Utah may de­clare pornog­ra­phy a ‘pub­lic health cri­sis’

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Stacy Te­icher Khada­roo

Utah law­mak­ers are con­sid­er­ing mak­ing it the first state to de­clare pornog­ra­phy a pub­lic health cri­sis, sim­i­lar to cig­a­rettes. State Sen. Todd Weiler re­cently in­tro­duced a leg­isla­tive res­o­lu­tion that would rec­og­nize a range of “so­ci­etal harms” from the pornog­ra­phy “epi­demic.”

“I’m hop­ing this will start ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple that pornog­ra­phy is ac­tu­ally ad­dic­tive, that it’s harm­ful to fam­i­lies and re­la­tion­ships,” says Sen­a­tor Weiler in a phone in­ter­view.

Weiler ac­knowl­edges First Amend­ment rights to make and view pornog­ra­phy.

Al­though the res­o­lu­tion does not put for­ward any par­tic­u­lar pol­icy so­lu­tion, he says he ul­ti­mately “would like to see the US work to­ward an In­ter­net that is porn free un­less you opt into it.”

The pro­posal has rekin­dled age-old cul­tural bat­tles over sex­ual norms and moral­ity – but it also pushes the con­ver­sa­tion into a broader frame­work.

Some crit­ics of the Utah res­o­lu­tion see it as yet an­other con­ser­va­tive at­tempt to shore up het­ero­sex­ual mar­riage as the ac­cept­able con­text for sex.

A Sa­lon.com head­line ridiculed it as “porn hys­te­ria.” But where some see an ef­fort to re­frame con­ser­va­tive moral­ity un­der the guise of pub­lic health, crafters of the leg­is­la­tion point to is­sues from el­e­men­tary school age chil­dren ac­cess­ing hard-core porn to cases of sex traf­fick­ing and child abuse. Con­ser­va­tives aren’t the only ones mak­ing the case for con­sid­er­ing pornog­ra­phy’s role in harm­ing so­cial well-be­ing. Some fem­i­nists have been work­ing for decades to raise aware­ness about what they see as pornog­ra­phy’s con­tri­bu­tion to “rape cul­ture.”

Now they are be­ing joined by par­ents, pe­di­a­tri­cians, psy­chol­o­gists, and other pro­fes­sion­als who say they are see­ing dev­as­tat­ing im­pacts, es­pe­cially on young peo­ple, be­cause of the ex­plo­sion of on­line ac­cess to graphic and of­ten vi­o­lent im­ages – and ex­po­sure to pornog­ra­phy at younger ages.

“The porn in­dus­try has hi­jacked chil­dren’s sex­u­al­ity, and par­ents have been asleep at the wheel,” says Gail Dines, a pro­fes­sor at Whee­lock Col­lege and founder of Cul­ture Re­framed, which is work­ing to ed­u­cate par­ents, pe­di­a­tri­cians, and other pro­fes­sion­als about how to talk with chil­dren to build up “re­silience and re­sis­tance to the harms of the cul­ture” of pornog­ra­phy.

Among youths seek­ing help from an on­line treat­ment pro­gram for neg­a­tive im­pacts of pornog­ra­phy as of July 2015, the av­er­age age of first ex­po­sure was 11.9.

But while some youths seek out sex­u­ally ex­plicit ma­te­rial on­line, the level of un­wanted ex­po­sure has de­creased, ac­cord­ing to a se­ries of stud­ies by the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire’s Crimes Against Chil­dren Re­search Cen­ter.

Af­ter an ini­tial in­crease be­tween 2000 and 2005 (from 24 per­cent to 34 per­cent of In­ter­net users ages 10 to 17), un­wanted ex­po­sure de­clined by 2010, to 23 per­cent of users. Pe­di­a­tri­cians say they are see­ing in­juries among their young pa­tients that stem from the type of sex­ual ac­tiv­ity com­monly de­picted in porn, Pro­fes­sor Dines says. Most re­search on the is­sue can only ex­plore cor­re­la­tions be­tween pornog­ra­phy and be­hav­iors such as sex­ual ag­gres­sion, de­pen­dency on fre­quent use, and dif­fi­cul­ties sus­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships.

