34. Why Do Men Turn to Porn?

I can’t count the number of distraught women who have cornered me at a seminar to tell me the sad tale of a husband or boyfriend addicted to porn. Not that looking at porn is only a male problem. An increasing number of women also find themselves in the throes of porn addiction. Still, anguished women repeatedly ask me, “Why do men do that?”

I remember an episode of Oprah from some years ago in which a panel of “experts” on male behavior led by Jay Leno (?) explained why men look at pornography, go to strip clubs, and cheat on their wives. Many of the women in the audience were visibly and audibly pained as Leno and his friends basically told them to “get over it” because “it’s no big deal.”

Why do men do that? The root of the problem has to do with the fact that God’s original plan for sexual desire and attraction has been twisted in our hearts by lust. God created sexual desire to be the power to love divinely. This is what enabled the first man and woman to be naked without shame (see Gen 2:25): they loved rightly, and there is no shame in loving as God loves.

But since the dawn of sin, sexual desire has become inverted, self-seeking: in a word, lustful. We cover our bodies in a fallen world not because the body is “bad,” but because the body is so very good and – when we are in touch with our own goodness – we instinctively feel the need to protect the body from the degradation of lust.

In men, inverted sexual desire typically tends to seek physical gratification at the expense of women. When lust takes control of a man’s heart, it seeks release in whatever outlet presents itself. This is exactly what the porn industry capitalizes on.

Why does all of this pain women so much? Because women want to be loved and cherished for who they are as persons, not for the sexual release they offer men. In this case, the opposite of love is not hatred. The opposite of love is to use someone merely as a means to an end. This is what lust leads people to do – use others rather than love them.

I know it’s a cliche, but why do so many wives claim “headache” when their husbands want sex? Could it be because they feel used rather than loved? Marriage does not justify lust; it is not a ticket to treat a spouse as a means of selfish pleasure. A spouse who is the object of lust soon realizes, “You don’t love me; you don’t need me. You’re only interested in a means to your own gratification, and you can get that anywhere.”

When the name of the game is self-gratification, any outlet will do. In this view, the Church’s teaching on sex seems tailor made to “keep me from having a good time.” But when the name of the game is self-donating love, everything the Church teaches seems tailor made to help me overcome lust and learn to love as God intended in the beginning. As Catholics like to say, Bingo!

If you or someone you know needs help overcoming pornography, visit this helpful website: The Porn Effect.

Question: How can JPII’s Theology of the Body help us overcome an attraction to pornography? Continue the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog post was adapted from a commentary written for Body Language, a theology of the body-themed column written for the Catholic press between 2005-10.]

(Photo from Creative Commons)


For such a time as this have we been given Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. By taking us beyond the alternatives of prudish repression and damaging indulgence, the Theology of the Body opens the path to the redemption of sexuality and the real healing of our wounds. Learn more by watching my short film, The Cry of the HeartWatch the trailer below.

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