“Ask a Priest: Are Soap Operas OK to Watch?”

Q: I am Hispanic, and watching telenovelas (soap operas) is very popular in Latin America. These shows are basically a romantic story about a couple and how it unfolds. They basically last for months. I would like to know if it is wrong to watch these shows, since at times sexual scenes will come up and I would like to know if these scenes would be considered porn? I watch these shows for the story and the plot. I personally do not think they are porn because there is no nudity, but I recently read the Catholic Church’s catechism and so now I’m confused. The Catechism in No. 2354 says, “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. …” Thank you so much for your help. – R.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: While these shows might not be strictly considered pornographic, you should ask yourself whether they will help your Christian living and your relationship with Jesus.

Like soap operas in the U.S., telenovelas can contain a lot of secular, anti-Christian messages and viewpoints.

These shows can deeply affect a person’s way of thinking and even endanger his faith over time, since they might accustom someone to think that things such as divorce or pre-marital or extra-marital sex are OK. After all, the characters are often attractive and sympathetic, and there is a tendency to identify with them and root for them, no matter what they act out before a camera.

Viewers would also need to ask whether the shows are near occasions of sin, since the dialogue and the suggestive gestures of the actors might trigger temptations.

Racy TV shows can be the remote preparation for bigger problems. Today a single woman in her early 20s might watch these shows. What about 10 or 15 years from now, when she is married and raising children, and the little ones grow up with these shows on the family TV? How will that affect their view of purity and marriage and fidelity?

Moreover, these kinds of shows have a way of turning coarser over time, as they compete for viewership in an increasingly sexualized culture. Already in the early 2000s I remember women saying how they dreaded even watching TV sports with their husbands and sons, because of the risqué commercials.

This isn’t to slam the door on all TV viewing. Using entertainment to relax and to be inspired is a good thing if it doesn’t become obsessive. The key is to choose fare that nourishes the soul and doesn’t titillate the wrong passions. There are plenty of shows with fine storylines, such as historical miniseries, that won’t rattle your conscience. And let’s not forget the libraries of great literature out there.

Or, to approach this whole issue from another direction: It is good to remember that we aren’t called to just avoid things that are occasions of sin. We are called to be saints.

One way to follow the path toward holiness is use one’s faculties — including affections of the heart, intelligence, memory, etc. — for the glory of God.

You might want to take some of this to prayer and see where the Holy Spirit is leading you.

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