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 | Dr. Sarah Bartel

Protecting Children and Adults from Pornography

When James was 11, he saw pornographic images for the first time on the family computer. They were deeply disturbing and traumatized him. Curious and ashamed, he kept it a secret. No one had warned him that pornography is a highly addictive and toxic substance that would affect his brain chemistry like drugs and alcohol. No one taught him that it would damage his psychological and spiritual development, negatively impact his emotional well-being, distort his view of women and sexuality, and harm his future marriage.

That is why, about a month later, James sought out pornography again. He consumed it increasingly through his teen years.

By the time James married Cara, he was addicted. He viewed porn at work and at home. James started to look forward to Cara leaving the house or going to bed so he could watch porn and masturbate. In fact, he lost interest in making love with her. When they tried, he discovered he had erectile dysfunction. He suffered short-term memory problems and grew increasingly depressed, irritable, narcissistic, and isolated. Cara felt heartbroken, rejected, and betrayed. They discussed divorce.

James decided to get help and succeeded in achieving sobriety from pornography. He and Cara found grace and mercy through their faith in Christ to heal their marriage, and now they share their story in the hope of helping others.

In an interview with EWTN during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, Father Sean Kilcawley said the pornography epidemic is “probably the biggest impediment to evangelization right now.” Part of the team at, he knows that it affects millions of men, women, and children, drawing hearts and souls into darkness. But “a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5) Christ’s love and light have the power to help men and women live in integrity and purity of heart. Father Kilcawley said the greatest joy in his priesthood has been helping individuals believe in Christ’s mercy and love for them when they felt trapped in shame and worthlessness from pornography use.

Catholic Teaching on Pornography

Jesus was very clear about the morality of pornography: “Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Mt 5:27-28) As the U.S. Bishops reaffirm in their recent statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” pornography is a serious offense against chastity and human dignity because it involves “a disordered view of the person,” who is always to be loved and never used as an object. “This is why pornography can never be justified, even within marriage,” the bishops’ letter states. Any use of pornography is a serious, a mortal sin. It needs to be brought to the mercy of Christ that is always waiting for us in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Brain Research

Science confirms what Jesus taught: the brain reacts to pornography use in the same way it does to physiological lovemaking, releasing the bonding hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. It triggers a dopamine high linked to the images, which can become addictive within a matter of weeks, creating “compulsive viewers who feel trapped in a cycle of fantasy, ritual, acting out, and despair.” (“Create in Me a Clean Heart”)


The sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist are important sources of grace to battle pornography use and should be combined with expert assistance from counseling, peer support groups, and recovery programs to free users from pornography addiction. Catholic resources for men, women, parents, clergy, and devastated spouses can be found at:

• “Defeating Satan’s Deadliest Weapon Against Men,” Jeff Cavin’s practical talk from Lighthouse Catholic Media

• “Help for Men and Women Struggling with Pornography Use or Addiction” resource round-up article at

• CovenantEyes protective software

• The Kings’ Men Catholic men’s movement

A word to parents: since only 3 percent of boys and 17 percent of girls have not seen internet porn by age 18, it is essential that we teach our children about the dangers of pornography. Start before age 11, which is the average age of first encounter. We need to be able to talk to them about any disturbing images they may have seen, pointing out their unrealistic and degrading nature, and tell them why God made sex for marriage. We can make a huge difference in helping them cultivate hearts that are pure and true.