LOPEZ: How do we recommunicate traditional ideas about men and women and purpose in the modern world?
TOWERS: The theme that always seems to emerge in my discussions about, and observations of, marriage is community. Who we associate with — those with whom we share our intimate thoughts, beliefs, and dreams — these are the folks who influence the most important decisions we make. This means our clergy, our friends. Frequently (and perhaps surprisingly) it also means our family of origin: our parents and our siblings. And I wonder sometimes if parents realize the power they have over their adult children to influence their decisions for good or for bad. They can often be the deciding factor in whether a son or daughter chooses to abandon a marriage, or instead sets about the hard task of putting an end to an adulterous relationship, asking for forgiveness, and going home to start again. Likewise, parents and siblings can influence the decision to cohabitate or instead wait to get that first apartment until after the honeymoon.
Every one of us is susceptible to peer pressure, of either the positive or the negative variety. In generations past there was a natural sort of positive peer pressure within families, churches, and communities to conform to basic standards of integrity, maturity, and sexual restraint in (and prior to) one’s marriage. Of course people didn’t always meet these standards, but they existed and they served a very important function for marriages — a safety net, if you will. So I think we go back to the basics now. We teach our children, our siblings, our friends — sometimes our own parents — about God’s plan for marriage through our actions, our attention, and ultimately our influence.
LOPEZ: How deeply has marriage been poisoned by pornography?
TOWERS: The problem with our current variety of Internet pornography and marriage is pretty straightforward: One is designed to exploit men and women (and sometimes children) in an atmosphere of self-love, baseness, perversity, torture, deception, and fear; the other to bind them together in a lifetime embrace of self-sacrifice, beauty, purity, gentleness, truth, and trust. One brings an endless cycle of anguish followed by temporary relief, followed by more anguish of a greater intensity, now mixed with guilt. The other brings a safe shoulder to cry on, a trusted partner to give advice, and a soft place to fall. One brings expectations for the bedroom so unrealistic that no human being could satisfy them, based on a lifetime of having viewed broken people engaged in lifeless, robotic sex acts; the other an intimacy responsive to the needs of real men and women, worked on over time through good communication, patience, and love. The verdict is out on pornography: Nothing good can come of it. Its sole effect is to destroy happiness and love.
LOPEZ: Has that ship sailed, though? Porn use can’t really be rolled back, can it? It is so ubiquitous, isn’t it?
TOWERS: You know what’s interesting is that even guys who aren’t necessarily morally opposed to pornography are starting to speak out against it because of an increasingly common problem called porn-induced erectile dysfunction. Too much porn frequently means men lose the ability to get an erection at all — even during sex with their wives. The solution to the problem is called “rebooting,” which means abstaining from porn viewing for an extended period of time so that the body is able to function normally again. What many men are concluding is that there is no desire to go back to porn use after rebooting. The real McCoy is better.
LOPEZ: And what do we say to those with same-sex attractions?
TOWERS: That we love you as daughters and sons of God; that we respect your right to be treated with dignity and respect. But in the recent words of Washington, D.C.’s Cardinal Wuerl, marriage is a “human community that predates government. Its meaning is something to be recognized and protected, not reconstructed.”
LOPEZ: What do you make of the continuing Anthony Weiner “sexting” drama?
TOWERS: The interesting thing about Anthony Weiner’s case is that we appear to be treating it as more serious in nature than the affairs of other politicians, because of the seemingly over-the-top lewdness of it all. Even Nancy Pelosi has tagged this as one of those unusual cases requiring therapy, which could “better be accomplished in private.” But fundamentally, the core (and consequence) of Weiner’s repugnant, self-serving behavior is very similar to that of other politicians who have been unfaithful to their wives in fairly recent history: Clinton, Edwards, Gingrich, Spitzer, and Sanford (among others).
Is there some reason to suppose that these other men, more than Weiner, deserved to resume their political careers without consequence (as most of them did)? Abigail Adams once wrote of the philandering politician Hamilton who desired to “move on” with his political career unharmed: “It is a strange way of reasoning. I would not upon any consideration do a public wrong or injury, but I can be guilty of breaking the most solemn private engagement and that to one whom I am bound by affection, and by Honor to protect, to Love and Respect.”
There is no dignified form of infidelity — there is only exploitation and vulgarity resulting in humiliation and anguish for the victim spouse. Weiner put his own agenda above the woman he vowed to protect, love, and respect. He chose (more than once) a few fleeting moments of sexual pleasure over integrity and honor. This is the very nature of marital infidelity. He was busted, and so apologized publicly and profusely for his indiscretions . . . we are used to this. We’ve seen it before. What we haven’t seen, but which would be so refreshing, is a fallen man (or woman — this is not just a male problem) in the public eye with true contrition. Someone who doesn’t just try to erase the embarrassing details with a wide smile for the camera in an effort to “move on” as quickly as possible, but who instead determines to make his or her fall a source of hope and help for others who have similar struggles.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor at large of National Review Online.