Interview With Psychotherapist Peter Kleponis
By Genevieve Pollock
WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pennsylvania, JUNE 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Earlier this month, the New York Archdiocese held a mandatory conference for its clergy on addressing pornography. Now, an online Webinar offers the same information to Catholics across the globe.
On Saturday, all people worldwide are invited to participate in this Internet seminar from their own homes, to learn more about addressing the growing pornography problem in society and in their personal lives.
Peter Kleponis, assistant director of Comprehensive Counseling Services, which is sponsoring the Webinar along with the Institute for Marital Healing, gave ZENIT an overview of what the online seminar will cover.
Kleponis, a Catholic psychotherapist who specializes in marriage and family therapy, men’s issues and pornography addiction recovery, was the main speaker at the New York Archdiocese conference.
He noted that Archbishop Timothy Dolan backed the conference along with the archdiocesan Family Life Office, the Priest Personnel Office and the Safe Environment Program, in response to multiple requests from priests who asked for help in addressing the pornography issue in their parishes and in the confessional.
The archdiocese developed informational cards with suggestions for priests to advise people in this area, and with resources for men who are struggling with pornography use. It is also in the process of launching a new Web site on this topic, Kleponis said.
In this interview with ZENIT, he speaks more about the nature of the pornography problem, its causes, and how to address it on the personal and societal levels.
Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.
ZENIT: What are the latest statistics on the prevalence of pornography use today?
Kleponis: The prevalence is huge, and even the statistics that we have are underestimates, because this is something that is going on late at night in the privacy of people’s homes, so we really don’t know how serious it is.
What we do know is that it is a $97 billion industry, and $13 billion of that comes from the United States. Also, looking at the sheer number of pornographic Web sites, we see that it’s huge.
ZENIT: How does this use compare between men and women?
Kleponis: Currently about 83% of pornography addicts are men, and 17% are women.
For women, it’s the chat rooms rather than the visual pornography that they’re looking at.
Men and women are wired differently. Men are visually stimulated.
When a man looks at a pornographic image, there is a chemical reaction going on in the brain. Dopamine is released, there is euphoria, and, when combined with sexual arousal and orgasm, it becomes what I call the “perfect recipe” for an addiction. Thus they’re going to be more attracted to the pictures and videos.
Women, on the other hand, are more relationally oriented, so they’re looking into the chat rooms where they can develop a false persona.
Here they can be anyone they want to be, look anyway they want to look, and engage in these erotic relationships with men on the Internet, all through words.
It is like they’re working with this man and writing their own romance novel together — and that is what they get addicted to. There are some women who do get addicted to the visual pornography, but it is a very small amount.
There are a number of younger women who are forced into this because their boyfriends insist that this be part of their relationship. They fundamentally don’t want it, and that’s a different issue.
This gets into the issue of what pornography has taught young people. First of all, it has taught young men and teenage boys that women are there for their own sexual pleasure — call it the sexual utilitarian philosophy, or on college campuses they call it the “hook-up culture.” This is the belief that it’s okay to use someone for your own sexual pleasure.
What this teaches young women is that in order to get a boyfriend and keep him, they have to be sexually active and participate in pornography.
Right now it’s a popular thing for women to use their camera phones to take nude pictures of themselves and email them to their boyfriends. They feel that this is what they have to do. Do they like it? No.
If you ask them, deep down inside they feel that it is degrading, and they’re very angry about it. But they feel that they’re stuck, that it’s what they have to do.
Thus you can see where it warps a person’s sense of what a healthy, loving relationship really is; they don’t learn about respect for one another.
ZENIT: What are some signs of pornography dependence or addiction? How can a person tell if he, or a loved one, is developing this addiction?
Kleponis: First, it can be difficult to identify this conflict in marriage and in family life.
I ask men to reflect upon a number of questions about their behaviors to evaluate whether they are dependent upon pornography: Have you withdrawn from your emotional and loving relationship with your wife?
Have you lost your ability to appreciate your wife’s beauty and goodness? Do you share this part of your life with your wife? When an attractive person walks by, do you lock onto them?
Do you hide certain magazines or other things from your spouse? Do you look forward to going away on business trips? That’s a big one for a lot of men, because in the hotel rooms they can look at all kinds of pornography on television. Also, a lot of times when they go on business trips they’ll go to strip bars, pornography shops, or do other things.
Do you have a place where you hide things from your wife? Are there certain behaviors that you cannot share with your wife? These are all warning signs that a person could be developing dependency on pornography.
