"Big Four" Highlights


Very Risky Business

The many dangers of online pornography

By Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D.

(This article is published in support of White Ribbon Against Pornography (WRAP) awareness week, sponsored by Morality in Media.)

Sandy* is a 15-year-old high school sophomore who recently missed three days of school. She told her friends she had the flu because she was too embarrassed and ashamed to tell them the truth. Sandy had actually been to the doctor for treatment for chlamydia, a sexually transmitted bacterial disease. She got it by participating in group sex with her friends, where she received anal sex. She initially said “no” to her boyfriend, yet he was able to coax her by showing a porn film of women who appeared to enjoy it.

As scary and shocking as this story may be, it describes a situation I’ve heard several times in my professional capacity. You may think Sandy was just a “bad girl” and your child would never get into such trouble. But she actually was known as fairly good girl who went to Mass with her family on Sunday. Many parents rightly worry about the emotional and spiritual harm of pornography; however, it can be just as physically dangerous, and the consequences can be devastating and lifelong! Teenagers who use pornography are more likely to become sexually active earlier than those who don’t, and they are more likely to participate in risky behavior. The results are often physical injury and sexually transmitted diseases, some of them incurable. It’s estimated that about 25% of young people between the ages of 12 and 19 have a sexually transmitted disease, an epidemic that is rarely spoken about.

The fact is that internet pornography has normalized deviant sex. There are now countless websites where teens can access pornographic videos displaying scenes of men and women appearing to enjoy deviant sex. The scenes usually show one or more men using a woman sexually in very aggressive, even violent ways. Contrary to staged appearances, the female actresses do not have fun. Many get drunk or high before participating in such scenes to help them endure the physical and emotional pain and punishment. Some even suffer injuries that require a hospital visit.

Today teens often turn to the internet for information about sex or relationships. Part of the reason for this is the inadequate sex education they get at home and/or in school. They may learn about puberty, conception and birth, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, but they rarely learn about God’s plan for sexuality and healthy relationships. They may be told that viewing any form of pornography is wrong, but not why it is wrong and dangerous. People often confuse what’s common for what’s healthy, and conclude that “if everybody’s doing it, it must be okay.” And so teenagers – both boys and girls – come to believe that because deviant sex is so prevalent on the internet, it’s normal and healthy. Yet girls are five times more likely to have sex with multiple partners if they or their boyfriends watch porn.

Pornography use not only leads to risky behavior, it also changes the way teens view relationships. Many young men who are regular porn users don’t want to commit themselves to one relationship. They believe that true happiness can only come from multiple partners. They think it’s OK to use other people for sexual pleasure and that women enjoy being exploited. This is most clearly seen in today’s “friends with benefits” culture, in which people develop relationships solely for the purpose of “hooking up” for sex. Women in these situations often believe that sex will lead to a committed relationship and end up feeling used.

The key to protecting teenagers from the harmful influence of pornography is to educate them about healthy sexuality and strong moral virtue. Parents, teachers, coaches, youth workers and clergy all must work together to warn teens about the dangers of pornography, how it lures them into dangerous sex and a warped view of sexuality. We must also monitor their technology use because trouble is only a click away and porn habits form quickly. As parents, we must protect our kids from what is clearly very risky business.

(*Sandy is a pseudonym)

Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, Pa. He’s the author of Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win The Battle Against Pornography (Emmaus Road), a new book with more information on how to protect families from pornography.