The following was a college essay written by Valeria Barreto. It has been edited and approved by Aidan McIntosh. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.
By Valeria Barreto, Franciscan University
“The world is a better place when we treat others not merely as things to gratify ourselves, but as persons to be valued,” – Matt Fradd
Is there truth to Karol Wojtyla’s Personalistic Norm? Although it may seem outdated or unrelatable in our current context that is devoid of theology and philosophy, might there be psychological truth to this idea? The norm teaches that the human person is a good to be loved, not used; psychologically speaking, what happens when it is carried out? What happens when it is not? What happens when it is specifically applied to sexual activity? While our contemporary society has diverse beliefs, there is a unitive and growing concern for the development of good mental health as more people struggle everyday with mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Could casual sex impact these worrisome trends in mental health? How might the psychology of the Personalistic Norm help our present-day struggles?
The State of the World of Use
The world today has many competing ideas regarding what is healthy and what is unhealthy. Going on intricate Keto or Paleo diets, participating in HIIT, P-90X, or Zumba workouts, using recreational drugs, deciding whether to get vaccinated or not, and being sexually active are just a few examples of what we debate today. In the past couple of decades, casual sex has been promoted as good and healthy behavior so long as it is “safe” and consensual (safe in the sense of using contraceptives such as condoms or birth control). Does making casual sex “safe” make it healthy though? Our society today seems to think so. Popular apps like Tinder, top-charting songs on the radio, hit TV shows and movies, and even leading organizations such as Columbia University are mediums that promote casual sexual behavior and all the “benefits” that go along with it (Grossman, 2006). While many of the claims behind “safe sex” have been debunked by the countless women and men still contracting over twenty-five different STDs, the media continues to proclaim that if one is using protection, casual sex is safe and can keep the body healthy (Grossman, 2006). What about the safety of one’s mental health, though? Recent studies indicate that there has been a surge of mental health struggles with students across the country suffering from depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and so many other mental health problems that feed off each other (Grossman, 2006). What is going on? Is casual sex, which has spiked during the last few decades, connected to these occurrences? Could it be possible that the way things are being done isn’t the best? Is it possible that even the way we are fundamentally thinking of human relationships isn’t right? What can be done to help?
In the 1960s, a philosopher named Karol Wojtyla developed a philosophical teaching called the Personalistic Norm in response to his observations of human interactions. The Norm teaches that the human person is a good to be loved, not used. In this norm, Wojtyla heavily criticized the habit of using another person and the damage that comes from doing so. The phenomenon of casual sex falling into using each otheris why this norm, while it may seem old, out of date, or out of touch, might be worth revisiting and applying to today’s society. While the concepts of the norm—the human person, love, and use—seem to be very subjective concepts to grasp, there might still be objective, psychological truth to this teaching.
The way we use each other in society today is alarming and could be one of the main reasons why people everywhere are suffering so much psychologically. Sexual use especially is something that strikes the depths of the person since a sexual encounter involves the whole being – body, mind, and soul. While there is no universal or instant cure to the struggles that could stem from sexual use, there may be something offered in the Personalistic Norm to help. By understanding the Personalistic Norm and its teachings, the way we think about our relationships could improve. The ways things are thought about affects the actions that are carried out. The actions that are carried out affect the interior life of a person and, ultimately, that person’s mental health. If the way we understand use and love is improved, then the way people interact with each other could be a lot more different. Not only would the understanding of these concepts be different though, but through better comprehension, healthier actions would be made, and persons would stop being used and would be loved instead. When analyzing casual sex and assessing its nature of use and psychological effects, it becomes evident that there are greater and more positive psychological effects on the person when he is loved instead of used as taught by Karol Wojtyla in the Personalistic Norm.
Introducing The Personalistic Norm
The Personalistic Norm, as stated in Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility, is “The person is a good for which the only proper and adequate attitude is love” (Wojtyla, 2013). Looking at some psychology behind what love is or should be, psychologist Robert Sternberg developed a triangular theory of love indicating that love is made up of three things: intimacy, passion, and commitment (Sternberg et Barnes, 1988). These three things are aspects of a relationship that take time, effort, and sacrifice to achieve. There are, of course, several different and diverse opinions about what love is or should be, but it seems that a unitive theme among many theories is that love is a relational, powerful, and intimate sphere one participates in. Love is what everyone hopes to achieve, give, and receive. Are we, as a society, achieving this love? Wojtyla argues that it is not hate that is the opposite of love, but that the opposite of love is in fact use. This concept of use and how it is present in our world today is what is going to be more closely examined since the utilization of people could be the root of many contemporary mental health problems. Before more of the psychology behind this norm can be fully looked at though, it is important that the concepts of the norm be understood more clearly.
