By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you join St. Ann Parish and how has your parish strengthened your faith?
Dr. Kleponis: My parish has strengthened me in many ways. First, by attending mass on Sunday with my family. I am also a lector in my parish. This has led me to read the readings for each Sunday prior to Mass. Doing this has helped me get much more out of the readings and the homilies. My wife and I are also involved with the Cana Ministry, which sponsors programs to prepare young couples for marriage and programs to enrich the lives of married couples.
Gordon: What initially interested you in studying to be s Clinical Therapist?
Dr. Kleponis: I have always liked helping people. However, my career path wasn’t initially in psychology. My bachelor’s degree is in Economics and I spent several years in financial services. In the early 1990s I realized that “crunching numbers” was never going to be fulfilling for me. So I went back to school to study psychology. I have now been in practice for 20 years and I’ve loved every minute of it. There is a great reward in helping people resolve problem issues and experience God’s healing.
Gordon: As your website details, you specialize in marriage & family therapy, pornography addiction recovery as well as other specialized aspects of counseling, Pornography addiction has become a major concern by several professional associations as a mental health challenge and can seriously impair the brain. What are some of the major studies demonstrating the potential brain damage of pornography addiction?
Dr. Kleponis: There are many studies that show how pornography affects the brain. When a person views an erotic image the pleasure center of the brain (Limbic System) is over stimulated with a rush of dopamine while the impulse control center of the brain in the Cerebrum, which enables a person to stop a behavior, can be compromised. This makes it very difficult to stop viewing pornography. With excessive use, the brain can become accustomed (wired) to operating at unusually high levels of chemical stimulation. When dopamine levels begin to drop the brain will want to rush back to porn to once again raise the dopamine level. This is what can lead a person to go back to pornography over and over again. One of the best resources for understanding pornography’s effects on the brain is e-book entitled Your Brain on Porn. You can find it at Fight The New Drug that also provides excellent research on the harmful effects of pornography. An excellent book on this topic is c is Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William M. Struthers.
Gordon: When did you start your lecture series Fighting Porn in Our Culture…and Winning! Program. and approximately to how many Catholic parishes and other Catholic institutions have you presented?
Dr. Kleponis: I started the Fighting Porn in Our Culture…and Winning! Conference program in 2010 when the Archdiocese of New York asked me to present a conference on the dangers of pornography to its priests. The conference was very successful. Soon other dioceses were calling me to present similar conferences. Since 2010 I have presented over 80 conferences to dioceses, seminaries, religious communities, parishes, men’s conferences, parent’s conferences, and colleges and universities. Educating people on the dangers of pornography and how they can protect themselves has become a passion of mine.
Gordon: What are the three most common questions that participants ask after your presentation ?
1. Where can I find more resources for protecting my family from pornography? 2. Where can I find a Catholic counselor who is trained to treat pornography addiction? 3. Where can women find help for pornography addiction?
Gordon: You also have a well= reviewed book Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography What inspired you to focus on this challenge from a Catholic Perspective?
Dr. Kleponis: In 2011 Johnette Benkovic of EWTN’s Women of Grace television program asked me to write a pamphlet on the dangers of pornography. The pamphlet ended up being 100 pages, so we decided to publish it as a small book entitled, The Pornography Epidemic: A Catholic Approach (2012). While the book was very successful, I knew more needed to be said about this terrible epidemic. At that time there were many good protestant books on this topic; however, there were no good Catholic books on the pornography epidemic. There was a dire need for a Catholic approach to this problem. After much prayer and discernment, I realized that God wanted me to address this problem. That was when I wrote Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography (2014) . Since this book was published there have been a few other Catholic books on the pornography epidemic published; however, mine remains the only book written by a Catholic mental health professional.
Gordon: How is pornography addiction related to other forms of addiction?
Dr. Kleponis: Pornography addiction is related to other addictions in that it has the same effect on the brain as other drugs. Many people have difficulty understanding this because pornography is not a foreign chemical induced into the body such as drugs or alcohol. However, it does have the same effect as drugs and alcohol in that it produces intensely pleasurable emotional and physical feelings. This comes from the intense rush of neurochemical stimulation. This could be compared to the high a gambling addict experiences.
Pornography addiction is also related to other addictions in that people often use it to cope with painful emotions. People often use pornography to self-medicate deep feelings of loneliness, anger, stress, rejection, shame, abandonment, etc. Often they’re not aware they are doing this. All they know is that they enjoy viewing pornography. Not only do their bodies become physically addicted to the neurochemical stimulation in the brain caused by pornography, they become emotionally addicted to it to keep their pain at bay. Because the effects are temporary, they need to go back to viewing pornography over and over again.
Gordon: In your opinion. has the easy access to pornography via the internet had an impact in the recent decline of young adults in Catholicism?
Dr. Kleponis: There are many factors that have led to the decline in Catholic young adults practicing their faith, such as the secularization of our culture, the widespread acceptance of pornography, the breakdown of the family, little or no spiritual formation, and the demand for instant gratification. All of these factors, I believe, have led many young adults to experience a deep emotional and spiritual loneliness. I believe many are using pornography to ease their loneliness. Unfortunately, this is leading to a much deeper loneliness. Deep down young people are searching for true love and intimacy, which can only be found in God and in healthy relationships. While pornography may provide some momentary pleasure, it cannot provide the healthy intimacy young adults crave. Thus, they repeatedly go back to pornography hoping “this time” it will give them the love and intimacy they desire.
Gordon: is there any relationship between pornography and domestic violence?
Dr. Kleponis: I am unaware of any studies linking pornography to domestic violence; however, there are many correlational studies linking pornography use to sexual violence. For example, college men who regularly use pornography are more likely to believe the rape myth. In one study, college men were reluctant to intervene in what sounded like a possible rape in another room. T
hey were more likely to believe that the couple in the other room were engaging in role-play sex and this was what the woman wanted. The acceptance of the rape myth is often due to the plethora of violent sex found in Internet pornography. In such scenes, the woman may initially resist sexual violence from one or more men, but then ends up appearing to love it and begs for more. This can lead men to believe that women actually enjoy being the victim of sexual violence
Gordon:I thought that the best way of closing this interviews, is to future this great video by Integrity Restored with you, Matt Fradd, Fr. Sean Kilcawley, and Ryan Foley,