I am so proud of our students. This month the student government association, the body that represents our undergraduates, passed a resolution asking the university to prohibit access through the campus network to the 200 most frequently visited pornography websites. I told them we’d be happy to.
Pornography is not what it used to be. It has changed in two ways. First, it’s more accessible. In the 19th century, it was found in leather-bound books in gentlemen’s clubs and private libraries.
By the mid-20th century, it was available in movie theaters, and in magazines and paperbacks at cigar stores and newsstands — outlets that could be closed off to young people.
Today, any 6-year-old can find it on a cellphone. In 2014, Pornhub — a website that works like YouTube, with user-uploaded videos — had 78 billion page views.
Second, it has become more graphic. The internet delivers live performances, not still pictures. And it sends them across borders so they are harder for the law to reach, even in the declining number of jurisdictions that make the effort.
I think that basic human urges are fairly constant from one generation to another. But technology can change our stimuli and the way we respond. That’s happening here.
Next time you walk down the street, watch how many of your fellow pedestrians are consulting their phones. When we dine out, my wife and I see young couples seated around us looking down at Facebook rather than across the table at one another. Instead of living our own lives, we now play parts in a simulacrum that we create, touch up, preserve and revisit.
Modern pornography lets us extend this solipsism to our sex lives. We don’t need one another for sexual fulfillment. We can summon imaginary partners at the touch of a button.
As it happens, the digital revolution followed a revolution in reproductive technology, and their combined effect has augmented this trend.
The birth control pill allowed people to act on their sexual impulses without fear of pregnancy. So it separated sex from children, long-term commitment and love, and made it a form of recreation. If that’s all it is, any partner will do; even a virtual one.
Our students are right to be concerned about the trend in this direction, because the digital revolution’s ambition is to make virtual reality indistinguishable from life.
5G networks provide faster speeds and accommodate huge amounts of data. First-person video games and haptic systems draw players into the virtual world. Robots will bring the artificial world into ours.
These advances in graphic and tactile presentation in turn make contemporary pornography more addictive than it was 50, even 10, years ago. You can call up a sex partner as easily as a car on Carfax (“Show me red 1977 Corvettes”).
No courtship is necessary. Your partner is always willing. And available — on your home or office computer, on your phone at the beach, in your car or in the library.
It’s sad, what we have done to ourselves, and especially to the young people whose hormones are pulling them irresistibly to find love and play a part in God’s creation. Instead, we offer them a diet of porn that they can binge on until they develop a virtual version of Prader-Willi syndrome.
Preventing access on the university system to 200 websites won’t change this. Students can use their phones, and they can visit other sites where smut can be found.
But it does communicate a point of view that our students say they want to hear. It says that this is not the sort of relationship they should be looking for, and we’re not going to lend our system to help them find it.
Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington. Catholic University’s website is www.cua.edu.
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