Concepts of the Norm
The Person – “The person is a good for which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”
The “person” is what the human being is called. He is a distinct and different creature than all the other creatures on this earth. Man is not a thing. Man is not just a “specimen”. Man is a person, and what makes a person a different creature is the ability to reason. The human person then is a rational creature, different from the animals because he can use his rational nature to not only reason, but to feel, to reflect, to decide, and to direct his actions. It is because of human beings’ ability to reason that the actions done by the person have intentionality behind them. This makes whatever is carried out by man be a meaningful action.
Furthermore, the term “person” indicates that the human being is something more. Wojtyla explains that, “Man is objectively a ‘somebody’– and this distinguishes him from the rest of the beings of the visible world, the beings that objectively are always merely ‘something’,” (Wojtyla, 2013). This distinction between the creatures, this title of “person”, or “somebody”, calls for greater attention and care to the human being. When one is “somebody” instead of “something”, the way they are treated and regarded should be different from the treatment and care for “something”. Persons demand greater and more complex treatments that only another person, with their use of reason, can give. One of these very treatments that only a person can give and receive is love, an action, not a feeling, that takes reason to do.
While there has been a constant debate on whether the body and the soul (the very thing that gives the person its rationality) are separate or not separate entities, for the sake of this argument the declaration that the body and the soul are not separate entities will be made. The human body, inseparable from the person’s soul, is far more than the physical expression of the human person. Precisely because it is not separate from the person’s soul, the human body is unique because it is part of what it means to be a human person. So, the human being is an embodied, personal being, meaning that whatever is done with the body is personal. The fact that the body is personal and deserving of love, honor, and respect makes the sexual act something hard to pass off as “casual”. Since the body is what makes a person a person, the body is valuable. What we do with the body matters. It is personal. It is the person. It must be loved.
Love – “The person is a good for which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”
Love, while one of the most complex things to explain or understand, is easily felt and known by all. Love pertains especially to persons, because only persons—rational creatures—can love. Wojtyla explains that love can be thought of as the affirmation of the person: “…love pertains to persons immediately and directly. The affirmation of the value of the person, as such, is contained in the essence of love…” (Wojtyla, 2013). This idea that love is the affirmation of the person should strike the depth of our hearts, for the desire to be affirmed is ingrained in everyone and helps improve the development of good education, health, and relationships (Cohen et Sherman, 2014). To be affirmed as a person is to be seen as valuable, it is to be seen as someone worthwhile, it is to be seen as being enough. To be affirmed is the heart’s desire.
In addition to love being the affirmation of the person, love also means to seek the good, specifically the good of another. When both people are seeking the good of the other, they are both striving towards a common good, and this direction towards a common good is what makes the actions between the two people defined as love. Love is an intentional action that demands a constant choice, striving, and perseverance, and since it takes a lot of time, reflection, and honesty to determine a true good one is going for, relationships should be given time and patience to cultivate strong, faithful, and fruitful love. It takes time to build a true bond of trust and selflessness for another person, so is it possible to do all this with multiple people? Is it possible to do this with a friend who has no intention of being more than friends? Is it possible to do this just for the night?
To have a truly loving relationship there must be a strong and healthy bond uniting the persons. Nothing bonds people together more than working together on something meaningful and having similar goals or ends for themselves. Wojtyla explains, “…when different persons consciously choose an end together, this makes them equal to each other, thereby excluding subordination of one person to another,” (Wojtyla, 2013). Isn’t that the equality people desire? No person ever desires to be seen as less than or below another, and everyone desires to be affirmed and be seen as someone good to be treasured and loved. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our need to be loved is the first thing we need after our physiological and safety needs are met, and our need to be loved goes into the final stage of the hierarchy — our self-realization. So being properly loved is important. What does that love look like when it comes to one’s sexual relationships? How is good and healthy love, not use, tied in there? Wojtyla says, “…this other person must recognize this end of mine [one’s end is to be loved] and acknowledge it as a good; he must make it also his own end,” (Wojtyla, 2013). This is what sexual love should be. There is an equality between the persons and since both persons seek a common good of love, these characteristics exclude the use of the other and make up true, healthy love.