Dines ar­gues that the weight of ev­i­dence sug­gests that view­ing pornog­ra­phy (much of which is now the type once la­beled “hard core”) is re­shap­ing the way boys think about sex­u­al­ity and re­la­tion­ships.

Much on­line pornog­ra­phy de­picts anger and con­tempt to­ward women, re­searchers say. In turn, the hookup cul­ture that pornog­ra­phy has helped pro­lif­er­ate on col­lege cam­puses is “hav­ing a pro­found ef­fect on the self-es­teem of young women and girls,” Dines says. In in­ter­views with col­lege stu­dents, Dines has found that men fre­quently tell her that their fa­vorite sex act is some­thing that mim­ics a com­mon scene in pornog­ra­phy that she and oth­ers find de­grad­ing to women – and in some cases is lead­ing to phys­i­cal in­juries. But she says many also tell her they want to stop their porn-view­ing habits and don’t know how.

Other fem­i­nists push back against the idea that porn is by na­ture misog­y­nis­tic, not­ing that many women en­joy pornog­ra­phy.

Pornog­ra­phy ad­dic­tion is not an of­fi­cially rec­og­nized di­ag­no­sis, “but it can fall un­der the broad cat­e­gory of be­hav­ioral ad­dic­tions,” says David Green­field, founder of The Cen­ter for In­ter­net and Tech­nol­ogy Ad­dic­tion and a pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut. Of all the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with the In­ter­net that Dr. Green­field treats, he says No. 2 is pornog­ra­phy and other on­line sex­ual be­hav­ior.

When it comes to young peo­ple, Green­field says par­ents and oth­ers need bet­ter education about the fact that pornog­ra­phy isn’t a re­al­is­tic por­trayal of re­la­tion­ships, and that re­peated ex­po­sure can lead to harm­ful con­se­quences.

That re­quires some adults to over­come in­grained in­hi­bi­tions in or­der to dis­cuss sex­u­al­ity, he says.

“We live in a cul­ture that cel­e­brates sex­u­al­ity on an overt level, in ads, movies, mu­sic,” Green­field says. “On the covert side, peo­ple are just as in­hib­ited with re­gard to sex­u­al­ity as we’ve ever been. The schism … creates sex­ual pathol­ogy.” Some oth­ers in the med­i­cal com­mu­nity say blam­ing pornog­ra­phy dis­tracts from the many other vari­ables that in­flu­ence sex­ual be­hav­ior.

“Peo­ple use the term ad­dic­tion in a ma­nip­u­la­tive way, to in­voke fear,” says David Ley, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in Al­bu­querque, N.M., and the au­thor of “The Myth of Sex Ad­dic­tion.”

“I’m not a fan of ado­les­cents see­ing porn… But if you tell a teenager to be afraid of some­thing and not do it, we are cre­at­ing a sit­u­a­tion where that teen is go­ing to be com­pelled to be in­ter­ested in it.”

His read­ing of var­i­ous re­search stud­ies leads him to con­clude that “porn plays a tiny role in im­pact­ing ado­les­cent be­hav­ior.”

“In cer­tain peo­ple who are al­ready pre­dis­posed to sex­ual vi­o­lence … watch­ing vi­o­lent porn for them prob­a­bly does in­crease their risk of sex­ual vi­o­lence,” Ley says. “But that is not most peo­ple.”

Weiler’s pro­posed res­o­lu­tion in Utah is based on an idea put for­ward by The Na­tional Cen­ter on Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion (for­merly Moral­ity in Me­dia). The group hosted a na­tional sym­po­sium last year, and if Utah’s res­o­lu­tion passes, 10 or more states may fol­low suit, Weiler says.

But for some crit­ics, the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage still ap­pears to be an at­tempt to reaf­firm religious, tra­di­tional val­ues. One of the con­cerns the res­o­lu­tion cites, for in­stance, is that pornog­ra­phy is “linked to less­en­ing de­sire in young men to marry, dis­sat­is­fac­tion in mar­riage, and in­fi­delity.”

The pro­posal may be “a back­lash against a lot of progress we’ve made for the LGBTQ com­mu­nity … in fight­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion” in the state, says Susie Porter, di­rec­tor of gen­der stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Utah Sen. Todd Weiler.

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