Matt Fradd and Veronica Maska empower ND students to fight porn on campus
This year’s White Ribbon Against Pornography (WRAP) week took on a new flavor in light of Father Jenkins’ decision in Spring 2019 not to install a campus-wide WiFi porn filter after meeting with Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP). The week consisted of a talk by Veronica Maska, an ND junior and business major who served as SCOP’s president last year, a Zoom-in talk by famous Catholic podcaster Matt Fradd, and a prayer service at the Grotto. Maska covered the three main objections to the ND porn filter, while Fradd covered “Seven Myths About Porn.” In addition, Maska detailed the current situation with the request for an ND filter and called students to fight porn on campus by building interpersonal accountability. Both speakers provided a variety of resources and data to back up their claims, all of which are linked to the online version of this article. Over 40 people attended Maska’s talk, and over 100 attended Fradd’s (both online and in-person).
Maska supported Fradd’s first assertion that men and women of all ages struggle with pornography: one priest said that over 50% of the confessions he hears from women include porn or masturbation, and that this number is even higher for men. The second myth, Fradd said, is that porn is considered bad because sex is seen as bad. He decried this “worn-out mischaracterization of how Christians view sexuality,” reminding listeners that sex is good. Maska mentioned that “we are made for love and to love,” which reiterates the Christian view of sex as the total gift of self. Porn, Maka said, reduces its participants “to a mere object.” Masturbation is to sex what bulimia is to eating, Fradd aptly said: it’s a distortion of the good that is the sexual act. It misses the point. “Porn obfuscates the ‘performer’” and “is all about sexual arousal,” Fradd remarked; it is not “basically naked art” (myth number three).
Myth number four, that porn is just a religious issue, is intrinsically tied to myth number five, that porn is not scientifically addictive. To assert the fifth myth is to “trivialize actual drug addictions,” said Fradd, since porn is just as addictive as other substances. Over 75 studies link porn use to less success in relationships; further studies link it to sexual problems such as a lack of stimulation during marital sex. The addicted brain gets used to porn and eventually “works to find more deviant forms of porn,” which in modern times is increasingly more graphic and violent.
While porn drastically changes the brain’s reward structure, neuroplasticity allows for freedom and healing. Porn, Fradd asserted, is not true “freedom” because of its addictive, violent quality. It cannot be linked to authentic freedom, since “doing what you want doesn’t mean you’ll be happy” and “just because someone doesn’t think it’s bad, doesn’t mean it is.” Porn is an intrinsic perversion of the sexual act, so it cannot be used “in moderation.” Pornographic content is fundamentally exploitative because the consumer treats the people on the screen as a means to an end: their own pleasure.
Myth number six is that porn is not a big deal. Since porn is addictive and detrimental to human relationships, Fradd said, it should be treated like a cancer. Fradd’s seventh myth was that those who struggle with pornography use can never truly be free of their addiction. Freedom is not a destination, but a daily choice, he reminded his audience, and “10 steps forward and 1 step back doesn’t equal 11 steps backward.” He encouraged struggling students to find accountability partners, develop a sobriety plan, run to the sacrament of Confession, and humanize those persons whose images may remain in one’s head as a result of porn use.
During her time as SCOP’s president last year, Maska compiled a list of objections to the ND porn filter and swiftly dismantled them. Those objections covered by Fradd’s talk include cellular data usage, technology issues, and the university acting as a moral judge for students. While data is always an option, even one more reminder can help those struggling with porn: turning off WiFi and switching to data might just be what is needed in a moment of temptation.
In response to the second objection, Maska referenced how Holy Cross College successfully installed a filter 15 years ago, which freed up WiFi bandwidth that was being used to stream porn. If a firewall filter is too much effort, simply blocking a list of the top 200 porn websites would still be effective.
The third objection involved the university’s role as a moral judge. Maska pointed out that Notre Dame’s “Responsible Use of Data and Information Technology Resources Policy” already forbids using university resources (e.g. WiFi) to access pornography, presumably because it contradicts Catholic teaching. By refusing to install a WiFi filter, Maska said, the university is refusing to enforce its own internet use policy.
Maska detailed SCOP’s 2018 campaign for a porn filter and the campaign’s effects. It sparked conversations not only on campus but around the country, leading to over 100 national news articles, a visit from ABC, filters at the Catholic University of America and the University of Dallas, and filter-policy initiatives at Kings’ College, Princeton University, and Georgetown University. However, the campaign did not move Fr. Jenkins. “Although we do not believe a mandatory filter is the best solution for us, we are taking steps to encourage students… to adopt filters voluntarily,” he wrote in his letter to Enough Is Enough’s Donna Rice Hughes. We have little to no evidence of such action taking place; as of now, the IT department has not been interested in investigating what percentage of ND internet searches are related to porn. An opt-in filter is not enough, Maska explained, because it “sends a message that degrading others, especially women, is simply a matter of individual choice.”
So where are we now? Since it is unlikely that Fr. Jenkins will change his mind, SCOP is working with Campus Ministry on student outreach and is asking you and me to join the fight against porn by reaching out to our fellow students. The stigma surrounding porn comes from both sides, Maska said. Students struggle silently because they fear judgment for wanting to quit or for being addicted in the first place. Maska cited a USCCB national study, as reported by The Central Minnesota Catholic, which anonymously surveyed students involved with Campus Ministries. In this survey, pornography earned the highest percentage of any category as “struggling a great deal.” 76% of Christians actively seek out porn, and 42% reported struggling with it.
It would be naive to believe that Notre Dame is the exception to those statistics, Maska said. It is our job as good friends and good Christians to meet our friends where they are in their struggle and help them find the freedom that they seek. “There is hope,” Maska reminded her listeners, “now that we’ve identified what’s going on on campus.” SCOP is planning to roll out peer training programs so that students can take SCOP’s policy campaign and transform it into a person-to-person campaign.
We must “take matters into our own hands” and “walk with them” through their journey to freedom. We need to let our friends know that if this is something that they struggle with, we are there for them. Maska advises us to accompany our friends and provide accountability and resources to our fellow students. The title of Maska’s talk, “Fighting for a Porn-Free Notre Dame,” goes beyond the filter and beyond SCOP. “It’s up to us to reach out to them,” Veronica Maska concluded, to bring about “personal conversion, heart by heart.”
Mary Biese is a junior in the Program of Liberal Studies who loves singing Hamilton loudly in the shower and ranting about hobbits and the theology of free will, to the great annoyance of her friends and acquaintances. She can be reached anytime at email@example.com.