Use – “The person is a good for which the only proper and adequate attitude is love [not use].”
Another important component of the personalistic norm is the concept of use. Wojtyla explains that “To use means to employ some object of action as a means to an end,” (Wojtyla, 2013). What Wojtyla means by “means to an end” is that what is being used is being used for the sake of another purpose. In other words, when one is trying to accomplish something, they have “means” or ways to do it. Say our goal is to build a bench; we would use blueprints and tools to do it. These two things are our “means”. Now means are usually objects or things that are meant for utilization, so they cannot be things with feelings, rights, or free will because whoever is using the means has control over them. When speaking about objects being used, Wojtyla says, “By nature, then, a means is subordinated to an end, and, at the same time, it is also to a certain degree subordinated to the one who acts,” (Wojtyla, 2013). When one uses means, one usually asserts their control over them and willingly and knowingly uses them for a certain end or goal, usually only important to the person using. Now all of this sounds fine when we are talking about tools, plans, or other tangible objects that we use every day. Is it permissible to treat the person as a means? This is where society today is getting confused.
According to Wojtyla’s Personalistic Norm, the person, a valuable, living, thinking, and feeling being, is someone to be loved, not something to be used. Wojtyla exclaims,
“…a person should not be merely a means to an end for another person…the person is a subject that is thinking and capable of self-determination…When someone else treats a person exclusively as a means to an end, then the person is violated in what belongs to his very essence…” (Wojtyla, 2013).
The idea of using another person should be unthinkable to us. Why use another person and put them on the level of objects when it is against the very nature of being a human being? How can it be possible to subject another being just like you to this kind of treatment?
Yet it is possible. And it’s happening every day in every way. The most disturbing form of use, however, is sexual use. Here the use is worse because one is subjecting another person as a means to get or to maximize pleasure, a fleeting instant of satisfaction at the expense of another’s end as a person, which is love. While pleasure is an important part of sex and should be present in the sexual act, it should never be the sole end of the act because the primary function of sex is to unite with another and to procreate with another. When sex is stripped of its other, more important meanings, the sexual act becomes something that is not true to its essence which can have effects on the persons participating. Freud himself in his General Introduction to Psychoanalysis says,
“We term sexual activity perverse when it has renounced the aim of reproduction and follows the pursuit of pleasure as an independent goal…everything that has given up this purpose and serves the pursuit of pleasure alone, must carry the term “perverse” and as such be regarded with contempt,” (Freud, 1920).
Since man is a rational creature and can not only distinguish from the feelings of pleasure and pain but can also rationally and determinedly direct his actions toward pleasure and away from pain, the way a person chooses to behave is important. A person engaging in the sexual act with another and is primarily using and not loving will use the other person to direct the sexual act to a specific end: pleasure. Here the focus is to get to the end of pleasure, the focus is not on loving the person participating in the act and seeing them as an end themselves, one instead sees the other as a means, a way, a tool, or a map to the end of pleasure. This behavior therefore makes one subject the person and their end, to be loved, below the value of pleasure. This is another one of the greatest problems in society today, and how can it not be when the media and press is full of encouragement for this behavior.
If it is the nature of the person to be loved, properly loved, then, it is the nature of the person to not be used by others (Wojtyla, 2013). How psychology comes into play into these two specific concepts of love and use is quite interesting. So, let us begin. Psychologically, what is use? What is love? What happens when these actions of use and love are carried out? How does that affect one’s mental health?
Wojtyla’s definition of use once more is, “to use means to employ some object of action as means to an end,” (Wojtyla, 2013). Since the person is a subject and not an object, it is not proper to use the person as an object. Use can be seen in all kinds of ways. Using someone to help you study or get a better grade, using somebody for the money they possess, using someone for the power they have, or even using someone for their popularity are common ways people use each other. In these instances, the intention or end of the relationship between the two persons is something else other than simply the person himself. Whether it is getting money, power, popularity, or better grades, the goal of the interaction between the two persons is put above the person himself. Having something else be put above you, especially something as materialistic like money or possessive like grades or power, does not make one feel good. The feeling of being used is very unpleasant and is something most everyone has felt at some point in their lives.
