The article is by Mark Regnerus, and for the record, yes, I do know who Mark Regnerus is. And yes, I am indeed sympathetic and grateful to him for the abuse he has taken from the gay mafia for a study in which he questioned the wonderfulness of homosexual parenting, which is an entirely different topic from the topic of this article of his or of my present post. So, no, I don't think that his background or any gratitude we conservatives feel toward him for what he has suffered is relevant to whether or not I should critique this article. I'd like to think that Regnerus, being an academic and presumably committed to vigorous, rigorous, non-personal debate, would agree with me that I shouldn't pull any punches because "he's one of us" or "the bad guys hate him" or anything of that kind, which is really just a reverse variant on the ad hominem fallacy--because of who this person is, you shouldn't criticize what he wrote. You will gather from that prelude that such an argument has been made to me already.
Regnerus's piece is oddly unclear. Time and again one wonders what, exactly, he is getting at, and that makes it difficult to pin down and reply to. But I begin with the disturbingly tepid language that he repeatedly uses to describe p.
Explanations provide only modest comfort to the many women, (and not a few men) who wrestle over the meaning of their spouse or beau’s pastime."Pastime"?
They feel hurt, if not cheated on.No kidding. Wonder why.
Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, women have the right to be annoyed or upset by porn. It’s not a good thing. It’s spiritually draining.As a ringing condemnation, that leaves a lot to be desired. "Women have a right to be annoyed or upset." Wow! Thanks very much for that permission to be "annoyed or upset." And it's not a good thing! Wow! Talk about an understatement. "Spiritually draining" is a little better, but still pretty weak. And if you think you hear a "but" coming up after that rather lame negative assessment, you're right, and I'll get back to the "but" in a moment. But first, some more examples of Regnerus's ways of describing p.
A crestfallen young woman discovered her boyfriend “struggled” with pornography. I’m never quite sure what “struggling” actually means, since it can be code for anything from shame at taking pleasure in women’s naked beauty all the way up to addiction to hardcore pornography. (There’s a difference.)"Taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" is so sanitized and artsy a locution that it really gives the impression, perhaps unintentionally, that the man in question shouldn't feel shame! Such a phrase could describe an entirely platonic and appreciative viewing of a nude as painted by a great master. In fact, such a phrase could describe a heterosexual woman's entirely platonic appreciation of a great painting of another woman. The word "pleasure" is a nicely euphemistic way of referring to sexual arousal and lust, and frankly, no Christian should be describing p use of any kind with such a phrase.
There's more to say about that previous couple of sentences. Aside from the fact that the phrase "taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" sounds like it's downplaying the seriousness of the issue involved, what exactly does Regnerus mean by it, anyway? Since he obviously thinks it's not so bad, given the contrast he means to draw in the sentence, what is it? It's supposed to be something that a man could mean by "struggling with p," which makes its meaning rather mysterious. Perhaps it is a euphemism for watching sex videos but only relatively "normal" ones, instead of the ones with all the extra perversions. But that seems an uncharitable reading, given the fact that apparently we're supposed to think this first thing is waaaay on the mild end. So what could it be? Well, my best guess is that "taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" means only lusting, perhaps briefly, over still shots of women who have few or no clothes on and are posed rather provocatively. Light-weight girlie pictures. No videos or anything. No "actresses" actually having sex.
But now we have a further problem. Am I the only one to detect a hint of condescension in the parenthetical "There's a difference"? Since this is being brought up in the context of wondering what this girl's boyfriend meant when he said that he struggled with p, one has to wonder: Does Regnerus really believe that a significant proportion of men who, in this Internet age, say that they "use p," "struggle with p," or "view on-line p" mean only and solely drooling occasionally over a few soft-core, still-shot pictures of naked women? If that's what we're meant to think from this passage, does he have any statistics to back up such an anecdotally implausible insinuation about the meaning of such phrases? And if not, isn't the condescension a little misplaced, since he appears to be the one asking us to be willfully naive?
