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Is Pornography a Legitimate Health Crisis?

Is Pornography a Legitimate Health Crisis?
April 25
12:58 2016
Sociologist Gail Dines thinks so.

Her article “Is Porn Immoral? That Doesn’t Matter: It’s a Public-Health Crisis” was published in The Washington Post earlier this month. Dines is not alone in this view; and it’s not just conservatives who agree with her.

The intensifying anti-pornography campaign mixes liberal principles, ideology, and science in the fight against pornography.

Last month, the state of Utah declared porn a “public health crisis. This decision comes as porn-related car crashes and STD cases increase.

Dines identifies as a radical feminist and anti-porn advocate. As reported in The Atlantic, she believes “non-coercive pornography cannot exist in a capitalist society, where sex-based media will always lead to an industry that becomes a violent manifestation of structural inequalities.”

Dines has traveled the world lecturing about the evils of pornography for years. She frames porn not as a moral subject, unnamed-171-620x320but as a thing of tangible detriment to human minds and bodies.

Last year, she launched a movement in Boston to “eradicate porn’s harms because porn has quickly escalated into an overlooked public health crisis.” She also appeared at an anti-pornography summit last July, where she spoke with US legislators at the Capitol Building.

Utah senator Todd Weiler joined Dines’s cause and decided to share his ideas online. His proposal, which blamed porn for low marriage rates and high infidelity rates among young men, was immediately blasted with criticism.

But that didn’t stop him. Weiler presented his bill to the floor in February, noting that every word of his document was written by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE). The organization told Weiler that if Utah accepted his proposal, more states would follow suit.

Weiler got into contact with the Utah-based anti-porn group Fight the New Drug. The group made national headlines last year when it plastered the city of San Francisco with over 100 billboards reading “PORN KILLS LOVE.”

pkl-e1408373855595Fight the New Drug was originally founded by Mormons, but today’s members heatedly deny any affiliation with the Mormon church. “As young college students not too long ago, we came across the recent science of how porn affects the brain and we were shocked!” reads the group’s website.

Weiler likes the group’s drug analogies. “If you start with meth or heroin, everyone knows that’s addictive,” he said. “A lot of people will get kind of lured into pornography, and they don’t know it may actually consume their life.”

The American Academy of Psychiatry, on the other hand, argues there is no evidence to support claims that drugs and porn are different degrees of the same thing.

Furthermore, the Academy does not recognize sex or porn addictions as mental disorders.

Researcher Nicole Prause decided to investigate the similarities (or lack thereof) between drugs and pornography last year. Her team discovered that electrical patterns in the brains of porn addicts were starkly different than those of drug addicts.

In addition, Prause found that pornography actually heightens a person’s desire for sex with his or her partner.

maxresdefaultMore evidence for the claim that pornography does not lead to bad behavior can be found in the criminal records of Denmark and Sweden. As recorded by Danish criminologist Berl Kutchinsky, both countries experienced a noted decrease in crime during the 20 years following porn legalization.

Pediatrician and father David Hill is especially concerned about the effects of pornography on children, but even he admits there is little proof that early exposure causes damage: “I think the conclusions we can draw from the science are very limited.”

Public-health crises are typically based on outcomes, not risk factors. While Dines and others cite correlations between porn and negative outcomes, the causal relationship is tenuous at best.

“Now, as a parent,” says Hill, “I am concerned. My experience with parental controls has been disappointing at best.” Weiler feels the same way, adding that kids without personal TVs have been known to use school-provided tablets to watch porn in places with free Wi-Fi (like restaurants and libraries).

If caught, they claim first amendment rights.

Weiler likes the idea of porn filters. Such filters were ruled “illegal” last year by the EU, but even if Utah or America managed to mandate filters – how would Internet providers decide what is and is not pornography?

“I don’t have those details,” said Weiler. “I need to do more research on that.” In defense of conservative ideals, however, he brings up a good point: “You might have a first amendment right to view pornography, but what about my first amendment right not to see it? Sometimes, as you know, with popup ads and everything, it’s just there. I go on Twitter and see pornography, even though I use it for politics.”

Sex Education

Dines was shocked to see her language in Weiler’s proposal. “This won’t work without comprehensive sex education,” she argues. “You have to offer alternative images of healthy sexuality, based on connection and consent. Which doesn’t mean that you meet a guy and have sex with him for the rest of your life. We’re talking about creative, fun sexuality here. That you are the author of.”

Hill agrees that sex ed is more important than outlawing porn. “If people really want to make a difference in the health endpoints that we care most about, then I would encourage them to ensure that every child and teenager has access to age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education.

Utah rejects this approach, allowing schools to provide only minimal information on STIs and contraceptives.

As Weiler’s bill was being passed, Utah rep. Brain King presented a proposal that would introduce comprehensive sex education in Utah’s schools. As reported by The Salt Lake City Tribune, King’s bill would “open the door for more robust conversations of human sexuality, with parents required to opt-in their children to those courses.” The bill seems apt considering the state’s rising levels of gonorrhea and chlamydia.

The bill was solidly defeated.

Utah schools continue to preach “abstinence only” or “abstinence first,” approaches that leave students in the dark. Furthermore, kids who do not receive adequate information are more likely to succumb to pornographic suggestions.

In conclusion, the effort to outlaw pornography is more an attempt to relieve patients of consciousness than to treat an illness. Instead of arguing over the question ‘Is porn good or bad?’ we should focus on how children and young adults formulate understandings of power and oppression; of sex and love.

Sex ed is not about a single class or a single conversation, explains public-health specialist Kathleen Johnson. It is “a synthesis of lifetime experiences and knowledge to form attitudes, beliefs, and values on identity, relationships, and intimacy.”

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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