Today in Disclaimers

Most of you won’t want to read this piece in GQ about porn’s effect on sex, the upshot of which is “porn used to be the poor man’s substitute for sex; now the latter has to be gussied up with facials and ball gags and D-grade dialogue to be even half as enticing as porn.”  (It does include the astute observation that many modern sexual practices are, thanks to porn, “more like masturbation with a fellow 3-D person,” but again, you probably don’t want to read about it.)  The reason I mention the piece at all is to note what has become the standard disclaimer:  “Before you brand me some sort of sexual neocon, let me say: I like sex. I watch porn.”  Reminded me of this piece in the NYT on the tired ubiquity of strip-club scenes in TV and film:  “First let me say that I yield to no man in my fondness for naked women. I have seen several in person, though none recently, and rank them right up there with a good sunset or a crisply turned double play on my list of things worth looking at…”  You know, because without those disclaimers, these people simply wouldn’t be worth listening to.  Because then, they might be suggesting something was wrong with modern sexual mores.  And heaven knows, we can’t have that.


  1. Cubeland Mystic says

    One discussion worth having (I think.) Is one where we discuss lines like this:

    “…and rank them right up there with a good sunset or a crisply turned double play on my list of things worth looking at…”

    I’ve been thinking quite a bit about things worth looking at. What is interesting about it is the act of looking is an act of consumption. One can spend a great deal of their life in a passive state. Even if you are taking the wholesome crisply turned double play you are still consuming.

    Often I think my idleness justified because I’ve spent that time watching EWTN or PBS or some other educational delivery system. Still it is passive, and hence a type of consumption. I work with my brain, and I need downtime, but in our modern world where so many of us don’t produce anything shouldn’t we be making stuff in stead of consuming?

    I think I am heading into discussion on leisure.

  2. Looking can be an act of humility. Children like to look at dirt.

    If certain landscapes have to be worthy enough to command one’s attention, it says more about the looker than it does about the landscape.

    • Cubeland Mystic says

      But how much looking?

      Should we be active looking, or passive looking?

      Active looking is studying a problem so you can make something or fix something.

      Passive looking is watching Nova on PBS or John Adams on HBO.
      Passive doing, is like going to the mall, or going to the lake for a boat ride. Or even running in the 5K or training for a Marathon. Sure it is great for you, but it does not produce anything. How does a training for a marathon outside the circle of self indulgence?

      I think that I am advocating active leisure as a form of resistance to the culture of death.

      Hey I am just throwing idea out there for you guys to kick around. This is where I am going with it. That crisply turned double play line got me thinking. Watching baseball isn’t necessarily wholesome. I know dudes who would rather watch a baseball game than talk to their kids.

      What do you think Betty?

      • I think you’re on it with the active and passive comparison.

        Passive looking has a “come on, impress me” feel to it. The object has been fabricated for consumption.

        I’m not sure active looking has to be about creating something, though. Sometimes it’s maintaining (looking at kids), or appreciating, or just living in the world and accepting the physical reality of it. I don’t think you need to ration this kind of looking.

        • Cubeland Mystic says

          I agree, not at all on the rationing. Also you do many kinds of looking in the course of a minute. Right now the temptation is to veg out in front of the tv. I found things to occupy my hands during the need to shut the brain down.

          Right now as people come home from work they are looking for something to do. They will eat, might shower. I think for most it will involve some kind of entertainment that requires consumption without a reciprocating action. I watched Nova and learned about Nanobots. That is consumption. That is fine as long as I have an output. I doubt that anyone is going to build a Nanobot after watching about them on Nova.

          Creation resists materialism because it is liberating. I am beginning to see it as a form of rebellion against materialism’s dominance. In general I am not sure that active creation is a totally unique idea in that it perfects us. However, I think I am being unique in saying that active creation is a form of rebellion against evil.

          • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

            Cubeland Mystic, if you can find time to produce your novel, I’ll try to find time to consume it.

            And regarding leisure and looking: It’s worth recalling that the tradition describes our last end as a kind of looking — namely, enjoyment of the Beatific Vision. I myself lack the leisure just now to develop that thought, though if anyone else wants to try, I’ll be looking on more-or-less actively.

            • Cubeland Mystic says

              Thanks Bro.