I would never dream of telling anyone—devoid as I am of information about particular situations—what they ought to do about their boyfriend’s roving eye.Actually, the main statement of that sentence isn't true, because as we shall see the burden of Regnerus's article is to tell the church collectively what women shouldn't be doing about their boyfriends' "roving eyes." And there's no point in telling that to the Christian community collectively if you don't actually intend it to influence real, individual people, so let's not pretend that this has nothing to do with what individuals should be doing about individual relationships. But leave that aside for the moment. Roving eye? Good grief, what a Victorian euphemism. No, a roving eye is a man's letting his gaze linger a little too long on the cleavage of an underdressed female colleague. Going to a p site and viewing p videos is not a roving eye.
Okay, I'll throw in one more:
Inside the Church, we still seem to have trouble admitting that men are attracted to naked women.Not-so-subtle implication: If you are a Christian and think a problem with p use should be a deal-breaker in a relationship, you're a religious prude who doesn't want to admit the facts of life about male sexuality. And using p is sort of like "being attracted to naked women."
Nowhere in the article (go ahead, look for yourself) is there any genuine acknowledgement of the horrific and corrosive harm of p use--to the individual, to a marriage, and to society. Nowhere is there any further indication that Regnerus is aware either of its moral seriousness or of the harm it does to relationships by destroying healthy sexuality. Nowhere is there any acknowledgement of the extreme depth of evil of the p industry itself, with its unimaginably dark exploitation of women, in particular. This is it. These phrases are what we get in the way of an acknowledgement of what p really is.
So let's move on from form to substance. Where is Regnerus going with all of this? His thesis, insofar as one can discern what it is, is entirely in keeping with the soft-pedaled rhetoric.
But we often overlook another casualty of pornography (and the human reaction to it): relationships that fail to launch. Breaking off a relationship because of pornography use can be a rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem—the predilection for peering at nudity online—but such actions contribute in ways not often noted to our broad retreat from marriage.
There's the "but" part of the paragraph I partially quoted up above. What precisely Regnerus means by a "rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem" is a little unclear, seeing as he's about to suggest that one should actually do otherwise for the good of society. Is he suggesting that an individual woman should do something less rational and justifiable in her particular situation, sacrificing her life for the Greater Good? Maybe so.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that little bit between dashes in my list of downplaying phrases: Regnerus summarizes the problem of p use as "the predilection for peering at nudity on-line." Yeah, that shows a real understanding of what on-line p use is. It's "the predilection for peering at nudity on-line." That's one of the best of them all.
Not long before that, I sat around a campfire with a couple dozen enthusiastic young adults, listening to the women recount their list of relationship deal-breakers—porn was of course one of them—while the men sat by sheepishly.
While I’m sympathetic to their concern, I can also promise you that widespread departures—given the dour numbers on porn use—will only accelerate the flight from marriage in the Church and is likely to backfire on women (as many things tend to do in the domain of relationships) who would leave for pastures that may well not be greener.So tell us, Professor Regnerus, why were the men sitting by sheepishly? Oh, yes, because the men are right now using p. Got it. Well, golly, what a shame. We wouldn't want to make any poor, p-using men feel sheepish, now, would we?
And why is it going to "backfire on women" if they don't pursue a relationship with a man who is presently using p? Oh, wait, maybe because then they will die spinsters, because so many men are now using p. Apparently that's what he means, but why think that isn't a price they are willing to pay? Maybe they know that already. It's not that I think girls should be enthusiastic about not getting married. I'd love to see my world filled with wonderful, romantic weddings between loving brides and grooms. And that is not sarcasm, either. I really would love it, and I think parents should raise their children to want to get married. But there are worse things than not getting married. St. Paul says so. A woman might well be, what was the phrase?, "rational, justified, and moral" for thinking that one thing worse than not being married is being married to a p addict who can't shake the habit. Or even to a man who claims not to be an addict, not exactly, but is an on-going user. Perhaps if those were her only options, then spinsterhood, while hardly a greener pasture, would at least be better than a blasted heath.
Regnerus is somewhat unclear, but not entirely unclear, as to what he is urging.