Sexual use is just the same, but it seems to resonate much more deeply in the person. Sexual use occurs when the person views another person as a means for their sexual pleasure. It is viewing the person as an object to use, not a subject to love. In this sense, the feeling of pleasure, a feeling, something fleeting and constantly changing, is put above the value of the person. Whether a sexual encounter is consensual or not, being used in this way strikes deeply in the person because the exchange that occurs in the sexual act, supposedly an intimate, loving, equal encounter, turns into one of use and selfishness, and it leaves the person feeling a lot of different things, things that could potentially lead to problems in mental health.
There are many instances where sexual use is present. The most common encounters of sexual use are those of rape, friends with benefits, one-night stands, and porn use. Each encounter will be examined, and the effects of the encounter will be psychologically analyzed to see how sexual use of the person affects one’s mental health.
Sexual Use in Rape and its Psychological Effects
A case where one clearly sees the use of another person is in rape or sexual assault. In these truly tragic and heartbreaking cases, the person that is the victim is treated purely as an object of use. According to the National Institute of Justice, 85 – 90% of the time the victim knows their attacker, meaning that there is a relationship there that should have been of love and not use (National Institute of Justice, 2008). When relationships that should be loving become relationships of use, a deep wound can resonate in the person being used and cause negative psychological effects leading to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and post-traumatic stress disorder (Pico-Alfonso et al., 2006).
In the case of rape, the person is demeaned to one of the lowest states a person can go because their consent was not granted, and another person went ahead and used them anyway just as they would use any other object. The kind of psychological harm that stems from an instance of rape is extensive. Several studies have concluded that there are significant relationships between sexual violence (like rape or unwanted sexual contact) and high PTSD, anxiety, and major depressive scores (Tarzia et al., 2018). The scores reported in the study were always significantly higher in women who had experienced sexual violence than women who had not, and whether the assaulter was a known or unknown person to the victim also influenced the victim’s depression (Tarzia et al., 2018).
Women who have been sexually abused, along with indicating higher rate of depressive symptoms, PTSD and anxiety, also indicate tendencies of suicide. Suicidal thoughts and even attempts were always significantly higher in women who had been abused compared to women who had not been abused (Pico-Alfonso et al, 2006). It’s shocking to see how an encounter of sexual assault can be powerful enough to push people to such measures.
Another study conducted across a variety of age groups, cultures and populations over a 28-year period found that there were also significant relationships between rape and lifetime diagnosis of anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and PTSD (Chen et al., 2010). The study concluded that no matter what age the victim was or how long ago the assault took place, the negative psychological effects from rape came to stay in the victim’s life (Chen et al., 2010).
So, the most powerful and detrimental form of sexual use, rape, has been found to have correlations to some of the most severe mental health struggles a person can have. Would other cases of sexual use have less powerful but similar effects?
Sexual Use in Casual Sex and its Psychological Effects
Another case where use of the person is present is in instances of casual sex, especially in friends with benefits and one-night stands. Here, although very different from an instance of rape or sexual assault, the use of the person is present because the intention or end of the sexual encounter between the persons is not of love or even romance but of pleasure. This is the kind of use that is very present in our society today because this is the kind of behavior that was encouraged during the Sexual Revolution and is still being encouraged today. Over the years casual sex has been supported and advised to do as a healthy and beneficial activity. One doesn’t need to look farther than the grocery checkout line where Cosmopolitan magazines flash sexual advice and tips for a young woman’s casual sexual relationships or even farther than one’s own phone on popular apps like Snapchat where tips are also shared on how to maintain a friends with benefits relationship.
Although these kinds of relationships, if we can even call them relationships, have been growing recently in society and have been regarded as something healthy, are they actually? It is common knowledge that the more sexual partners one has, the more exposure to STDs the person has. Although yes, one may just be sticking to people they know like their friends, one never knows who those friends have been with and who those friends of those friends have been with and so on. Most of the time, individuals engaging in a friends with benefits sexual encounter make sure to be “safe” by using condoms or birth control, but recent studies have shown that not even condoms can fully protect one from contracting what is now over 25 different types of STDs (Grossman, 2006). Miriam Grossman makes an interesting observation in her book Unprotected when she says that just a couple decades ago there were only a couple of STDs one had to worry about, today there are so many it is hard to keep track (Grossman, 2006). Why the growth of types of STDs? What is different today from a couple decades ago? Casual sexual encounters have risen, and so have the costs.