              I have thought about adoration and worship in this context. And my conclusion from some reading and listening (i.e. looking) to teachers on the subject that these solo acts are indeed active. The ascetic does not enter into the order to find God so much as they enter into battle against evil. They went to the desert to confront the evil one. It is a type of spiritual warfare. Maybe this is controversial, but perhaps adoration is in that sense spiritual creation. It is that point where time is tangent to eternity, and by our action we create the interface at the tangent point between the two. The action of adoration open a little hole so we can behold God.

              Looking in this context is symbolic because the post is about watching. My point in this context is “okay porn is bad, and it is passive and consumptive, why is watching Nova on PBS Good? It is still passive and consumptive.” We just got stimulated, but there was no physical reaction to the stimulation. This is a subtle, but I fear just as detrimental. One dude watches porn, one dude watches PBS. How are they different?

              • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

                The ascetic does not enter into the order to find God so much as they enter into battle against evil. They went to the desert to confront the evil one.

                Now that is a clarifying insight. And timely, what with Lent approaching (for us weaklings who don’t observe it all year ’round). Thank you as ever, brother.

                The rest of your thoughts are interesting, too, though I can’t speak to them now.

                • Cubeland Mystic says


                  That should be a Thomas Moore Law Center interview on EWTN. I thought of you when I watched it.

                  Not angling for the last word but feel free to criticize. I am looking for a way to resist. When you have kids you get sucked into things that you really can’t avoid. With the family you are in the flow no matter how hard you try to keep them out, you get sucked in. It was a great revelation to me when I came to realize just how pervasive the Culture is. Can’t hide from the sex, can’t hide from the indulgence, and the constant propaganda flow. One time when my kids were just getting out of car seats, one of those rolling billboard vehicles pulled up next to us. Right there next to their faces as big as a billboard was an ad for an adult sex shop. The girl was more Victoria Secret than porn star, but still it was right there inches from them. How do I avoid it?

                  The whole freaking materialist enterprise is a mechanized pig trough designed to deliver slop right when we need it. I use the word materialism so I can include Capitalism. The only way I thought to resist it is to make stuff I need. Even if it is a symbolic gesture it can be offered to God. I made a cutting board. It took ten hours and cost $900, but it is cheaper than the $9 bamboo one I could have bought at Bed Bath and Beyond.

                  • Hey cubeland….you know being married to a not catholic albeit a very good man, means that our life is definitely split between two worlds. We watch sports, we go to movies, we go to the mall (very very rarely because I hate the mall). But still. I literally counteract it all by say things like, okay close your eyes every body because this commercial is awful…I mean I try to be really on my kids all the time about where the culture is bad and undermining to their faith. I don’t ignore it. I have a 14 year old boy. I cannot watch tv with him for 30 seconds even if it’s just sports without saying something. It’s sad, but he totally gets it. I’ve had the talk with him about the objectification of women. And we do not watch just “normal” tv ever with our kids. They cannot watch any tween shows, no American idol none of that because that, in my personal opinion, is pervasive….they watch cartoons, and stuff like the food channel, or right now they are into Top Gear a BBC car/science thing. I don’t know. I guess I’m saying I totally get what you are saying…my kids go to public school so you know I get it. But I try to really be up front about what’s ok and what isn’t. Even about politics, we talk about what’s going on morally in our country. But my kids are a bit older than yours I think…so you will get there. And being just a good example of how to live goes a long long way. I try my best at that anyway…. I mean who’s to say. They are still young……

                    • Obviouslynthat should say NON catholic…..

                    • One final though sorry….I grew up totally immersed in the culture and very influenced by it. So I only know how to counteract what I feel influenced me-tv and materialism. I counteract materialism by never shopping with my kids as a form recreation. And by trying as much as possible to not let them be influenced by trends etc. Where I do fail is the video gaming because my oldest does always want the lates and greatest. This is still a struggle……

                    • One final final final thought so sorry…please do no think I am trying to imply I am any greatbsuccess at this. These are the areas where I try very hard to counter the culture. Ok. That’s it….so sorry go back to discussing poems and porn.

                    • Matthew Lickona says

                      Poems & Porn needs to be our new tagline.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      Looking can also be an act of carnality. Gourmands like to look at meat.

  3. Jonathan Webb says

    The world needs more knights and fewer poets.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      Is this why you’ve been so scarce around here of late, sir? Stopping in to talk only after you’ve finished the hunt and broken a few handcuffs for Our Lord?

