Daily Herald

I’m proud that my students voted to block porn

Photo: Getty

They have put into practice what we as Catholics actually believe

Porn has been ubiquitous all of my life. The Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Stanley vs Georgia had essentially revoked state obscenity laws across the land, and thus let loose the hounds of sexual exploitation.

By the 90s, porn was experiencing a second revolution: the internet. The legalization and normalization of porn which had been achieved in the 70s and 80s was now ready for an unprecedented platform. What was once discoverable only in red light districts was now in every home, on every desk. The advent of the smartphone simply meant that the red light district had been universalized and “made present” — like some dark counter-liturgy — in every pocket on the planet.

In a class I teach on Christianity and Politics my students discuss Catholic principles such as human dignity and the common good, and they ask about practical examples of where human dignity is being violated, and they ask about threats to the common good of the family, the state, and the church.

All of my students have lived with the normalization and ubiquity of pornography, but the vast majority know the grim reality that porn is one of the greatest threats to human dignity, the family, and the common good of both church and nation — and that no one is really doing much about it. My students know that porn is material cooperation in the evils of sex trafficking, sex slavery, and prostitution. But what they seem most poignantly aware of today is something even more personal: in its most addictive digital form, porn manipulates, corrupts, and eventually destroys the natural sexual urge, cutting the image of God off from true love and actual life, misusing sexual desire to ensure that it collapses on itself rather than is generative.

Many speak about this generation of students as snowflakes, or as coddled, or entitled. I have seen this side. At other college campuses it seems they are both shock troops for and slaves of sexual and gender ideology. But at Catholic University I see another side. I see the young men and women in my class, and in student government, coming up with practical ideas that protect love, life, and goodness. They have vision, and yet they are also realists, and gradualists. On the basis of sound moral reasoning, and the wisdom of Catholic Social Teaching, these students recently passed a modest bill restricting access to pornography on the University Network.

Similar student proposals have been made at the University of Notre Dame but have been rebuffed by the generation shaped by the 70s. But the generation you’re born into doesn’t determine your destiny. Which is why I am extremely proud that Catholic University’s President John Garvey wrote two days ago that the student bill will now become the University’s own official policy. The Chief Information Officer has been directed to manually block the 200 most visited porn sites from the University Network. This will be completed by May 16th.

This is a very small but significant triumph. As President Garvey notes, it doesn’t solve our porn epidemic. But it says something about us — about who we are as students, faculty, and administration — it communicates something important about our common good. As President Garvey concludes, “I am so proud of our students.” They have articulated as policy what we actually believe as a Catholic community, that porn “is not the sort of relationship they should be looking for,” and that as a University, “we’re not going to lend our system to help them find it.”

Pecknold is an Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, and Fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @ccpecknold