The Internet today offers us not just instant access to images of kittens and puppies and smiling newborns, but an evil avalanche of images of abuse, sick fantasies, and child rape that are easily accessible with a click on a child’s smartphone or iPad. Senator Todd Weiler, a state senator in Utah, has unleashed a storm of controversy by initiating a bill in Utah legislature that would declare pornography to be a public health crisis. It should be noted that Weiler doesn’t specifically advocate banning or regulating anything; even so, he says he is “mocked internationally” because he has opened up discussion about the easy accessibility to pornography on smartphones and tablets.
Weiler is not alone in his concern. With my colleague, Brenda Zurita, I wrote an extensive white paper on Ten Harms of Pornography in 2012. Recent research confirms that pornography can be addictive and that the age of children being exposed to pornography has dropped from about 11 years to below nine. Michael Leahy, author of Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying About Sex on Campus, reports that the average American teen is exposed to over 14,000 sexual images and messages every year through our mainstream media. Donna Rice Hughes, of Enough is Enough, writes, “Pornography is the drug of the millennium and more addictive than crack cocaine.” Dr. Judith Reisman, in testimony before the U.S. Senate, stated that research reveals that “instant, involuntary, but lasting, biochemical memory trails” form in the brain when pornography is viewed. In other words, we don’t forget the startling, shocking images that we see; they become imprinted on our brains.
The health crisis of pervasive pornography – especially among vulnerable children and teens — should be of universal concern. Some of those defending pornography apparently do not to understand the ugly, perverse, insidious nature of today’s porn; we are not talking Hollywood starlets in bikinis, but the visual counterpart to today’s hideous misogynist rap lyrics. Gail Dines, a foremost academic authority on pornography and author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, is concerned that the “cruel, violent nature of today’s porn” is having a profound influence on the sexuality, behavior, and attitudes toward women for a whole generation of boys. Dines notes that violence, degradation, and disregard for a person’s humanity pervade pornography.
When Fifty Shades of Grey was published in 2011, the violence and degradation of secretive porn exploded onto popular culture. Fifty Shades, a book celebrating cruel and sadistic sexual behavior, sold 100 million copies worldwide. The Atlantic wrote that Fifty Shades not only “reflects who we are, but it also shapes what we become”; the authors were disturbed that Fifty Shades was conditioning a generation of young people to ignore the necessity for sexual encounters to be “emotionally constructive and based on affirmative values of mutual respect, dignity, and care.” When the movie came out a year ago (earning over $571 million worldwide) — elevating popular porn to new levels of acceptability and influence through visual impact, a scornful and clear-eyed New Yorker noted that the movie Fifty Shades doesn’t depict romance; instead it “taunts the rituals of sentiment.” To put it baldly, it glorifies and sugarcoats abusive exploitation.
Ironically, the feminists haven’t seemed concerned about the power inequities and painful abuses suffered by women in a “Fifty-Shades” culture. Strangely, too, the church has remained relatively silent in the face of a sea-change in cultural norms, making it acceptable to abuse, degrade, and demean women, destroy relationships, undermine marriage and family. A content analysis of fifty best-selling adult videos, described in The Social Costs of Pornography, showed overwhelming inequality and violence — 88 percent showed physical aggression with 70 percent of those acts committed against women and only 5 percent of those women are depicted as showing any negative response to the violence.
In 2014, an evangelical group, Proven Men Ministries, commissioned a study by the Barna Group to look at the use of pornography among self-identified Christian adult men. The findings for 18 to 30 year olds are shocking — 77 percent view porn at least monthly, 36 percent view porn at least daily, and 32 percent consider themselves to be “addicted.” Among middle-aged men (31-49), 77 percent looked at porn in the past 3 months and 67 percent viewed porn at least monthly. Joel Hesch, head of the sponsoring organization, wrote, “It’s abundantly clear that pornography is one of the biggest unaddressed problems in the church.” Hesch’s group has developed a 12-week program to address pornography among Christian men and to encourage sexual integrity. In addition, Focus on the Family has a program, “Pure Intimacy,” to help couples dealing with sexual addictions and New Life Ministries offers the “Every Man’s Battle” program, a 3-day workshop for men struggling with pornography. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed dismay last year over the “widespread problem of pornography in American Culture.” The Mormon Church has launched a website and filmed a video to help adults overcome pornography addiction and help children avoid porn.
These programs are obviously important steps in the right direction in their own communities, but opinion leaders, secular as well as religious, need to get behind efforts like that of Utah State Senator Todd Weiler who is trying to wake up the general public to the public health crisis of pornography and the widespread damage that exposure to the immoral smog of pornography is doing to our culture as it blankets the nation’s citizens, including children and youth.