Another problem casual sexual encounters cause is a decrease in one’s ability to bond. The human body releases thousands of different neurotransmitters at different times the person does specific actions. An important neurotransmitter that plays a huge role in the person’s ability to bond to another person is oxytocin. The two strongest instances where oxytocin is released is when a mother is breastfeeding her child and when a person is engaging in the sexual act. In these cases, oxytocin is released in order to facilitate a strong bond between the two people and is supposed to help one feel more connected, committed, and fulfilled with the other person. When the act that causes oxytocin to be released is heavily repeated though and it is repeated with several different people, oxytocin has a harder time having the same effects (Grossman, 2006). In a sense, one can de-synthesize themselves from the bonding properties of oxytocin and later have a harder time truly bonding with someone when it matters (Grossman, 2006).
The neurological effects of the sexual act can not only wear off though, the sexual act can also be stripped of deeper meaning if it just performed liberally. This decrease in the meaning of sex could have some later, problematic implications because the act that is supposed to unite one to the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with is no longer strong. What kind of effect would the inability to bond or the loss of the meaning of the sexual act have on the relationship? More importantly, how does casual sex and its effects like inability to bond or decrease in the meaning of the sexual act affect one’s mental health?
A 2017 study focusing on the psychological well-being of adolescents when they participated in casual sexual relationships showed that five indicators of low psychological well-being were impacted by participation in casual sex (Dube et al., 2017). These five indicators were: depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, alcohol use, drug use, and suicidal thoughts and actions. Although the degree to which these indicators were impacted were different across the study, results showed that 85% of the time girls who participated in casual sex, “had a higher level of psychological distress and were more likely to report suicidal ideation than sexually active boys,” (Dube et al., 2017). While it is interesting that girls were impacted in this way over the boys, results also showed that the boys reported higher levels of alcohol and drug use which, at an adolescent age, could have later detrimental effects (Dube et al., 2017).
Another study found that casual sex was positively associated with psychological distress and negatively associated with well-being (Bersamin et al., 2014). The study followed a group of just under 4,000 college students who reported casual sexual encounters in the last few months, 30% of the students reported that the encounters had been with strangers or not well-known peers (Bersamin et al., 2014). While the physical or biological consequences of having these kinds of partners are known to be alarming because they involve high risk of contraction of STDs and STIs, this study strove to examine the socioemotional and psychological consequences of having casual sexual partners (Bersamin et al., 2014). The results of this study found that the casual sexual encounters reported were correlated with low well-being and high psychological distress. Well-being was defined as self-esteem, life satisfaction, psychological well-being and eudaimonic well-being, and psychological distress was defined as general anxiety, social anxiety, and depression symptoms for psychological distress (Bersamin et al., 2014). The study also found that as an increase in casual sexual encounters developed, so did an attitude of risky behavior which would bring its own set of problems further in time (Bersamin et al., 2014).
While it can be difficult to find studies that show a direct relationship between casual sex and psychological well-being, relationships between casual sex and other aspects that relate to mental health have been found in several studies. The most common association found across studies was that of an increase in substance use with an increase in the occurrence of casual sex (Ramrakha et al., 2013). Further studies show that as substance use increases, psychological well-being is impacted, therefore an indirect relationship between casual sex and psychological well-being exists (Ramrakha et al., 2013). In a 2013 study, women had significant connections between casual sexual behaviors and substance use and dependence; the study showed that men also indicated these observations but at lower percentages and at a later age (Ramrakha et al., 2013). Another recent 2017 study confirmed that there was an indirect relationship between multiple sex partners and depressive symptoms. A group of about 200 women were studied for about a year where two thirds of the participants reported depressive symptoms at the end of the study. Although the findings were found to be majorly caused by substance use, the substance use was caused by the casual, multiple sex partners the participants had, therefore there was an indirect relationship between casual sex and depressive symptoms (Logie et al., 2017).