  4. Jonathan Webb says

    Like guys who break handcuffs for Our Lord.

  5. Jonathan Webb says

    Poets are always trying to subject knights to interviews and I’m always disappointed when they submit.

    Hemingway and Thompson were poets who aspired to be knights. In fact, they thought they could have it all and the contradiction had tragic results.

    The knight will talk, but only after the hunt is over. Sitting around the fire talking about the kill.

  6. I’m hung up on “sexual neocon.”

  7. Jonathan Webb says

    Sexual neocons are those who have been mugged by sexuality.

  8. Krista Vanderburg says

    Great article for VD, I mean Valentine’s Day. I have three young daughters, and this article causes me to reconsider how our talks about sex will have to incorporate the culture of death and its gross misunderstandings and misappropriations of what I have come to see as a God-given gift to participate in creation. I used to be on the other side, having been raised by 60s pseudo liberals who allowed Playboy magazine to remain in the open at our house. I used to wonder how I would keep up with the quest for more fantastic (fantasy being key) or creative sex that my future boyfriends or husband might expect. It has become an entirely moot point after learning and practicing NFP–thanks be to my conversion and to Him who called me to it. But are we “sexual neocons” so out of touch to hope the same future graces for our children? We are the Sears Catalogue/Victoria’s Secret users, the stuck-together-pages old timers who got off by the glimpse of an ankle, reacting like it was 1805 (credit: James Mercer) right? The future of dating and courtship and marriage will require a veritable PhD in porn trends? I read Oryx and Crake. I fear and tremble. Somebody please give me a link or nugget of hope, here?

    • Matthew Lickona says

      Very fine comment, Krista. But help me out on what you’re looking for as far as links ‘n nuggets? The hope, it seems to me, lies in demanding actual courtship in your courtship. As porn illustrates, sex isn’t especially romantic. What’s romantic is what comes before. My mother once said to me, while listening to this or that swoony Chet Baker standard, “Isn’t it sad to think that no one can write a song like this any more?” When I objected, she looked at me with something close to pity. “How can they?” she asked. “The world doesn’t give them the vocabulary.” It kind of broke my heart. But the vocabulary is still out there to be relearned. We aren’t quite the Sears catalog generation, I don’t think. I found my first Playboy in an alley when I was six. Porn was passed around my junior high. Etc. And you had Playboy open at home. I don’t think we’re out of touch. I think we’re in touch, and that will help us.

  9. Based on my extensive interviews with family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, neighbors, bartenders, dog walkers, joggers, and people in various drive-thru windows of fast food restaurants, it seems that “the sex talk” in our culture is typically reserved for girls and is imparted as a cautionary tale: This is how you get pregnant, so watch out. My research has led me to believe that most mothers and fathers do not find it necessary to talk to boys about sex, because boys can’t get pregnant. In fact, many men I’ve talked to have reported that their fathers actually facilitated their access to porn in some way, either thinking it was a good educational tool or at the very least “only natural” and they didn’t want their boys to feel ashamed of looking at it. I hope that Christian parents of today give their boys a sex talk that includes a cautionary tale that goes something like this:

    This is your brain. This is your brain on porn.

    But Rosie said it better:

    And JPII said it best.

  10. Coming late to this. Can we go back to the idea of looking as consumption? It seems to me that a consideration of wonder is in order. The child is not consuming the dirt he looks at because wonder is consuming him. Likewise the adorer of Christ or the lover of nature.

    • Cubeland Mystic says

      I’ll go back with you. There is a difference between wonder and a crisply turned double play. Wonder is good. Watching the 2011 Season highlights is not so good. Maybe listening to the game while you’re scribing out a dove tail joint is a nice compromise.

      Action is better than inaction. That is my broader point. We are in trouble because we are expected to passively watch things.

  11. Questionnaire:
    What do you think of teaching Natural family planning in Catholic high schools?

    • Matthew Lickona says

      Oof. Good question.

    • Cubeland Mystic says

      Bad idea on the NFP. TMI for the boys. You’d be giving them ammo. They’d know when to attack then. Most Catholic high schools are filled with riffraff anyway. Why waste your time? Then the few good Catholic High Schools have 46 kids from 5 families so why bother.

      I say tell the boys their junk is going to fall off if they stick it in places it don’t belong. Then make them play more football. That’s why many Catholic high schools have powerhouse football teams.

