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Porn and the Sacred Heart

From the time I was introduced to hardcore porn when I was eleven, I had been counting on marital sex to eventually save me from my obsession. But Jesus had something else in mind.


I.

I was eleven years-old when my best friend Eddie, who was Italian and Catholic, told me he knew what a woman looked like, naked—from the front. Of course I didn’t believe him. I knew what breasts were, and sometimes I thought about them, but I never imagined there was anything below the waist that should interest me. I soon found out how wrong I was.

I can close my eyes and still see what I saw on that stolen porn channel.
Eddie’s father had stolen cable television service from the cable company through a small black box. All I remember about their Chicago bungalow is that the TV shared the living room with a portrait of an effeminate Jesus exposing his Sacred Heart. Though I wasn’t Catholic, I was almost as interested in that alien, pasty Jesus as I was in that criminal cable box, which beamed shiny images of human sex into my adolescent mind.

When his mom left the house, Eddie kept watch while I flipped to the “bad channel” and saw womanly glory for the first time. Now, a decade and half later, I can close my eyes and still see what I saw on that stolen porn channel. And the Sacred Heart still burns, on the bookcase next to the television, His almost lonely eyes watching me, watching.

II.

On the wall of our small dining room I’ve hung an icon of the Virgin with the Child Jesus. It’s only a paper icon cut from a diocesan newspaper and stuck to the wall with tape; unblessed and without votives. In the first months of our marriage, my wife and I would sometimes look at infant Jesus and his Mother when our conversation at dinner fell silent. Now, with an infant in the high chair next to us, there are no silent moments, and we had all but forgotten about the paper icon. Until our neighbors started doing it. And doing it. And then, after a twenty minute respite—doing it again.

The new neighbors are young and unmarried, but they’re in love; the daytime television kind of love, where their headboard smacks the wall of our dining room at least twice a day with the sort of percussion that leaves nothing to the imagination. As we sit with our eight month old daughter, suppressing the raunchier things we want to say, the sounds make pictures in my brain of sweaty men behind full-breasted women, grunting and heaving in the kind of absurd positions only practiced in porn. I shut their acts from my mind, and shake my head for being so susceptible to my adolescent intellect. But I still say to my wife, “It might be nice,” and nod my head toward the wall with the Virgin icon, toward our neighbors’ studio apartment. She chuckles grimly and says, “Are you sure you’d be up to that?”
 
Being a good evangelical, I knew God wanted me to be a virgin on my wedding night.
It’s been eight months since we last made love. Eight months since the birth of our daughter, and I’m not sure I’m up to anything. After countless discussions with our midwife and trips to the gynecologist, we still don’t understand why my wife is not healing the way she should. “I’ve read that some women experience pain for a year after childbirth,” she tells me, repeatedly. “Okay,” I say darkly, “but they’re at least having intercourse…” And then we sigh and look at each other, and then give each other shoulder rubs. Who knew sex in marriage could be this good?

Back in Eddie’s living room, awash in sounds of tinny techno and fake moans of passion, we had no clue what real sex felt like, but we knew from watching porn that it was going to be awesome. Of course, none of the contrived plots involved anything like medical celibacy, and I never considered the possibility that I might live without sex as a married man. Between the age of 11, and my early 20s, I was too busy biding time until marriage, waiting to finally have-at-it with the woman of my dreams. Thanks to the thousands of sexual images I’d absorbed over a decade, I had a vast mental reservoir of masturbatory material to draw from, to make sure I never forgot how good an orgasm felt. And if that wasn’t enough, my high school girlfriend let me do things to her, as long as we never crossed the line, as long as it wasn’t intercourse. Being a good evangelical, I knew God wanted me to be a virgin on my wedding night.

III.

On our wedding night, there was something cathartic about being alone and naked with my wife without guilt. We were free in our sexual expression, unhindered by any mechanical or chemical contraceptives—the kind of sex good Catholics should have. Except it barely was sex in the full sense of the word. My bride’s pain and our inexperience meant about forty minutes of fumbling and ten seconds of true union. All the fantasies I had about this moment, built up over years, collapsed into a heap, like tuxedo trousers on a hotel floor. Zealous, sheet-twisting coitus had been replaced by humble mystification. We looked at each other, unsure what had happened, and then tenderly laughed at ourselves in the candlelight before falling asleep in each other’s arms. There was nothing reminiscent of pornography about it, and I was thankful.

