“Ask a Priest: Is it OK to skip “steamy” content in novels and TV shows?”

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Q: I am a 60-something married female. Is it a sin to read romance novels? My niece told me about a book she was reading and how good it was. I bought the book and started reading it. After a few chapters it started to get a little “steamy” with some graphic sexual content. I skipped over that section and continued to read because the storyline was good. As I came across other “steamy” content, I skipped it again and again. As I said the story was good, so I continued to read. I have a feeling my niece will recommend more books (or buy one for me) by this author because it is her favorite. I don’t want to hurt her feelings by rejecting her gift. I also watch Netflix from time to time. Some of the shows or movies have graphic sexual content. Again, if the story is good, I usually fast-forward through those scenes. I’ve been questioning whether it is a sin to read these books or watch these TV shows/movies, and I don’t know whether to confess it in confession or not. Please advise. – L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good that you are least asking questions. That shows your conscience is probably bothering you.

An initial response is that you should be more concerned about offending Our Lord, rather than hurting your niece’s feelings.

What you describe seems to constitute sinful acts, for several reasons.

By continuing to read the novel when you knew there was bad content in it, you were in effect leaving yourself in the near occasion of sin.

The same goes with the Netflix shows, even if you were fast-forwarding through certain scenes.

In both cases the hint of bad content is enough to start triggering temptations. Beyond that, you are in effect supporting the market for the production of this sinful material. Production of this material involves actors and directors, etc., being involved in an objectively gravely sinful enterprise.

The Catechism is worth quoting here:

“2354. 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. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.”

Nowadays, many people wouldn’t define a steamy novel or Netflix as pornography. But that is due more to the general decline in morality than to any change in the principles just mentioned.

If you feel so inclined, you might consider telling your niece that you found the novel offensive. If you don’t say anything, you might scandalize her by, in effect, letting her think that you found the novel OK — and that you are open to reading more of the same stuff.

The media in general have deteriorated because too many ostensibly Christian people have tolerated and embraced trashy content.

This might be something to take to prayer … and confession.

In the meantime, you might also look for healthier books and films. Seek and ye shall find.


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