Forty-three percent of American men (and 9 percent of women) now report using pornography within the past week. It’s not an adolescent thing, either, as data from the new Relationships in America survey reveals. For men, porn use peaks in their twenties and thirties before beginning to diminish slowly. Indeed, sixty-year-old men are only slightly less likely to have viewed pornography within the past week than men in their twenties and thirties.He then follows up with several anecdotes about women saying that they consider porn use a deal-breaker when it comes to picking a man to have a relationship with. Regnerus worries that this will mean that lots of people will avoid getting married at all:
Among women, there is a more linear downward trend in pornography use with age. While 19 percent of women under age thirty report porn use in the week prior to the survey, only 3 percent of women in their fifties say the same. The challenge invades congregations as well: 26 percent of weekly church-attending men reported porn use within the past week.
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. 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.
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.And there the post sort of hangs. There's some vague talk about how "the Church will have to learn how to navigate this, and press forward with grace and truth" but he doesn't quite seem to have a conclusion. What it sounds very like is that this is a "you need to settle" genre of article. One reads these from time to time, and whether religious or secular in tone they're almost always intensely annoying because the subtext is invariably that people who are single are so because they are just too dang picky. If only single people would behave as the author advises, they would all find suitable spouses.
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. 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.
Regnerus does not quite go there. While the post is mostly pretty vague on what porn is and how its use might affect a relationship, treating it instead as thing thing which 23 percent of men who go to church weekly also do at least weekly, it does acknowledge briefly that using pornography is wrong and that women are entitled to object to it in a spouse or potential spouse. However, from there on the post simply treats porn usage as a given, and seeks to advise women and the church that they need to adjust their expectations, or else prepare for a life alone.
This is what really bugged me about the post. I can see writing a post along the lines of, "Look, we need to understand that an awful lot of men are going to have been exposed to porn, to one extent or another, during their lives, and so rather than pursuing a draconian purity ethic whereby we permanently write off any man who has ever looked at pornography, we need to actively evangelize on what leading a chaste life (whether in the single or married vocation) means in a porn-saturated world." But the post doesn't deal at all with what is expected of men seeking to lead a virtuous life. It's entirely about how women, and the Church, need to adjust their expectations. That makes it sound an awful lot like the author is ready to wink at the behavior.
In that regard, it's surprising that he cites the early Church as an example. If there's one thing you can say about the early Church, it's that it was not terribly accommodating to the prevailing morals of the late Roman Empire. No, it certainly didn't retreat into the wilderness, but it didn't just accept people as they were either. The early Church issued a radical call to change one's life, and that's what's missing from far too much discussion of evangelization today. Whether it's this article's apparent "this is how it is" fatalism, or the loud calls in certain sectors of the Church today to find a way to ignore Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, too often people are thinking of "evangelization" as if it means "welcoming people into the tent by ignoring moral standards" rather than "calling people to change their lives and follow Christ."