All the fantasies about this moment collapsed into a heap, like tuxedo trousers on a hotel floor.
Three months later, after a bit more practice, our contraception-free sex ended in conception. The morning after, I placed a thermometer in my wife’s mouth and found it had risen by half of a degree. She had ovulated. I eloquently mumbled “Oh shit,” and we pored over our charts to see where exactly we went wrong. Our plans had “baby” only tentatively penciled in after two years of marriage. We soon realized that the biological signs that told us to make love in our midnight-desire were the same ones telling us that ovulation was immanent.

I didn’t fully accept the possibility of pregnancy until two days later, when I found myself at a small side altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe. I’d stopped into an empty church to pray on a whim—to clear my head. I was greeted by Our Lady, clothed in the native dress that revealed her belly was heavy with child. It was too early for my wife to take a pregnancy test, but as I kneeled like Juan Diego and looked up into the face of Christ’s mother, the painting seemed to smile at me in a way that guaranteed the pink strip would say yes. I grinned sheepishly back at the Virgin, wondering why I thought I could control my wife’s fertility when I had barely controlled my own inclinations for the last ten years.

IV.

Nine months later, at 6:29 a.m. on a Wednesday, our daughter was born underwater into the capable hands of our nurse-midwife. With an elegant bloom of blood and tissue, her head opened the canal, her shoulders were extracted, and a wide eyed infant was placed at the breast of my wife, who was crying with laughter.

I said, 'I know you’re in there, Jesus,' and let my fingers ghost across the front of the tabernacle.
That same small face, still wide-eyed under the water, was later the source of my own delight, as the deacon intoned, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit,” and pulled my daughter headfirst through the baptismal font. This time it was I who pulled her to my chest as she emerged from the water. Holding her tiny, nude body, reborn through water and spirit, salvation suddenly became overwhelmingly sensual. I came forward to receive the body and blood of Christ with my newly baptized daughter in my arms.

For all of it: my Catholicism, our daughter, the baptism, and to some degree the celibacy—I can only blame my wife. And God. Years ago, when we had barely thought of marriage, she took me to a rural orphanage in Honduras, run by a toothless Franciscan. There, a humble tabernacle in a cement block chapel sent chills through my spine. I found a prayer of “Adoration to the Blessed Sacrament” in an old book, next to a dusty kneeler. My calloused evangelical heart was made raw by the possibility that the real presence of my Lord was silently waiting for me to notice him. I made sure I was alone, and read the words, holding their sweetness as long as I could. Quietly, I said, “I know you’re in there, Jesus,” and let my fingers ghost across the front of the tabernacle. Then I left before anyone saw my embarrassment for falling in love with a wafer locked up in a golden box.

V.

It’s been eight months since I made love to my wife. Eight months since the birth of our daughter. Sometimes there are tears of frustration. Sometimes, I take secret pleasure in a sexual purity that I haven’t known since the fifth grade. The stains of my sexual brokenness, that I thought had been cleansed by marriage, can’t hide any longer behind the sloth of a satisfied husband in bed. I lay awake at night hoping that this celibacy is not permanent, but that the chastity—my own properly ordered sexuality—might be. This isn’t purity based on unknowing, as if my mind could somehow regain the innocence of my prepubescent past. Rather, it’s the purity that comes when you admit there are some corners of the devil’s hell you still find overwhelming erotic, but still, once more, you decide to look away.

There are some corners of the devil’s hell I still find overwhelming erotic.
When I go to my priest seeking forgiveness, and ask him to absolve me for lusting in my heart, for sexual thoughts about a woman who is not my wife, I don’t tell him that I’m living as a celibate. I don’t want his sympathy. I just want a good communion on Sunday, where my eyes don’t notice the comely shape of my neighbor’s wife moments before I receive the body and blood of my Lord.

VI.

Now, in the background, the television is humming, casting shadows of exposed flesh somewhere deep in my subconscious. The shadows taunt me in dreams when I fall asleep with a rosary in my hands. Maybe they’re afraid I might finally root them out. Yes, it’s true; I can’t yet turn them off completely. But whenever they take me back to Eddie’s living room, I find my Lord is always there, with the flesh of his chest pulled back and his eyes aching for my attention. While women expose themselves on decade-old celluloid, and make love to men who are not their husbands, I busy myself studying the thorns that pierce the ventricles like veins, and the aorta on fire. I turn away from the shameful screen toward the nuptial passion of the Sacred Heart.