However, I have no trouble or qualms in declaring that collectively a categorical call to leave spells doom. Young adults are waiting longer and longer to marry, and fewer are doing so.
To counsel further flight is like asserting that our Christian ancestors should have headed to the hills, as wealthy Romans did, to avoid the plague. You can’t flee far enough, and the Church grew by gutting it out, staying put, and caring for the sick. On the matter of men and pornography, the data suggest you cannot flee far enough. Lots of “prudent” decisions to leave will still lead us to the same place—a widespread marriage avoidance. There’s nothing wrong with being unmarried, but we fool ourselves if we think this is the obvious solution.I gather that by "further flight" he means what those women around the campfire were doing: Refusing to date men who are using p. That "spells doom," girls, because you don't have all that many options, so better pull up your socks and rethink your dating priorities if you don't want to be responsible for the Doom of the West.
Isn't the solution to p use in the church getting people (men and women alike) to stop using p? Wouldn't that stop the "doom" by giving the non-negotiators more potential spouses to consider? Oh, yes, I know, how terribly naive. But perhaps the women around the campfire do not consider their refusal to be a solution to the collective problem of male p use at all. Maybe that isn't the point. Perhaps they just consider it better for them as individual women with valuable individual lives not to be married than to marry a man who continues to use p. Yes, even if he admits that it is wrong and wants to stop. I cannot possibly blame them for thinking that way. In fact, I would counsel them so.
Regnerus is not-so-subtly implying that "the church" is supposed to respond to the epidemic of p use among (especially) young men by somehow inducing women to marry the men anyway. (Though he would never counsel anyone about a particular relationship!) Presumably hoping to help them stop. The most charitable interpretation is that the women aren't exactly just supposed to put up with it and learn not to mind but that they are supposed to accept and assist prospective mates with this problem so long as they acknowledge it and are trying to work on it. This interpretation is confirmed by the last paragraph of the article.
But the gritty reality remains—the Church will have to learn how to navigate this, and press forward with grace and truth. Men and women have to forge relationships—marriage—with each other recognizing human weakness and fostering each other’s sanctification. While pornography is certainly a problem, we cannot collectively bail on marriage. It’s too important to the future of the Church. Without a marrying culture in the West, chastity will falter on a scale we have not yet seen.Since when is that a good thing to counsel? Is that how you would counsel a beloved daughter who has saved herself for marriage? To forge a marriage with a man who is presently using p, hoping to "foster his sanctification"?
Let's be blunt: Nobody (I hope) would say this if the issue instead were beating women. Suppose that a man slaps his girlfriend only occasionally. He engages, in a manner of speaking, only in soft-core girl-beating. And suppose that somehow this had become endemic in American society so that even many Christian men were doing it. Suppose, even, that we had to tell our daughters, helping them to be realistic, that they might not get married at all if they made it a non-negotiable that they would not date a man who slapped them around in the course of the dating relationship. Should we then write articles urging the church not to "run away" from prospective wife-beaters, meaning by that that women should "navigate this" and "forge marriages" with such men so that there aren't too few marriages taking place?
What is astonishing about all of this is that there is a much more obvious and straightfoward approach: Tell the p users, just as you would tell women-beaters, to stop it. Stop it first! Then, when you've gotten rid of this terrible habit, which nobody should be negotiating with you about, seek someone with whom to forge a relationship and a marriage. Sure, there may well still be baggage, as there is for anyone with sin in their past (past sexual relationships, for one thing). And the baggage may, sad to say, scotch the relationship in itself. Such is the nature of sin that it leaves earthly consequences. But it should be a sine qua non, a bare minimum, that a person seeking to date and marry does not presently have a serious, on-going, destructive problem, especially not a problem that strikes at the very heart of the prospective couple's sexual relationship.