For wives, the initial thing that they feel is a weakening of the marital friendship with less affection and less intimacy. Their husbands seem much more distant, unappreciative and often irritable and critical.
Wives in this situation usually sense that something is seriously wrong. Their responses are similar to those seen with martial infidelity which, in fact, pornography use is.
When a wife comments on these changes, the response from a husband who is using pornography is often one of initial denial, which again is similar to the response to questions about marital infidelity.
ZENIT: If a wife is picking up these signs and suspects that her husband is using pornography, is there a way to approach the topic without making her spouse defensive? Have you seen any success in this area?
Kleponis: Yes we have seen success in uncovering and addressing this serious conflict in marriage.
However, confronting a husband about his pornographic use is very challenging and requires a great deal of wisdom.
The initial response in a wife to identifying pornography use in her husband is as devastating as discovering an affair. She responds strongly from her sensitive heart and powerful emotional life, and experiences feelings of betrayal, pain, sadness, strong anger, mistrust and a loss of her sense of goodness and beauty.
It is hard for her to respond in a calm manner and communicate, “Honey I noticed this and I think you have a problem.” She’s devastated.
Often times the husbands cannot understand why their wives are so upset, as they think: “I’m just looking at pornography; no big deal.” But it’s a big deal to the woman.
She thinks, “My husband would rather be with these women on the computer screen than with me.” It’s devastating for the woman’s self esteem.
These young girls in pornography, they’re 18 or 19 years old. Many of them have already had a lot of plastic surgeries. They use a ton of makeup, and thanks to the things they do with digital technology, they don’t exist.
So here you have a woman who is maybe in her mid-30s, been married several years, has had a few children; she may be beautiful, but doesn’t look like an 18-year-old. Thus she thinks: “How can I compete?” She often feels rejected and unattractive.
We recommend that when a wife discovers pornography use, she correct her husband by describing her betrayal pain to him.
We also encourage her to try to master her anger by entering into a forgiveness process that often is initially spiritual, by praying, “God forgive him” or “God take my anger.” Strong correction should be given with an expectation of change and fidelity to the marriage and children.
The response to such correction varies. Some men are grateful that the darkness in their lives has been exposed, while others respond: “There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s not a problem; everyone’s doing it.”
If the later response persists in spite of proof of pornography use, wives should insist on the couple discussing this problem with a third party such as a trusted relative or friend, a priest or a counselor. Most married men with pornography conflicts we work with are in our offices because their wives demanded treatment.
ZENIT: Pornography is often portrayed as acceptable in our culture. Some people might argue that using pornography in a marriage is OK, even helpful. What would you say about this?
Kleponis: Look at the extensive harmful effects of pornography upon the person who uses it, upon marriages, young adults and children.
We encourage husbands to respond to their vocational calling to be the strong leaders and protectors of their wives and children.
The most common cause of pornography use is selfishness, which turns a man in upon himself, thereby damaging his calling as a man to be a protector and a mature giver, another Christ to his wife and children.
In pornography the man is entering a fantasy world devoid of a true loving and intimate relationship, which is really about using another person for his own personal pleasure. It damages his ability to see the beauty and goodness of his wife and of marital love, sexuality and chastity.
A man who engages in pornography regresses into a childlike state in which he is driven to seek pleasure. He loses his sense of healthy masculinity and fulfillment as a husband and as a father.
Pornography weakens men in every way and harms their ability to lead.
As men we are called to be leaders, providers and protectors, of our families, parishes and society. We cannot do that if we’re enslaved by pornography.
We also encourage men to understand God’s plan for a healthy sexuality as outlined in Church teaching.
We often cite the wisdom of the catechism: “It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense” (CCC, 2354).
We challenge the cultural view that there is no harm coming from using others as sexual objects, and explain that this view is rooted in profound selfishness and a lack of respect for others.
The husband needs to understand that the issue is not his alone, but it is a marital and family issue and needs to be addressed with his wife.
It is vitally important in this “pornified” culture that priests communicate the fullness of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality and criticize strongly the cultural view that no harm comes from using others as sexual objects.
The profound wisdom of John Paul II in “Love and Responsibility” and the “Theology of the Body” can strengthen and purify men and the entire culture in this struggle.
And of course, what does pornography do? It also promotes contraception, because it makes sex nothing more than a recreational activity. It takes away the relational and procreative aspects of it, so nothing good can come out of it.
[With the contribution of Richard Fitzgibbons]