  12. Krista Vanderburg says

    Not trying to steer the subject away from Cubeland et al on “The Art of Seeing,” but I’m a desperate Catholic mom who has come to view you folks here as true peers in terms of religion vs reality and the blurry line between the two. Have any of you read Oryx and Crake? The links and nuggets of hope for which I’m begging would serve as an antidote to the potential realization of the future world expressed in that novel. The future where children are sexual commodities; where sex is merely an end in and of itself, and not a means. Wait. One. Goll-darned. Minute.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      Bless you. Haven’t read Oryx and Crake. Haven’t even read Houellebecq. But I get what you’re getting at. We will not forget you.

    • Cubeland Mystic says

      Hi Krista

      I have not read the novel, but I just read the synopsis at Wikipedia. That is a bleak future. It reminds me of the real problem of how teachers, parents, and “medical professionals” will collude to drug their children so the kids conform to meet the demands of an efficient state run educational system. BTW, A lot of times folks joke a bit around here, and there is inside baseball going on, but I will take your desperation and desire for hope seriously. Forgive me if I didn’t get the joke if you are joking.

      The art of seeing, as you call it, is that nugget of hope that you are asking for. You have to see that it is more than just porn that is the problem. You already understand that sex is a “God-given gift to participate in creation.” Also you understand you came from the other side which is a recognition that there is more than just the one side offered by the culture of death. I too came from the other side. A bit too late to the party I might add. The other side can be brutal. Since you are looking for hope I suspect you know that.

      The way to defeat the culture of death is to actively resist it in mind and body. The culture of death requires that you be passive, live in fear, and follow its propaganda. It requires that you align yourself to it in order to gain a sense of well being. Consumption is the gauge by which you measure your well being. That is why in the culture of death we become slaves.

      Your desperation and desire for hope is a sign that you have awaken to it, but do not yet know how to resist it. Mel commented above on how she resists it and keeps it away from her family. That is one mother’s attempt to protect her children from it. She is setting up an alternative way in their mind. By doing that she is protecting them. She is showing them another path. Mathew has suggested above that we are already mindful of the dangers, and that gives us an advantage in protecting our children from it. These are hopeful statements re-read them and mine them for nuggets.

      I am trying in this thread to call your attention to other things that are equally distracting, and pointing out that porn is bad, but consuming one benign consumptive experience after the other is not much better. I am suggesting that there are more subtle distractions that we need to see past.

      Resistance is action. If you want hope do something creative as an act of resistance to the dominant culture. Do something inefficient and a waste of time. Make butter. I get two empty plastic water bottles and a pint of organic heavy whipping cream. Split the pint between the two bottles, add a half-teaspoon of kosher salt to each. Put the cap on and shake like hell is baring down on me. Which it is because I am resisting. I shake the cream till my arms hurt, and when I can’t shake it anymore, I give it to a kid and let them do it. In about 20 minutes the fat will condense into butter and separate from the skim. I cut the plastic open and strain the butter out. I sometimes keep the skim milk for cooking. It is a little salty. Sometimes I do this while a fresh baked loaf of bread cooling on the counter. We cut the loaf and serve the fresh butter on the fresh warm bread to our children. We remind them that Christ is the bread of life while they are eating.

      By doing these things we resist the culture of death. We open our children’s minds to an alternate path–a different way of thinking. We are freeing their minds. It is the first step to more acts of resistance. Our children will have tools to resist the soul murderers. By resisting we build hope against a machine bent on destroying our children body and soul.

      I genuinely hope this helps you relive the fear and desperation.

      • OK, In the interest of resisting the culture of death, and engaging in the act of creation as a means of resistance–why would learning NFP be TMI for high school aged boys, who are already growing up on a steady diet of porn, as the above referenced article asserts?

        I’m not challenging you, just truly interested in why having this information, paired with a strong understanding of Catholic moral theology, would be a bad idea.

        I’m all for resisting the push for consumption. I’m thinking that having some basic knowledge, that sex has been designed for a married relationship that is capable of accepting pregnancy as a logical outcome of sex, and also knowing that NO ONE was ever meant to get all the sex they want at all times, including married men and women–might be valuable information to have at the onset of puberty.

        • I agree with you Betty. My kids will know it. They go to public school however. I definitely think Theology of the Body should be taught. We can’t just ignore sex until kids are of marriageable age. I already talk about it here and there where appropriate…

          • Matthew Lickona says

            Just to clarify: NFP is not quite exactly the same as Theology of the Body.