There is an interesting dilemma here for the downplayers who want to urge women to "foster the sanctification" of men presently practicing p use. On the one hand, they want to stress that there is a big range of what can be meant by "p use." (One sees this in the sentence analyzed above from Regnerus's article.) This means that they are sort of implying (without quite saying so) that they aren't really urging women to date and marry men who are really addicted, who have that bad of a problem. On the other hand, there is their odd reticence to address the problem via the Bob Newhart method. STOP IT!
Why? Why be reticent about telling the Christian men to stop first, before seeking mates, if you're only asking the women to date those who don't have such a bad problem?
See, here's the thing: Either the people you want them to date are at least somewhat addicted or they aren't. Suppose that they aren't. Then, apparently they don't think stopping is that important, or else they would stop. So then we have a very straightforward theological and moral problem, and this should be a non-negotiable. Nobody should be even considering marrying somebody who just doesn't want to stop using p, who doesn't think stopping is important. Suppose, on the other hand, that they can't stop so easily. Then they are addicted. Then all of the words Regnerus is saying about not "running for the hills" are in the service of suggesting that Christians should be considering marrying mates who are p addicts, at least to some extent, which is manifestly unreasonable. (Lest anyone wonder, yes, I would apply exactly the same recommendations and say exactly the same things if the p user were a woman.)
So which is it? I think this dilemma is unanswerable. Either they're addicts or they're not, and either way, no Christian should be dating them, much less marrying them, until they STOP IT.
Then, too, there is the element of deception. What about all those sheepish men sitting around the campfire? If they were p users, and they knew how the women felt about it, should they have been dating the women? There is an element of moral and emotional blackmail involved in deliberately leading someone to fall in love with you and only then revealing a dark, on-going behavior problem that you know will cause them great anguish, revealing it only after they feel at least somewhat committed to continuing the relationship and are loathe to hurt both of you by breaking it off. That sort of emotional blackmail is not right. That's why you should STOP IT first, and truly get past it, and be sure that you can love a normal woman and make a real, loving, physically consummated marriage, before seeking someone to fall in love with you. (Compare: If a woman already knows that she hates the very idea of sex and is going to be frigid and make her husband's life miserable in the bedroom, should she be dating? I say, absolutely not. And that isn't even a sin. Some people just shouldn't get married, cruel though that fact may be.)
Moral equivalence is going to be the bane of this debate. It's the whole pobody's nerfect thing. Nobody's perfect, we're all imperfect beings, we all have "human weakness," we all need to "foster each other's sanctification." Etc., etc. But moral equivalence is wrong. Wrong in the sense of wrong-headed, misleading, false, and inaccurate. It's especially wrong when it is applied to practical matters. Whether or not one maintains at some heady, theological level that all sins equally condemn us before God, it is dead obvious that all sins are not equal in their real-world consequences, and especially not in their real-world consequences for that most delicate of human relationships--marriage. Gluttony is not the same thing as a critical spirit is not the same thing as recklessness is not the same thing as violence is not the same thing as homosexuality is not the same thing as p use, and on and on and on. Each sin is different, and some are vastly more worthy, if "worthy" is the right word, to be regarded as deal-breakers in a prospective mate.
So, I disagree with Regnerus. Run for the hills, ladies. And gentlemen, for that matter. I'd give the same advice to a young man whose girlfriend has a present p problem. If the prospective spouse really gets over it later, perhaps the relationship can be resumed. But until then, a deal-breaker it is and should be.
And what can the church do? The church can help people to stop. (There are such things as church-sponsored anti-addiction programs. And for those who aren't actually addicts, clear counseling and catechesis should be more than sufficient.) Moreover, the church can teach that marriage is not therapy. Chastity should be a way of life, in or out of marriage. Nobody has a right to marriage. In particular, nobody has a right to marriage as therapy. Young people seeking marriage should not be continuing in destructive behaviors while waiting for a prospective spouse to come along and act as a savior girlfriend or savior boyfriend. The church, of all institutions, should not be encouraging them to do so. Rather than addressing solemn admonitions to the church to (somehow) encourage Christians to undertake marriage with people who have a p problem, let's strategize about dealing with the underlying p problem directly.
Whatever else we do, let's not settle, either individually or corporately.