While one can see that casual sexual relationships such as friends with benefits and one-night stands have negative psychological consequences that impact one’s mental health, one could still possibly argue that not all sexual activities are detrimental. While we may have established that casual sex is a form of use that has negative psychological effects, how would pornography, another extremely present sexual platform today, fall into sexual use if it doesn’t even involve actual sex? Although yes, pornography does not involve a true, intimate, sexual act with another person, pornography can still be considered a form of sexual use that has serious negative psychological effects.
Sexual Use in Pornography and its Psychological Effects
Known today as being a successful industry, a popular cultural “pastime”, and a normal, everyday occurrence in countless lives, pornography may have become a silent but seriously harmful aspect of life. Because porn (pornography) has become a normal product that is instantly available to everyone all the time, important aspects of life such as sex and love are being affected, and components that make up these essential and powerful human experiences such as intimacy, trust, and meaningful bonds are being “warped” and molded into something that is not true and is causing more harm than we think (Fradd, 2017). Author and popular speaker Matt Fradd, along with several professional and esteemed scientists, researchers and psychologists, wrote a scientific, non-religious book called The Porn Myth where Fradd has challenged and discredited a lot of the “normal” and “healthy” beliefs about porn. Quoting direct users of porn and citing valid and reliable studies on porn use, he is able to show readers just how much damage something everyone is considering to be normal and permissible is coming from use. Problems everywhere from not being able to physically or emotionally bond with another to true neurological imbalances in the brain are resulting from porn use. Fradd quotes habitual users saying, “I’m unable to become aroused enough to have sex with her,” “I feel like I have no control,” showing that what gets in our heads has the ability to limit or empower us, and when it comes to one of the primordial human experiences, sex, this ability to cause so much effect is alarming (Fradd, 2017).
The biggest problem with pornography is that it changes the whole way sex is thought about and the whole way sex is performed and experienced. Sex, supposedly a unitive and procreative act of love, is flipped upside down in the pornographic realm. In pornography, sex is stripped of its valuable, relational meaning, and it is turned into a simple and cheap product for consumers via screens (Fradd, 2017). It’s no wonder why so many people everywhere struggle with real intimacy and maintaining mature and healthy relationships when the platform they are constantly referring to promotes anything but healthy sex. Fradd states the problem of porn perfectly, “…porn treats sex one-dimensionally, by reducing people to their sexual organs, and then uses them as a mere means to an end. As a result, it cannot offer the experience of real intimacy that we long for,” (Fradd 2017). So, just as stated earlier in the Personalistic Norm, porn is an instance of use where the person is not viewed as an end in themselves but as a means for use. Porn is a different and harmful instance of sexual use because in the sexual act there is at least the chance to love the other person present with you. With porn, an image on a screen, an object, this chance is not possible (Struthers, 2009).
When the brain is exposed to sexual images or sexual encounters, dopamine is released, which, as stated before, helps with bonding, but it also has shown to help with memory development. This means that the next time sexual arousal takes place, the person remembers where to go to get the sought-after dopamine release (Fradd, 2017). But just like anything else, too much of something has negative effects. The more the brain gets exposed to sexual stimulation and is then flooded by dopamine from the sexual encounter, the more the brain gets desensitized to the effects of dopamine, meaning that heavier and stronger stimulations are needed to produce the high the person is now attached to. In the case of pornography where the exchange of sexual stimulus and dopamine release takes place, the user not only increases his use to get the dopaminergic high, but he or she quite literally succumbs their biological and psychological bonding processes to addiction and destroys the ability to make meaningful and lasting connections with real, living people (Fradd 2017). This inability to make connections and to be fulfilled the way the body is naturally supposed to causes huge psychologically detrimental effects leading to lower mental well-being and self-esteem (Kohut et Stulhofer, 2018).
Porn isn’t just a problem in the way it affects how sex is thought about. Porn is also a problem because of its addictive qualities. Studies have shown that porn addiction, just like any other addiction, affects the way the frontal lobe functions which is where the control center of the brain and the person’s sense of willpower resides (Fradd 2017). The development of the problem of hypofrontality takes place in the person which involves the slow loss of control of impulses and a heavy inability to have “mastery over passions” (Struthers 2011). This development of hypofrontality impedes the brain from developing in a mature fashion and essentially causes it to stagnate and remain in an immature state. This is a problem because the sexual act should only be performed and received in a mature state, or else alarming effects could arise in the person and the person’s mental health (Struthers, 2011).