            • Well yes of course. I was thinking boys and girls should be taught TOB and maybe just girls taught NFP? I dont know I haven’t really thought it out as pertaining to schools just my own kids… But I do agree with Betty that Catholic kids should begin to learn these things.

        • Cubeland Mystic says

          Honestly I was joking. Probably shouldn’t have been. Apologies I should have taken it seriously. I used it as an excuse to bash Catholic High Schools. Most of the private Catholic schools in my area are dominated by the wealthy and not necessarily Catholic.

          Because of that situation I can see it being controversial. “I am paying for this why should my kids have to participate?” But then the diocese has some say, perhaps they should mandate it.

          I am not opposed to it. Maybe it would drive the materialists out of the Catholic schools and into the public schools. I have always found it hypocritical that folks who promote the culture of death hide their children in Catholic High Schools.

          How would you get it implemented?

        • Define “Catholic high school.”

        • Cubeland Mystic says

          Hi BD

          For some reason this one made me think about you.

          The article kind of reminds me of the seamless garment argument. Good luck with the NFP, if the Bishops have any energy left from fighting HHS, NFP would be a good idea. That is if they are not all packed off to FEMA Camps.

          Seriously after we lose to HHS, a good idea might be to bring the pain to catholic institutions starting with teaching the faith. If they (parents, clergy, faculty) don’t like it close it down.

      • Krista Vanderburg says

        It does help–doing, not living to consume but living to create. My husband and I are very blessed to have the opportunity to homeschool our three girls, taking care not to shelter them too rigidly from the world, but to act as tour guides, in a sense, teaching first and foremost the Word and using that as our map. After reading this response yesterday, I found in my daily prayers not one, but three follow-ups (props to Magnificat!). The first reading was James 1:19-27. This phrase caught my attention, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in the mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like.” The Gospel reading was Mark 8:22-26 about Jesus healing the blind man. The meditation for the day was “Blindness and Seeing,” by Monsignor Romano Guardini, ending with this: “Seeing is more than indifferently reflecting (as a mirror reflects all that passes within range). It is a vital process that directly affects our lives. To see, perceive, means to receive into oneself, to submit to the influence of things, to place oneself within their grasp.” But reading the entire meditation was even more revelatory to your advice. God bless you!

        • Krista Vanderburg says

          This reply to Cubeland Mystic’s reply to my dilemma didn’t go where I intended. But all of you have been helpful. And thanks for not flaming me. I have baggage from my upbringing that shows through a bit too much, at times. Pace.

          • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

            The main kind of flame around here seems to be purgatorial — with the occasional pentecostal flicker.

  13. Betty, I will answer your question less snarkily. I think that if you had a group of Catholic young men led in a discussion of NFP by a faithful Catholic man, within a school that celebrated its Catholic identity while engaging with the culture at large – then, that could be beneficial.

  14. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    I have, as yet, little to teach about the raising of children — and, by the same token, still have much to learn. So though I have not been commenting on the topic, I have been enjoying (and, please God, profiting from) you-all’s comments.

    The only comment I feel qualified to make is a general (and perhaps aery-faery) one, expanding on Mr Lickona’s comment to Ms Vanderburg that the ‘vocabulary’ of genuine love is ‘still out there to be relearned’.

    Not only is that vocabulary implicit in the very nature of things, but each individual — each of us, each of our offspring — is the immediate creation of God. In some sense, each human being stands in the same relation to the Father as did Adam and Eve ‘in the beginning’. This is especially true for the baptized, since Jesus has restored each of us by adoption to the royal dignity for which He made us.

    So even though the Culture of Death may clutter our path with new obstacles every day, and heap new weights on our backs along with the old ones we’ve always carried (and, for that matter, even though centuries’ worth of goodness and wisdom, and the good influence of a good family, may help us navigate those obstacles and bear that load), all the accretions of culture and history, their negative and positive influences, only matter up to a point.

    Beyond that point, getting to know God — and, through that relationship, getting a feel for the right order of things — is a fresh adventure for every single human being. Neither nature nor ‘supernature’ is ever spent. For Adam, Abraham, Augustine, and us, God’s ever-ancient beauty is ever-new, always ready to be discovered.

    Admittedly, that’s not any kind of practical advice. But if it ain’t a nugget of hope, I don’t know what is.

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