the rape culture espoused by Kavanaugh and his crew at Georgetown Prep. And the vapid "men for others" ethic does very little to encourage mature sexuality.

Phillip Stone
1 week 3 days ago

It seems some have lost a grip on the reality of fallen human nature and the social dimension of blameworthiness and responsibility.

1 John 2 does a bit of preaching on this - remember the concupiscence (lust) of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life?

Now the history of salvation is quite clearly and obviously stepwise and clearly not a linear progression as many of the lessons needed to be repeated.

We humans are a mystery and a paradox consisting uniquely of the dust of the earth and spirit of the heavens. The garden of Eden is depicted as being full of delights and only ONE restriction - the fruit of one tree is out of bounds. They were forbidden to take in one thing and informed that there would be dire consequences if they did so. This is not Almighty God hung up on sex, for crying out loud.
Like the angels, our ancestors were in possession of free will and possessed the capacity to obey or disobey without any need for third party empowerment or salvation. Some rebellion brought about a loss, broke the glorious bond between them and their creator which is not within the power of the broken to repair.

I have no idea how Almighty God plans to deal with the angels who have fallen and I expect if asked He would reply that it is none of our business just now, we are in enough trouble ourselves.
With us, remember that we can NEVER get back to the original Paradise, it is lost, and angels with flaming swords guard the way back. We are wanderers being led and enticed to journey to something greater and more glorious, the heavenly kingdom.

By all accounts in the Old Testament, he did it by forging people into mutually co-operating groups with leaders and with rules of conduct.

Being so complex, rather than simple, we needed to learn a very large number of do's and don'ts, the 10 Commandments being an executive summary of the Mosaic Law.

Having been taught the ways to do good and the evils to refuse and avoid we then were in a position to discover that with the best will in the world and by trying our hardest and with everybody helping and nobody hindering, we could not become perfect doers of good no matter how long and how hard we tried.

Eventually it began to dawn on the chosen people that something was missing, and the knowledge that a saviour was essential and that God in His Love was sending one.

As babies and children and youth, we are entitled to be provided with the same knowledge and graces and that means we must impose laws and restrictions upon them and remain ourselves obedient to the same laws and restrictions. Only after they have been granted all they need, and tried as hard as they could, will they too begin to realise that they too cannot reach the perfection of goodness without a saviour.

The law of the Lord is an unsurpassed blessing and not in any way a tyranny.

The particular bias of American exceptionalism and individual liberty seems to leave some of you believing that restraint by laws is not good and so young people should not be burdened by anything but the most minimal of restraint.

Christianity is a culture which teaches otherwise.

It is nonsense to believe that law is useless because some people break them and so the law does not work to produce law and order.

Linda Cleary
1 week 2 days ago

Consider it part of preparing them for the workplace. I've never worked for any employer who permits employees to access pornography on or using their property. The college has a right to offer access under its terms. It makes no difference if pornography is 'addicting' or not. It is demeaning to the understanding of human sexuality as understood in the context of Christian morality and love.

Steve Pokorny
6 days 19 hours ago

I applaud the attempt to curb access to pornography. Pornography does not provide adequate education about the truth of the body, relationships, sex, or reality. It's a lie that is acid to the heart and steals our capacity to form bonds of intimacy with others.

Such ideas like filters in Catholic institutions is a good start, but it's not enough. Without a person learning how to see the body correctly, there will not be freedom from pornography. It’s too powerful. I should know. I was hooked for over 12 years, and everything…or so I thought.

As I've seen with my years of working with clients with Freedom Coaching (freedom-coaching.net), once a person experiences how to see men and women as persons, and not as a collection of body parts, this is where freedom comes alive. We are made for more than simply trying to deal with broken desires; instead, we must learn how to have them directed in a way that will satisfy.

Mike Macrie
4 days 19 hours ago

Not only should it be banned but students should be required to attend a seminar to listen to people who lost their marriage and job on becoming addicted to it.

Tim Donovan
3 days 6 hours ago

Many years ago (I'm now 56) I had a serious problem with viewing gay pornography (either in magazines or on videos). Although I very occasionally am tempted to view pornography on my kindle, I have succeeded in avoiding such offensive images. I believe that pornography. portrays people as mere objects, which is surely immoral. Also, there is evidence that some of the "actors"in pornography are victims of human trafficking (when women, men, or children are forced to work for unjust wages at various tasks. Some of the tasks are,immoral (forced prostitution or pornography) other tasks aren't immoral but are still unjust (forcing people to work in often difficult jobs without adequate compensation). I have received forgiveness and consolation for viewing pornography through the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a compassionate priest. I 've found that reading good books, prayer, and helping other people in their daily life tasks (I live in a quality nursing home/rehabilitation center) are good and helpful ways to avoid viewing pornography. I also occasionally make modest contributions to Integrity Restored. This is a group that helps people to "break free" from the bonds of pornography, and provides information about its harmful effects. I agree with
the premise of Integrity Restored that pornography can hurt marriages, families and careers. This group provides education, training, encouragement and resources to help people break free from pornography. Finally, Integrity Restored assists parents in preventing exposure to pornography by their children, as well as advice on how to respond to pornography exposure among children.

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