A recent November 2020 study from the International Journal of Impotence Research (of all things!) showed that traffic on pornography websites has significantly increased. Not only that but searches for COVID-related pornographic themes had been sought out, on one website, more than a million times in just one month.
While the US, at least according to this study, remained relatively unchanged from normal traffic (hardly a consoling thought), in nations with some of the strictest lockdown measures there has been a significant increase. COVID-19, with the corresponding reactions of local and federal government agencies, have provided increased social isolation, loneliness and boredom – all part of the building blocks that tempt us towards pornography. As the popular saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”.
This type of saying is not new, nor is the importance of its understanding. St. Jerome (c. 342/347-420) as early as the 4th century had a similar warning: “Engage in some occupation, so that the devil may always find you busy”. The early Church Fathers were also aware of this ‘chink’ in the armor. While access to pornography has never been easier, merely a few clicks of the keyboard or a few taps on the smart phone, this deeply rooted primordial and deadly sin, lust, has been something devout Christians and many people of good will have been battling for time immemorial.
St. Basil the Great (c. 330-379), and many of the early Church Fathers, spoke about the importance of our eyes. St. Basil noted, as recalled by the Eastern Orthodox St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, that “the eyes are the two “bodiless arms” with which the soul may reach out and touch from afar the visible things it loves” (Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain: A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, p. 86). How important are our eyes! In his parable on ‘the sound eye’ Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23, NRSV). Taking in pornography through the eyes, the lamp of the body, is the greatest darkness and something which will extinguish that ever important light found in the hope we received by our baptism into Christ.
According to the website ‘Fight the New Drug’, there were more than 42 billion site visits to Pornhub in 2019, which was 8.5 billion more visits than 2018. So, what can be done? Isn’t pornography the real global pandemic? How do we safeguard ourselves during this pandemic time, a time of increased isolation, loneliness and boredom? I have three things I want to propose to remedy this increasing threat:
It can be so tempting to pick up our smart phones or open our personal laptops when the feeling strikes: “I’ve been working on this project for a while, I need a break” or “Well, the kids are napping, let me check social media and see what’s up”. What I will call “pique my interest” surfing is actually needless surfing and an opportunity for sin. With the number of unrequested ads and suggested videos that are thrown in our faces, it is not hard for the temptation to become a suggestion: “Go ahead, go to that site. You can just look. There’s nothing wrong with looking is there?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across dating apps (certainly unrequested as I’m happily married!) which picture “mature local women” scantily clad.
Evagrius, the 4th century monk said: “It is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions.” This is why having a plan or goal in mind when accessing social media is key because instead of surfing for entertainment, we engage social media platforms with a purpose (i.e. Go to A’s profile to see if he posted his article and then go over to B’s page to read the daily briefing article, etc.).
Chances are you are reading this from home, perhaps on a break from work (Glory to God that you surfed to this page!). One of the temptations in this pandemic will be to take it easy both in our work (because, hey, who’s watching) and perhaps even in our prayer life. However, these things, especially the later, need to be running full steam! Perhaps your place of work, like mine, offered daily Mass, or perhaps you had gone to Mass at 6:30AM on your way into work or maybe your commute provided time to pray in other ways. Keep up with those things! Now, more than ever, we need those graces.
Get up at the same time you normally would if you were going to work. Take lunch at the same time (or when your family eats) and then don’t idle; get back to work! Keep the schedule as it normally is and fill any gaps in the day (normally spent at the water cooler or chatting at the threshold of a colleague’s office door) with prayer, a quick walk outside or even a short call to check in with family and friends.
This goes back to the warnings of the early Church Fathers, and to Christ Himself, that the eyes are so precious and act as a safeguard to what fills us. If the eyes are truly “bodiless arms” which take in that which they gaze upon, then we have to make sure that what we look at and take in is edifying for the soul. Look at your wife with new admiration (I know I have since working from home and seeing the vital role she plays at home with the kids), look upon nature with new wonder, awe and appreciate.
Gaze upon and surround yourself with saintly statues, icons and pictures of loved one’s so that what you gaze upon at every moment may fill you with that true light that is Christ Himself, and in that, that He may strengthen us daily to reject the lure of the darkness and turn towards His inexhaustible light.