Pornography is another ultimate instance of sexual use because pornography involves the presentation of the body of a person for the pure purpose of attaining pleasure through solo sexual acts. In porn, where a woman or man’s body is presented as a medium of entertainment, they are viewed as objects of use, not valuable goods or people to be cherished, loved or honored. Porn makes sex something to be consumed, not something to fully participate in as it is meant to be. Pornography also cheapens sex. Following the economic principle of scarcity, nothing will be valuable if it is widely available and instantly attained. So, pornography is causing a bigger problem than we think if it is changing the very value and meaning of sex at its core.
Pornography can also be considered a major form of sexual use because the more porn is used, the greater encouragement and thirst for pleasure increases. This is dangerous because soon enough the mechanism of porn use turns the whole function of the sexual act into a sole seeking of pleasure and a discouragement of empathy for the needs and rights of the other as a person (Fradd, 2017). Porn turns the user into a selfish, pleasure seeking person that is unable to empathize with the other, so much so that professor and journalist Robert Jensen says, “To see the woman as a person deserving of respect—to see her as fully human—would interfere with getting it up and getting it off,” (Jensen 2008). Pornography destroys the beauty of sex because it only encourages use of the person portrayed and not an ounce of true, selfless, sacrificial, giving of love for the real living person before you. The more that use occurs, the less love is possible as today, women who discuss men’s use of porn, say that they can’t measure up to the desires of men when, “a cyberversion of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will comes…utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer,” (Wolf, 2015). This feeling that one is unable to give or receive “satisfactory” sex has a heavy effect on one’s ability to not only develop and maintain meaningful relationships but also on one’s self worth and mental well-being (Fradd, 2017).
So sexual use, even when it is consensual, keeps being linked to the manifestation of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Perhaps the Personalistic Norm is starting to make a little more sense as multiple instances of use is causing harm to the person. Again, the norm states that the only proper and adequate treatment of the person is love. If the utilization of the person can cause so much harm, would the proper loving of the person, as the opposite of use, bring health? While the psychology of love is a whole science in itself, aspects of it can be examined so the Personalistic Norm can make more sense.
As Wojtyla presented, and as scientific research suggests, the problem of use is substantial and is having great effects on the mental health development of people everywhere. The feeling of being used, any kind of use, produces great levels of discomfort and these levels become capable of causing both emotional and psychological harm, so we should be avoiding any and all kind of use in everyday life and instead pursue the direct opposite of use. Wojtyla argues that the direct opposite of use is love. So, psychologically, what is love?
While love is one of the more complicated aspects of life to discuss objectively because of how subjective experiences of this phenomenon are, psychological research in this field has been slowly developing and producing fascinating studies. Love and its many components can be difficult to discuss here since much of the research that has to do with love is extensive and would take volumes of pages to discuss. Nevertheless, aspects of love such as intimacy, trust, passion and commitment seem to be spheres that have been able to be studied, and the term “romantic love” seems to encapsulate the major aspects of love effectively, so romantic love will be what will be more closely examined.
Romantic Love and its Psychological Effects
When looking at relationships that are authentically romantic versus relationships that are purely lustful, psychological benefits arose much more in romantic relationships than in purely lustful relationships. A study that focused on the reward, motivation, and emotional systems of the brain as related to romantic love was conducted and showed that in instances of romantic love, especially long-term relationships of romantic love such as marriages, a greater activation of subcortical areas of the brain occurs, and these are areas where the reward circuit of the brain is located and great dopamine release takes place (Aron et al., 2005). Areas specifically affected were the right ventral midbrain and the medial caudate, some of the many regions of the brain that have to do with reward but also motivation. The study showed that cortical areas of emotion were also affected in participants who were in romantic love, these areas were the amygdala and the septum, regions of the brain that have an important role in regulating and maintaining the person’s emotions (Aron et al., 2005). Results showed that positive stimulation of the amygdala by romantic love encourages responses that are less fearful and more in check of the emotions being felt by the person. These physiological responses aid the developing person in developing healthy and balanced relationships leading to overall healthier mental well-being (Aron et al., 2005).