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June 20, 2006

PATRICK STILL lives in the Midwest, somewhere along the Mississippi River.

©2006, GodSpy.com. All rights reserved.



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READER COMMENTS
07.17.06   suburbanbanshee says:
Re: pain after childbirthMaybe you've seen this info before, but:http://www.drspock.com/article/0,1510,5110,00.htmlThis talks about a condition that's a sort of feedback loop of pain; the muscle expects to hurt, so it tenses up to the point of hurting.Also, apparently sometimes prolonged inflamation can damage bone. This is talking about pain after childbirth in the coccyx, but probably this is true in other areas also. http://www.coccyx.org/whatisit/inflamm.htmHope these links helped. Of course, there are always all kinds of weird medical things that happen, but hopefully this one will just go away soon.

07.17.06   True Knight says:
God Bless you Patrick. I too was set free from porn and I would like to talk to you. I run a ministry to help men break free of Porn addiction, the address is www.TrueKnights.org. You can contact me at my website. We have a lot of info for those who struggle and a program call Combat Training which is Purity Coaching. We also have a support forum. For more information you can go to: www.TrueKnights.org God Bless, Ken Henderson www.TrueKnights.org

07.06.06   klossg says:
God bless Mr. Still and his wife. Anyone who offers chastity up in this day and age, is like a falcon, diving out of no where, flashing by, on target to truth. If you blink, you miss it. But once you have seen it or something like it, you feel the power and the goodness, and look for it again and again. I find myself always seeking the "falcon flash", looking for friendly predators in search of purity. I hope to catch a glimpse of them zipping by, indicating that they too may be on the grace path toward chastity. And, you Mr. Still have done this just as powerfully but maybe even more so because you slowed down the dive and made it easier to see the falcon in action. You have highlighted the tenseness and power of a man of porn, in search for what truly makes sex, a little taste of heaven.Thanks Godspy and Mr. & Mrs. Still for this straight forward look at sex, temptation, redemption and grace above all.My wife and I have been there and it is a falcon dive to say the least! That passion and straight line power, is only due to Christ and his glorious death and resurrection! We fail time and again but get back up and try. I loved the way you fused the Sacred Heart to the Porn and your memories. Very alive! Very real! Very human - yet aware of Christ and his love that makes chastity possible! Congratulations on becoming Catholic and sharing with this our broken body of Christ!

06.23.06   fausmaxII says:
Thank goodness someone has taken an honest & respectful look at this topic. I've been walking in the dark, step by step, trying to stay faithful to Church teaching & faithful to my marriage for years without too much practical guidance. The wonderful priests we know are unable or unwilling to speak to this delicate subject. The current culture is absolutely no help, needless to say & its not a topic that comes up casually in conversation. So I thank the author & Godspy for finding a balance here!

06.22.06   aunt dottie says:
Quote After countless discussions with our midwife and trips to the gynecologist, we still don’t understand why my wife is not healing the way she should. “I’ve read that some women experience pain for a year after childbirth,” she tells me, repeatedly. “Okay,” I say darkly, “but they’re at least having intercourse…” And then we sigh and look at each other, and then give each other shoulder rubs. Who knew sex in marriage could be this good?This is a touching and real and even inspirational portrayal of real life. If celibacy within marriage is, indeed, necessary in this case, Mr. Still seems to be dealing with it in the only way possible, i.e., with the help of the good Lord. I would gently suggest that perhaps there is no real gynecological indication for abstaining from intercourse but perhaps some wifely reluctance that might be overcome with Christian counseling. ? fear of another pregnancy, ? weariness dealing with a new baby. Whatever the problem, it must be approached with the utmost in gentleness and love. I might suggest Dr. Laura Schlessinger's THE PROPER CARE AND FEEDING OF HUSBANDS for Mrs. Still so that she might feel more motivated to accommodate her husband provided it is not painful. Maybe the poor woman is just stitched up too tight after an episiotomy! Just some thoughts.....I feel love will win out in this case. Pray - communicate - be very gentle with each other.

06.22.06   pinecone says:
The thing I would like to know is whether or not your wife knows about your past and, if so, how that affects your relationship, and if not if you ever plan to tell her.

06.21.06   BP says:
Great article. That took a lots of courage to share. Stay close to the Blessed Mother. She will never let you down.

06.21.06   Godspy says:
From the time I was introduced to hardcore porn when I was eleven, I had been counting on marital sex to eventually save me from my obsession. But Jesus had something else in mind.

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