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Panelists examine porn culture

Irena Zajickova | Friday, January 23, 2009

Pornography has become ubiquitous in today’s culture, panelists said at a lecture Thursday titled “Pornucopia: Living in a Pornified Culture.”

Five panelists took part in the discussion, sponsored by the Gender Relations Center, to examine the issue of integrating faith and sexuality in a modern “pornified” culture.

Gail Bederman, an associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, discussed the beginning of modern pornography.

Modern pornography has existed for about 300 years, Bederman said, since the end of the 17th century. As people began to be considered part of a commercialized world, where commodities could be bought and sold, the meaning of sexual arousal changed and the circulation of sexualized images increased. But sexual images had been around for much longer, Bederman said.

“The circulation and use of sexually explicit images is by no means a new thing,” she said. “You can go back to ancient Greece, ancient Rome and sexual images were there.”

Rick Garnett, a professor of law at Notre Dame, covered the topic of protection of pornography under federal law.

“Pornography, as a rule, is constitutionally protected,” Garnett said.

Since adults are allowed to view or use erotic material in their own home, any law that might be passed might tread on those rights. Another problem arises in the area of moral value, because the Supreme Court could be accused of imposing its beliefs on others. This makes regulation of sexually explicit material very difficult.

Father Nate Wills, an associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, discussed the intertwining of religion and pornography.

“The people I see are normally good Catholics, who are struggling to love Christ more deeply in their lives, but they come across this thing that is so powerful that it takes away from the things they love,” Wills said.

The reasons for the Catholic Church’s opposition to pornography are varied. Pornography distorts a person’s worldview, hijacks relationships and causes a cycle of addiction and isolation, Wills said People think the images will bring fulfillment into their lives, but the opposite happens and the human is reduced to an “object of flesh,” as Wills called it.

Brian Vassel, a third-year Master of Divinity Student at Notre Dame, has facilitated the group Men of Faith, a group for men who are trying to integrate their faith and sexuality through support and prayer.

He cited two reasons why people should not view pornography: because it exploits those who take part in its production, and it changes and affects the people who watch it in profound ways.

Christina Traina, an associate professor of religion at Northwestern University, discussed some of the more unpleasant aspects of repeated exposure to pornography.

“Objectification, the making of a person into a thing, is the prerequisite for all kinds of violent acts,” Traina said.