A lot of people will still argue nowadays that there is nothing wrong with having casual or non-romantic sexual relationships with others as long as it is something both persons want. Any quick search into how to maintain casual sexual relationships such as friends with benefits or how to have a successful one-night stand will come up with rules or guidelines into keeping romantic emotions in check. Things such as cuddling, spending the night, or any other kind of participation in an activity that a couple would do is greatly discouraged, but those little romantic activities and connections are precisely what the human person desires and inherently develops with another when there is that kind of sexual intimacy present. A recent 2017 study has even shown that romantic relationships and components of these relationships assist in a healthy development of a person’s executive control, an important aspect of a mentally healthy person (Ueda et al., 2017). The study specifically showed that romantic relationship tasks would cause activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain directly related to behavior and control (Ueda et al., 2017). Results of the study showed that the participants who were involved in long-term, romantic, and meaningful relationships had higher activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex which yields to more positive outcomes in the participants’ personal development in relationships with others and themselves (Ueda et al., 2017).
So, it is apparent that romantic love yields great psychological benefits in the person participating compared to the participation in lustful “love”. TED talk speaker and anthropologist Helen Fisher describes romantic love not as a simple feeling but as a drive; a drive similar and related to the sexual drive (Fisher, 2006). Fisher, however, describes the romantic love drive as more powerful than the sex drive and found that the romantic drive can exhibit greater psychological benefits, such as better development of self –esteem, intimacy, and trust (Fisher, 2006).
While again, much more can be said of how healing and fulfilling encounters of authentic love are, unfortunately not everything can be discussed. For the interested readers, it would be worthwhile to investigate how specific things such as intimacy, passion, commitment, connection, and so many other essential aspects of love play into the relationship of mental health and being properly loved. Several psychological theories that treat the development of the person, such as Erikson’s emotional development theory, Piaget’s cognitive theory, and Kohlberg’s moral development theory, cite the importance of love in the healthy development of the person. While these theories may not specify romantic or even familial love, affirmation of the person is huge in Erickson and Piaget’s theories and is an important help in guiding the person along their psychosocial development.
In conclusion, romantic love is the superior kind of love compared to lustful or casual love. If this kind of love is indeed more beneficial then, why is there so much participation in casual love encounters? While so much more can be said about the positive outcomes of participating in authentic love, endless research will never have quite the exact answer one may be looking for. At the end of the day an individual’s perceptions, feelings, and experiences are unique which lead them to live their life and conduct themselves in a manner that makes sense to them. What is consistent throughout time and different cultures though is the belief that love is indeed a powerful human experience. With love being the most common subject of songs, poetry, and art, it is apparent that not only the feelings associated with love but the actions of love itself strike into the depths of the human person, leading them to express themselves in many and all ways. Love then is what the human person should strive to give and receive. If more people in the world had that as their concentration instead of pleasure, the world would be a better place.
Does Wojtyla’s Personalistic Norm make more sense now? Do its doctrines about use and love have something great to offer our society today? As stated in the beginning of this argument, the way we think about things has a great effect not only on our external actions but also on our interior mental states. The way we think about sex should be something that is taken more seriously because the power the sexual connection has on the person is astounding and able to have great physical, emotional, and psychological effects.
Wojtyla argues that it is the nature of the person to be loved, properly loved, and as we have seen, the consequences of not being properly loved but used are significant. One is not properly loved when they are raped. One is not properly loved when they engage in casual sex. One is not properly loved and is not properly loving when they are using porn. All of these scenarios involve the use of the human person and while the sexual act is an inherent, primordial good, when not done properly, the sexual connection can bring more harm than good.
There is just something about the sexual act that strikes the human person differently than any other action. This makes sense because the sexual act should primarily be an act of love, of intimacy, of trust, of passion, of vulnerability, and so much more. When sex is stripped of these aspects it loses its good and healing essence and it turns into something else, it turns into use; and when the human person is expecting the real act of love but receives its counterfeit opposite, there is great hurt that comes, for the only proper and adequate attitude towards a person is love.
So let us love and be loved more. Let us stop the harmful cycle of use. By understanding the Personalistic Norm in a better way, let us begin to make the necessary changes to not only have better and healthier relationships with others, but to also develop better and healthier mental health for ourselves. Karol Wojtyla was a wise man with ideas and teachings beyond his time. Let us pay closer attention and be transformed into the persons we are supposed to be, for only in knowing the greatest truth about our personhood – that we are made out of love and made to be loved – we can become the best version of ourselves we can possibly be.
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