It takes a bit to shock me these days. When you specialise in areas like pornography addiction and male sexuality you tend to develop a tough skin about the reality that some young men are deeply socialised into a pornographic worldview from the youngest age.
So I have to admit that I was surprised to find myself quite confronted reading last Saturday’s paper. A large photograph showed one of the young cadets from the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) leaving the Magistrate’s Court after a preliminary hearing. This was related to his decision to use SKYPE to broadcast himself having intercourse with a female cadet. A great deal has been written about the issue. There have been complex explorations about the relationship between the Defence Minister and senior military personnel. There has been a great deal written about aspects of military culture. There has, of course, now been the assignment of more reviews and investigations than one can imagine. This seems to be our current cultural predilection. Whenever anything happens, launch a review. While not wishing to be overly cynical one wonders if this is what happens when as a culture we are not prepared to address the deeper issues that create some of our more confronting social phenomena. Launch a review and the media moves on to the next thing. Problem solved!
What was most confronting however about this particular article was the fact that it printed a transcript of the text message that one cadet had sent to the young man at the centre of the incident in the hours before it happened. I will spare you the more graphic aspects of the exchange but to paraphrase, it went something like this:
“I just had the sickest idea. Why don’t you (insert offensive verb here) her and film it?”
As a male, father, mentor and speaker I found it hard to read. Yes, we know that a significant number of young men may well share such a lexicon but let’s ask the deeper question. Let’s ask the question that I ask thousands of teachers and parents and young men each year, “Where did they get the idea? Where did they learn those language structures?” Why did it occur to them that filming and broadcasting sexual acts might be exciting, or a normative course of action? I am going to argue that they learned this from the embedded scripts of pornography.
The cadets in the ADFA scandal had only been there for ten weeks. They were raw. In essence, they were average Australian young men. To argue that in the space of ten weeks some kind of immersion process had suddenly turned them into misogynist abusers is tenuous at best. I am not convinced they were forced into these choices by some endemic problems with military culture. There simply wasn’t the time. They had these beliefs before they arrived.
Pornography acts as a curriculum. In the absence of fathers and good men mentoring a generation of boys about what it means to be a sexual human person they are going to learn their beliefs and attitudes from somewhere. Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of sexual discipleship they are going to learn something else. Testosterone peaks in the human male at about 17 years of age. Sex drive will closely mirror the level of testosterone. For most of human history young men were married by 14 or 15. Join the dots. They move into the peak of their sexual selves and essentially, as a culture, we abandon them to Internet and the smoke, mirrors and locker room whispers of their peer network.
Catholic schools are special places where we can present a vision of the person that directly challenges the impact of pornography’s formative action in the lives of young men. A catholic vision of masculinity is based within the deep mystery of our creation in the image of God found in Genesis. The male human person is essentially relational. While they may have a strong biological drive towards sexual intercourse young men are also profoundly capable of romance, intimacy, communication and ultimately…love. Love in the true sense of the word. Love in its deepest meaning in the capacity to make a gift of oneself to another.
John Paul II wrote extensively on the truth that the deepest meaning of being a person is the capacity for self-gift. To mirror in our relationships at various levels the total gift of self which is now and will always take place in the heart of the Trinity. Pornography is diabolical in the literal meaning of that word. The Greek term ‘diabalene’ means to tear apart. Pornography is teaching our young men to fragment the meaning of the body, the meaning of the person. Rather than learning a ‘language of the body’ where the person is a gift they are learning a language of consumption, of use where the beauty of the feminine is reduced to its sexual value alone – to be discarded when its exploitation is complete.
Yesterday, I spent the day working with 200 fantastic boys and staff at Salesian College. It is a great Catholic school. We explored the issue of pornography in depth and the impact upon the boys was extraordinary. Finally, someone was talking to them. Someone was putting a name and a face to their experience of uncertainty, confusion and unhappiness. At the end of the day, one of the boys wrote this prayer:
Dear God, please assist me in achieving my goals of becoming a good man and please help me lead a successful life that is beneficial to the community, and also help me to respect women in a whole new way after today’s experience. Amen….
All this is simply to say that in Catholic schools we have to fight to re-present to our young people a compelling and accurate vision of the person, of what it means to be male and female in the image of God and how we are called to truly live a profound complementarity of personhood. They are hungry for good news. They are hungry for a vision of what they could become. As Jesus said, “The fields are ripe for the harvest. Pray then that the Lord of the harvest will send labourers.”
Maybe that is a vision for what we are doing in Catholic schools.
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Jonathan Doyle is the founding director of Choicez Media and is currently completing further post-graduate study at The Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. He can be reached for consultancy and training work via the Choicez website
What issues are you seeing in the area of masculine identity and sexual decision-making for boys in Catholic schools?