Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? {My August column @TheCatholicPost }

In a word, no.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is the title of an award-winning graphic novel/memoir by the artist and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s an amazingly funny, poignant, unapologetically honest account of the decline and death of Chast’s parents, and how she processed it both emotionally, physically, and artistically. If you’ve been through caring for elderly parents, you will find yourself nodding at this book.

For obvious reasons, the title of that book was prominently in mind when I began to review an important new book about at the scourge of pornography on our culture.

Believe me, I’d much rather talk about something more pleasant. As frequent readers of The Catholic Post  can tell from the books normally reviewed here, I genuinely try to focus on the positive aspects of life as a modern Catholic. And there is plenty of positive to focus on. But every so often, a cultural moment making it vital to tackle uncomfortable truths.

The tipping point for me was the open letter written and read in court earlier this year by the young woman who was raped by a student at Stanford University. The details of her account convinced me and many others that there is a huge crisis of depersonalization in our culture, and that sexuality is the center of that struggle.

If you don’t think this kinds of event is directly related to the epidemic of porn in our culture, you haven’t done even the tiniest bit of research on how pornography affects the brain, especially those of the young. And some of the generation growing up right now are, to put it mildly, adversely affected by easy access to pornography.

Cleansed: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn by Marcel LeJeune is a sobering, but ultimately hopeful, book about the cancer that is pornography.

LeJeune works in college ministry—he’s the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, the largest campus ministry in the country. LeJeune writes candidly about his own struggles as a young man with porn, but much more importantly, he writes both about the ways that people who struggle can break free from this pernicious addiction, as well as the ways people can avoid and help young people especially stay away from it.

Cleansed first outlines the incontrovertible evidence that pornography is highly addictive and corrosive to healthy relationships, families, and society at large, and why that matters. LeJeune then shares a Catholic vision of combatting porn, from virtue development, to accountability groups, to prayer and penance, to protecting those under one’s care. He points that in extreme cases, professional counseling may be needed, as porn is widely recognized as a “process addiction” such as gambling.

Cleansed isn’t just for those who struggle  with pornography. It’s also for parents who want to know how to keep kids safe from encountering pornography. Mostly, it’s for anyone who would want to be aware and equipped.

Because of the subject matter of a book like Cleansed, it’s obviously is not for young readers. Yet one of the key points of the book is keeping the very young from encountering and potentially becoming addicted to pornography online. LeJeune gives a lot of excellent advice for parents, including close monitoring of Internet use, a well-adjusted relationship, and a willingness to talk to young children candidly about the beauty of sexuality and how pornography distorts and even kills its healthy expression.

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For parents who want to talk about this sensitive area in a careful way with children of all ages, I highly, highly recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Kids by Kristen A. Jenson M.A. and Debbie Fox.

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures shares a large amount of information to help even very young children understand that “bad pictures” are out there, and it’s likely they will encounter them, but must work to keep away from them to grow up healthy emotionally, physically, and developmentally.

Parents should absolutely read the book first to decide how to present the material, but the narrative provides not just data about how pornography is freely available, but can be extremely damaging to children’s developing brains.

Even with the best internet filters, children may be in a situation where they encounter pornography or something that could lead them towards the damaging, hard-core images. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures helps children develop their own “internal internet filter,” and compellingly makes the case for why they should do so. The book offers a five-point CAN-DO plan to help kids who might accidentally encounter troubling images, and helps them have a pro-active stance towards internet use.

Healthy parents want for their children what’s best. And healthy parents want their children to grow up healthy in every way, so they can flourish in relationships, from friendships to marriage, and in every area of life. Giving children the tools strategies to do that is a gift parents can give in so many ways. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, is a vital resource book for parents to help give that gift to their children.